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Cunningham's knee replacement surgery results in BUSD seeking replacement superintendent


Last updated 5/5/2017 at Noon

The Bonsall Unified School District will be seeking a new superintendent to replace Justin Cunningham, who has held that position since 2008.

Cunningham had knee replacement surgery April 24, and that day he notified the school board that July 31 would be his final day as the BUSD superintendent.

"I feel that the district really does need 100 percent focus right now," Cunningham said.

The rehabilitation process is expected to last between eight and 10 months.

"I don't want to be presumptuous and think that the district should adjust to my disability," Cunningham said. "I don't think that the district should have to put up with my condition."

Cunningham, who will be 63 years old July 15, is considering himself to be repurposing rather than retiring. He noted that some professional education opportunities would not require the devotion to a school district his current position entails.

School district employees receive pensions through the California State Teachers' Retirement System, and Cunningham would be able to work part-time and still collect his CalSTRS benefits. Cunningham's CalSTRS retirement payments are based on his total teaching and administrative career which began in 1977 as a Sweetwater Unified School District teacher, and Cunningham's CalSTRS benefits would likely be between 80 and 85 percent of his current pay.

In 1980, Cunningham obtained a teaching position with the South Fork Union School District in the Kern County town of Weldon and, in 1983, he became the principal of South Fork School and the superintendent of the South Fork Union School District.

"I started pretty early in administrative roles," said Cunningham.

Cunningham's father-in-law at the time was in real estate and development and offered Cunningham a position in that field.

"I did it for a couple of years, definitely made a lot more money," Cunningham said.

Although real estate paid better, Cunningham felt that his purpose was in education and returned to that field. He spent a year with the Kern County Office of Education before joining the San Diego County Office of Education in 1989. He spent 19 years with the San Diego County Office of Education before succeeding Jeff Felix as Bonsall's superintendent.

During Cunningham's nine years as the school district superintendent the district transitioned from the K-8 Bonsall Union School District to the K-12 Bonsall Unified School District, began operating a high school which is currently on the Sullivan Middle School campus, constructed a two-story building currently being used by the high school and which will accommodate middle school students after the high school moves to a separate campus, affiliated Bonsall High School and Sullivan Middle School with the New Technology Network in which students interact with industry and serve internships and which emphasizes interdisciplinary study, and obtained CIF San Diego Section membership for Bonsall High School.

"I'm incredibly grateful for being able to serve the community," said Cunningham. "I couldn't have had a better community to work with."

Cunningham dislocated his knee while playing football at Southwestern College in 1973, but the X-ray technology at the time did not reveal that his anterior cruciate ligament had snapped. His meniscus and cartilage deteriorated, and he had corrective surgery in 1975. Following the surgery Cunningham was able to resume playing rugby until he moved to Kern County in 1980.

Last summer a cyst behind Cunningham's knee caused the knee to fill with fluid. The fluid was drained several times, and the loss of cartilage created a bone-on-bone situation which would have necessitated continued draining of the fluid periodically in the absence of a knee replacement.

Cunningham expects a full recovery from his knee surgery.

"It will definitely come back," said Cunningham. "I'll be back surfing again."

The plan is for the school district to hire the new superintendent effective July 1, which will allow Cunningham to work with his successor.

"I definitely want to help Bonsall any way I can," Cunningham said. "There's a lot of concerns that definitely need to be addressed."

The challenges for the school district include building a high school and dealing with the increased student enrollment due to development within the district boundaries.

The timing of Cunningham's announcement allows the school board to address the issue of the new superintendent at its May and June regular meetings, and special meetings may also be called to ensure that Cunningham's replacement will be selected in time to work with Cunningham on the transition.

"It's got a great future," Cunningham said of the district. "It's got a fantastic community."


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