Err Jordan 

As Alameda County's schools endured record financial woes, Sheila Jordan seemed more interested in punishing employees who questioned her judgment or her alleged illegal behavior.

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John Bernard plans to focus on financial oversight.

During John Bernard's long career as a public schools administrator, he has developed a reputation as a superintendent that school boards turn to when they're facing extreme public turmoil. Healing the wounds of racism and intolerance has become his specialty.

In the late 1990s, the Novato school district was roiled by a series of ugly racist incidents that made headlines throughout the Bay Area. During a basketball game in 1998, students from the mostly white San Marin High School donned Afro wigs, face paint, and masks and chanted "Nigger, nigger, nigger" at black players from Tamalpais High. It was the third time that San Marin students had hurled epithets at opposing black athletes during sporting events. The following year, San Marin students beat up the same openly gay student twice.

In early 1999, the Novato school board hired Bernard away from Bakersfield, where he was serving as superintendent of the state's largest elementary school district following a job as a top manager in the Mount Diablo Unified School District. He also had been a teacher and principal in San Francisco public schools. Bernard immediately made several management changes. He also developed a Human Relations and Respect mission statement and adopted the gay-friendly documentary That's a Family! as part of the district's curriculum. His moves sparked a backlash among some community members and school officials, but the racist and antigay episodes subsided.

Four years later, Newark Unified School District in southern Alameda County recruited Bernard after three of its students bludgeoned a transgender teen to death. The killing of Gwen Araujo became a national story, and local political leaders were heavily criticized by gay and transgender groups for not being more sensitive. After arriving in Newark, Bernard worked with the local chapter of Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and helped craft a community creed about respecting diversity that all city residents are asked to sign. "Dr. Bernard's support and guidance was not just felt at our schools but extended into the entire Newark community," said Newark teacher Virginia Williamson, who was named an Alameda County Teacher of the Year in 2003 by Sheila Jordan's office. Williamson is supporting Bernard in the June 6 election.

If Bernard defeats Jordan, he plans to shore up the county's oversight of local school district finances and improve academics at county-run schools. "My main emphasis is going to be fiscal oversight and checking to make sure that the numbers the county gets are accurate," said Bernard, who was born and raised in Oakland and has a doctorate in multicultural studies from the University of San Francisco. He plans to model Alameda County after the financial-oversight successes in Orange, Kern, and Marin counties.

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