Profile

A Persona of Perpetual Motion

by Jay P. Goldman

When AASA’s national conference begins in New Orleans next month, Peter Corona will be on the scene, just as he has for the previous 47 years. This is a rather remarkable commitment, given that Corona just turned 78, and at various times has had to overcome personal health obstacles to keep his streak intact. He once even postponed prostate cancer surgery until after the national conference.

The Energizer Bunny has nothing on this man.

Though Corona hasn’t held a permanent appointment in school leadership since 1993, that hardly means the effervescent, perpetual-motion Californian doesn’t find a good fit in the AASA proceedings. He says there’s still plenty to learn that he can apply to his second career serving as an interim superintendent in urban, suburban and rural communities across the state, something he’s now done four times since 2000. Before his official retirement last decade, Corona held five superintendencies covering 34 years, the longest for 11 years in Emeryville, Calif.

“I have the same enthusiasm as when I was younger, but I’d like to think I know more than when I was younger,” says Corona, who lives in Walnut Creek, a half-hour east of San Francisco. “If there’s a need, I’ll go anywhere.”

Those who’ve benefited from his vast accumulation of applied skills and his comfortable persona that puts others at ease in stressful spots say Corona works indefatigably in whatever situation he finds himself.

“He jumped right in with our school district,” says Karin Reenstierna, president of the Stanislaus school board in Modesto, Calif., where he spent the first half of 2005-06 as interim superintendent. “He was very energetic, very enthusiastic. It was kind of hard to run to keep up with him. He didn’t say, ‘Put this on hold.’ He took everything on with a wonderful sense of ownership.”

In another interim posting, which lasted for 14 months, Corona jumped into an insolvent system by assuming three job titles, and he handled school board minutes himself to save on secretarial overtime. He so deftly managed the layoff of 16 teachers plus several classified staff that union lawyers could find no grounds for an administrative challenge.

The county superintendent who observed Corona’s actions says he “injected joy and hope” in what had been upon his arrival a school district in “complete disarray.”

Answers Corona: “I do not only talk about what has to be done, I go out and do the job.”

The only one of five siblings to graduate from high school while growing up in an Italian precinct in San Diego, Corona used his prowess in athletics, especially baseball, to keep him engaged through school and college. (In high school, he pitched a no-hitter against Don Larsen, who later as a New York Yankee would become the only player to throw a perfect game in the World Series.)

When a shoulder injury curtailed the preliminary interest of the Cleveland Indians, Corona took positions in coaching and phys-ed teaching, and by 1960 he had landed his first superintendency, in the tiny town of Sunol, Calif.

That early athleticism has re-emerged as a major component of his recent life. After stumbling upon an early morning wellness walk/run at the 1998 AASA national conference, Corona took up competitive walking as a 70-year-old. Two years ago, participating in 5- and 10-kilometer events, he placed first in his age group in a national competition in Hawaii.

He’s become so committed to the connection between healthy bodies and healthy minds that he’s inclined to spend school recess by challenging children to rope-jumping contests on the playground.

“Pete likes to say, ‘While I am here, I am at your service 24 hours a day. Take advantage of that,’” says Reenstierna, the board president in Stanislaus. “As impossible as this is to accept initially, we would all agree today that this is in fact the case.”

Jay Goldman is editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org

BIO STATS: PETER CORONA

Currently: awaiting appointment

Previously: interim superintendent, four California districts

Age: 78

Greatest influence on career: My parents were perfect role models. Dad, a commercial fisherman, spoke limited English but was a strong and effective leader. Mom, the local PTA president, encouraged me to love history and the arts and would go to great distances to help others.

Best professional day: My greatest satisfaction occurs when overcoming odds, when people don’t expect us to succeed. I favor the underdog role and take great pride when the underdog wins.

Books at bedside:Excellence and Self Renewal by John Gardner; and On Being Mindful of Man by Hubert Bonner

Biggest blooper: At my retirement ceremony, a colleague said, “I remember Pete making a big blooper. He selected the wrong color jerseys for our school basketball team.” I commented to the audience: “I have been color blind most of my life. Rather than being a handicap, it is one of my greatest assets when working with people.”

Key reason I’m an AASA member: AASA is the best professional educational group I belong to. I am also thankful to AASA for enhancing my health. It was through the AASA conference that I became interested in race walking. It has motivated me to exercise and stretch.