EDUCATION: John Bowes named new Manhattan Beach schools superintendent

by Mark McDermott 

John Bowes, an education leader known for creative curriculum and financial expertise, has been named superintendent of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. 

Bowes, who is expected to be officially approved by the school board at its July 7 meeting, has served as superintendent of the Davis Joint Unified School District since 2016. Bowes also has South Bay ties, previously serving as an assistant superintendent at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. Bowes will take over from Mike Matthews, who has served as MBUSD superintendent since 2010. 

School Board president Jennifer Fenton said the hiring of Bowes comes at a critical time. The district lost a significant percentage of its students during the pandemic and came under fire from parents who were dissatisfied by the pace of the return to in-person instruction. 

“The board listened to the valuable feedback from our stakeholders and understood the importance of this hire,” Fenton said. “We looked for a candidate who could help develop a clear and compelling vision for the future, while also addressing the needs of our students and providing solutions for our budget shortfall.  Dr. Bowes has the leadership experience to do all of that… and more. This is the beginning of a new chapter for MBUSD.” 

Under Bowes’ leadership, DJUSD launched a number of initiatives, including career academies, theater arts and music programs, an award-winning special education inclusion model, and an in-house teacher credentialing program. The district also passed two parcel taxes and a bond measure during his tenure. In 2019, Dr. Bowes was named one of the Top 300 Civic Leaders in the Sacramento area. 

Bowes’ experience also includes seven years as director of Labor Relations in Los Angeles Unified School District and five years as a principal in the San Fernando Valley. Bowes, who also speaks Spanish, is known as a strong communicator who values inclusivity.

“Based on Dr. Bowes’ unrivaled track record, it was abundantly clear to the Board that he is the perfect person to lead MBUSD into the future,” said Fenton. “His reputation as both a problem solver and collaborator, as well as his ties to the South Bay, assures that our district will remain at the forefront of excellence.” 

Shawn Chen, the president of the Manhattan Unified Teachers Association, said she and her fellow teachers look forward to new leadership. 

“I think his experience is interesting and I have confidence that the board put in a good faith effort to find someone who can work on the many issues we’ve developed over the past 10 years,” Chen said. 

In a statement, Bowes said he is thrilled to come to Manhattan Beach. 

“I am excited to serve this exceptional community and destination school district. I look forward to partnering with the Board, staff, students, and families as we develop our vision and roadmap for an extraordinary future together.” 

New principal 

Sharon Witzansky has been named principal of Pennekamp Elementary School. She will be replacing Karina Gerger, who is moving on to be  principal of Mira Costa High School, following Ben Dale’s departure.

Witzansky emerged as the top candidate following a paper screening and panel interview by teachers, classified employees, administrators, and parents, as well as interviews with the superintendent and cabinet. She was officially appointed at the school board’s June 23 meeting. 

“Her combination of elementary teaching and leadership experience makes her incredibly well-qualified for the position,” said Superintendent Mike Matthews. “She is a strong communicator, a caring and warm educator, and a consummate team player.” 

Witzansky joined MBUSD in 1999 and has taught at the elementary level in grades kindergarten, one, three, and five. For the last four years, she has been the Elementary Assistant Principal at Grand View and Pacific Elementary Schools.

Witzansky expressed admiration both for her predecessor and Pennekamp School. 

 “I am incredibly honored to continue doing the good work of Dr. Karina Gerger and to immerse myself into the Pennekamp community.” ER

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Written by: Mark McDermott

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