A. Stanley Corey, IUSD’s first superintendent and its primary architect, dies at 89

The Irvine Unified School District lost an educational giant over the winter break.

A. Stanley Corey, the district’s founding superintendent and the man generally regarded as the most influential figure in the history of IUSD, died at his Arroyo Grande home on Dec. 30. He was 89.

To say Corey left his mark on Irvine Unified is to say Steve Jobs left his mark on Apple. Corey’s vision for what a school district could be was innovative, bordering on prescient, and always student-centered. That vision was thoughtfully executed beginning in 1972 with a set of 37 founding principles that still hold great relevance in Irvine. Most wouldn’t seem out of place at a Silicon Valley tech firm.

Organizations must strive for momentum not stability. … Outrageous expectations should be standard. … Institutions must be dynamic and changing if they are to survive in a radically changing world. … Somewhere in the district we have the talent to lead us in the solution of any particular problem.

And of course, this one: Students must be the focus of all efforts.

These declarations of staff empowerment and collaboration helped guide the district through its embryonic stages in the early 1970s to its emergence as a nationally recognized leader in education, and they continue to be leveraged as the building blocks of IUSD’s Strategic Initiatives.

Stan Corey mugCorey’s life and career may not have started in Irvine, but his legacy has a permanent residence here. Raised in Santa Ana, he received his bachelor’s degree in history from Whittier College in 1948, and he earned his master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Southern California in 1956.

He had served as the superintendent of the Berryessa and Cupertino union school districts in Santa Clara County before interviewing to be IUSD’s first schools chief. With a mandate from the Board of Education to produce “a superior school district” in just two years, he ushered in a revolutionary momentum that extended well beyond his 14-year tenure.

“It was the chance of a lifetime, a tabula rasa,” he would say later. “Start with a blank slate and build a district. It was very exciting.”

With a new leadership team in place, Corey and Co. championed the merits of decentralization in Irvine, believing decisions should be made proximate to the action, which was often the classroom. “People grow when given responsibility,” says founding principle No. 3.

On a personal note, about two and a half years ago we tracked down a number of current and former district leaders for a video series about the district’s 40th anniversary, and we asked each of them to name the person who had the biggest impact on the culture of IUSD. It was unanimous — they all said Stan Corey.

It was around this time that we also ventured north for a visit with Corey, who was gracious enough to participate in a lengthy interview to discuss IUSD’s origin story and his legacy as its chief architect. In person he was sharp, funny, eloquent, analytical, humble and a bit taller than we expected, and we were honored that he took the time. The video above features excerpts of our conversation from May 30, 2012.