By Theresa Harrington
Staff Writer, Contra Costa Times
PLEASANT HILL -- Two candidates are vying to become the next Contra Costa County superintendent of schools, replacing longtime Superintendent Joseph Ovick, who is not seeking re-election.
Karen Sakata, deputy superintendent of the Contra Costa County Office of Education, worked her way up from an associate superintendent to the second in charge under Ovick, helping oversee 19 school districts, along with several charter schools, special education campuses and alternative school sites.
Linda Delehunt, an education consultant and school administrator, brings training in educational leadership, including a doctoral degree from University of the Pacific. She ran unsuccessfully for the Orinda City Council two years ago.
Sakata's past experience includes four years as an elementary school principal in the Mt. Diablo district, along with about 19 years in several different teaching and administrative roles working with both special education and general education students. She has a master's degree in speech and pathology from San Jose State and a bachelor's degree in psychology from UC Berkeley.
"I think my experience with school districts and special programs make me the right candidate to continue the work of the county office," Sakata said, adding that districts are looking to the county for leadership as they transition to new Common Core academic standards and the state's new funding formula. She said she wants to expand early learning programs to prepare all students for kindergarten.
Delehunt, who has also been a teacher and state administrator coordinating programs for low-performing schools, said she is interested in cutting costs the county Office of Education charges districts by possibly consolidating services.
Delehunt said the office should take the lead in providing training to districts about mandated child abuse reporting and should focus on reducing truancy by improving data collection and possibly collaborating with the county court system to establish truancy courts.
"We're not graduating all our children," Delehunt said. "We have a huge gap. We need to reclaim those lives. Even if one child is missing, that's a pretty onerous situation for our schools."
Both women said they want to increase partnerships with businesses and expand professional development for districts. Despite a possible effort by the county Board of Education to place a measure on the November ballot asking voters to convert the superintendent to an appointed position, both candidates said they believe it should remain elected.