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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 11:06 am | Fair 60º


Former Santa Barbara Schools Chief Mike Caston Dies at Age 65

Superintendent from 1994 to 2000 succumbed to Lou Gehrig's Disease on Sunday

Former Santa Barbara School District Superintendent Mike Caston died Sunday night after a years-long battle with ALS. He was 65.

Caston was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease, known commonly as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2011.

He is survived by his wife, Judy, three children, and three grandchildren.

Caston led the Santa Barbara Elementary and High School districts from 1994 to 2000, and his colleagues formed deep friendships with him.

“It’s a great loss,” former board member Steve Forsell told Noozhawk. “He just didn’t deserve this.”

Forsell served on the Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2000, and considered Caston a mentor and friend in addition to superintendent.

“He was just a wonderful person," Forsell said. "He was very bright, very accommodating, very intense and very focused.

“Last year I was in San Diego for the ALS Walk, which had a group called Caston’s Crew that did the walk around Balboa Park, and I saw Mike for the last time.”

People came from all over California — friends and colleagues from other school districts — to walk with him.

“I think he was close to all the board members,” Forsell said. “He was a gregarious person by nature, but he went out of his way to guide board members and listen to what they had to say, not be dismissive of any new ideas.

"It made my four years there much easier than it would have been otherwise.”

Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Dave Cash said Caston is possibly the most influential superintendent California has ever seen. He has mentored 40-60 sitting superintendents, including Cash. 

"Personally, other than my dad and my grandfather, no single person has influenced my life more than Mike Caston," said Cash, who added that he has modeled much of his work on Caston's example. 

Caston was not afraid to be a leader, said Bob Pohl, who served on the school board from 1996 to 2000, "and if he was a little further ahead of everyone else, he was OK with that. He also didn’t doubt himself and had confidence in his abilities.”

Pohl said his time as a trustee was the advent of a new, more activist era for the school board. For the first time, he said, trustees were involved in substantive discussions of school district policies.

“That was a new environment for Mike but, to his credit, he understood what people were bringing to the table and he channeled that," Pohl said. "He grew, and the school district benefited from his leadership."

Former trustee Sandee Beckers, who served on the board from 1992 to 1996, said a huge accomplishment for her term was the selection and hiring of Caston.

"Mike brought stability to the district during a period of controversy over English language course development," she said. "I consider him one of the best school district superintendents in the state of California.

"My prayers are with his wife, Judy, and his sons."

Caston also served as deputy superintendent of the Santa Barbara County Education Office

After leaving Santa Barbara, he moved south and is credited with turning around the Escondido Union School District, where he worked until June 2006. He then joined the search firm Leadership Associates, which has been involved in many local searches including Goleta Union School District’s hiring of former Superintendent Kathy Boomer and Superintendent Bill Banning.

He worked for a total of 23 years as a district superintendent, including in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified and Charter Oak Unified school districts. He previously worked as a high school biology teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent.

Caston's accolades include being honored as California superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2004, and superintendent of the year by USC’s Rossier School of Education in 2008.

When he wasn't working, Caston, a USC graduate, was a die-hard Trojan fan, attending every home game and most away games.

A celebration of life for Caston is planned from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17, at the California Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido Blvd. in Escondido.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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