By Andrew J. Campa
A nationwide search that produced 21 candidates from nine states ultimately resulted in Glendale Unified school board members selecting someone from their own backyard.
Vivian Ekchian, who has worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 34 years, was officially voted in 5-0 Tuesday as the first female and first Armenian American superintendent in the position’s 106-year history for a district that’s made up of 32 schools and 26,000 students.
Ekchian, who has lived in Glendale for 20 years, was born in Armenia and will head a district with students of Armenian descent making up 36% of its population in a city with 39% of its residents reflecting the same background.
“The decision to go to another school district after many years at the Los Angeles Unified School District was an important decision in my life, but I felt I was ready for it,” Ekchian said. “I wanted to serve my community, the community I lived in.”
She added, “The commitment I made during my interviews was I just wasn’t coming in as an applicant, I was coming in as a community member who was going to make a difference in our schools.”
Ekchian’s contract is for four years with a base annual salary of $310,000. Her last day as the Los Angeles Unified deputy superintendent will be June 14, and she’ll start with Glendale Unified on July 1.
Although Ekchian’s hire is historic, her ties were only a bonus and not the main reason behind her selection, said Jennifer Freemon, Glendale Unified’s school board president.
“Our absolute first priority was finding the best person for the position and finding somebody that had the wealth of experience, that had the understanding what student achievement really means — that it’s not just a test score, but the whole child — and really deeply understands that,” Freemon said.
Ekchian demonstrated her versatility at Los Angeles Unified, taking on many roles, including as human resources chief and chief labor negotiator.
She also just finished her educational doctoral degree at USC in leadership in urban settings.
Ekchian was joined at the Glendale Unified meeting on Tuesday by her son, her parents and her mother-in-law.
She signed her contract, along with the five board members after the unanimous vote, almost as a formality after the district sent out a press release Friday saying the hire was likely.
Ekchian is the 18th superintendent in the district’s history and replaces Winfred B. Roberson, who was voted out of office by a 3-2 vote on Jan. 29.
Kelly King, who has been serving as the district’s interim superintendent, will return to her position as assistant superintendent of education services.
“I, for one, know the role of the interim superintendent,” Ekchian said to King during the meeting. “So, I’m very familiar with it, and I do not underestimate the amount of time and energy it has taken for you to continue to do this work.”
Ekchian once served as Los Angeles Unified’s interim superintendent in 2018 before former Los Angeles Times publisher Austin Beutner was hired for the position.
“Dr. Ekchian has served Los Angeles Unified for more than 30 years as an educator, administrator, innovator and leader,” Beutner said in a statement Tuesday. “She has been a terrific partner with me in our work. The Glendale Unified School District is lucky to have her.”
The meeting on Tuesday was part signing ceremony, but also part meet-and-greet because representatives from the Glendale Teachers Assn., Glendale Schools Management Assn. and Glendale Council PTA were there to introduce themselves to the new superintendent.
Alicia Harris, president of the teachers’ association, presented Ekchian with a red association shirt, while the management association president and Glenoaks Elementary principal, Daniel Di Mundo, gave her a pin.
Ekchian’s hire completes a quick search process handled by firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, which received a search contract with a $29,650 bid on Feb. 19 to find Glendale’s next superintendent.
“When we were going through the interviews as [board member Shant] Sahakian said, we had amazing, amazing candidates,” board vice president Armina Gharpetian said. “It was difficult for us to choose, but after meeting you and going through your interview, I was confident that you will be the great choice for GUSD.”