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School Choice Advocate Appointed as OC Superintendent

School Choice Advocate Appointed as OC Superintendent

Orange County Board of Education members voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint Stefan Bean as the county’s 12th superintendent of schools. (Orange County Department of Education)

Christian Milord
Christian Milord

7/8/2024

Updated: 7/8/2024

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Commentary
The Orange County Department of Education in Southern California has unanimously selected Stefan Bean as the next superintendent. Mr. Bean is the successor of Al Mijares, who retired June 30 for health reasons and had served in the position since 2012.
Mr. Bean ran against Mr. Mijares for the superintendent position in 2022 but lost by nearly 10 percentage points. This time around, he didn’t have to run because Mr. Mijares voluntarily stepped down—board members interviewed a few applicants and tapped Mr. Bean as their choice. However, he will have to run for this four-year elected office in 2026 if he so chooses.
The superintendent position at the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) may be one of the largest challenges that Mr. Bean has ever accepted. He will be responsible for a budget of $350 million and 1,400 employees who handle legal affairs and payroll for the county’s public schools. The superintendent approves and oversees alternative schools and special education and puts a stamp of approval on the yearly budgets of 28 Orange County school districts.
The OCDE Board has the responsibility of approving or rejecting charter schools and formulating any new school disciplinary measures. Ideally, the board and superintendent collaborate to create a transparent yearly budget that satisfies all stakeholders. However, the board often clashed with the previous superintendent. Mr. Bean said he wants to improve relations with the board.
Mr. Bean has worked in both charter and public schools for over 20 years as a consultant, principal, and teacher. Charter schools are actually public schools, but they have fewer bureaucratic mandates to contend with that emanate out of Sacramento and county Boards of Education. Mr. Bean had previously been a superintendent at the Aspire Schools in Los Angeles and is now executive director at Irvine International Academy, where he has had a track record of success regarding community and staff relations and student test scores.
Some critics claim that the choice of Mr. Bean was political, because his values closely align with the board’s values. According to the Orange County Register, Cal State Fullerton Professor Nancy Watkins, who previously ran for the the OCDE board, stated, “The decision to appoint him appears politically motivated, raising questions about the board’s decision-making process. I am distressed that the appointment does not demonstrate the merit and qualifications needed to serve our county students and was made to give the current board more influence over the OCDE.”
By contrast, Cal State Long Beach Professor William Jeynes noted, “Stefan Bean has a very interesting combination of qualities that make him probably the most diverse candidate realistically available. ... I just think we need to give him a chance,” according to the Register.
Mr. Bean, who is bilingual, is disabled due to polio since the age of two and uses a wheelchair for mobility. OCDE Board President Tim Shaw stated, “Dr. Bean has overcome tremendous challenges and tragedies. He is an inspiration to anyone who learns about his life,” reported the news outlet.
Indeed, Mr. Bean has quite an inspiring life story. He was born in Vietnam and abandoned by his parents toward the end of the Vietnam War due to his partial paralysis. As an orphan, he was saved by Operation Babylift, which matched orphans with American adoptive parents. Despite his numerous ailments and surgeries, the Bean family raised him along with 11 other siblings. He attended both private and public schools during his upbringing, which helped him understand the pros and cons of each type of school system.
Although Mr. Bean has experienced plenty of adversity in his life, including the death of his wife from cancer in 2020, he maintains a passion for education and the current raising of his four children as a single parent. He is a proponent of charter schools, school choice, and parental rights in education. Mr. Bean believes that a family’s zip code should not determine where a student has to attend school.
According to the Voice of OC, Mr. Bean stated, “I believe in parental rights and parental right to choose which school their child goes to. We have adversaries of parents trying to block their choice, so I’m 100% behind intra and inter district transfers.” Moreover, he noted, “My first focus will be what is best for our students and best for our families across Orange County.”
Furthermore, Mr. Bean added, “I’ve seen a mission drift where many schools and districts are focusing on more adult types of issues. These adult issues then creep into our academics. I hope that one day we can set aside social politics and just get back to the basics of teaching our students academics.”
Mr. Bean’s common sense classical approach to education involves reversing course from identity ideologies toward academic rigor, creative initiative, critical thinking, healthy competition, and self-governance. It is good news that Orange County has a superintendent who endorses educational competition and truly believes that parents, students, and teachers can experience a win-win mentality in the educational process. Hopefully, Mr. Bean can fulfill this vision.
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Christian Milord is an Orange County, California-based educator, mentor, USCG veteran, and writer. He earned his M.S. degree from California State University, Fullerton, where he mentors student groups and is involved with literacy programs. His interests include culture, economics, education, domestic and foreign policy, and military issues. He can be reached at cnvmilord@sbcglobal.net

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