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Profile — Ginger Hovenic

The Business

Of Education

Former Principal Ginger Hovenic

Offers Insiders’ Perspective on

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Meshing Schools and Corporations

or Ginger Hovenic, the red flags don’t unfurl like they did in the old days.

For 30 years, she immersed herself in the world of public schools. The farther she went along the road from teacher to principal to administrator, the more she became aware of the things that raise a red flag with one of the school’s constituencies.

Teachers, aides, other support staff, administrators, state officials, parents , any group could easily take offense with an ill-considered word.

But a year ago, Hovenic made the jump to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, where the rules are different.

It is liberating, she acknowledged. She can say things she couldn’t say while she was a teacher and a principal.

Merging School And Work

For roughly a year, Hovenic has directed the Business Roundtable for Education, a program of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. The roundtable’s meetings bring together school officials at all levels with San Diego businesspeople for discussions on educational topics.

“It gets pretty hot,” Hovenic said. “They don’t hold any punches. It’s kind of rejuvenated my thinking about some things.”

Built by past executive director Kay Davis, the roundtable has roughly five dozen corporate members. It has maintained its strength under Hovenic, its leaders say.

“I think Ginger’s been phenomenal for the roundtable,” said Tyler W. Cramer, CEO and partner with the law firm Cramer & Egan and immediate past chair of the roundtable. “I did everything I could to recruit her.”

Sandy Murphy, who represents Cox Communications on the panel, praised Hovenic’s ability to cut through debate and bureaucracy, and called her “very progressive in her thinking.”

The roundtable and education have remained part of Hovenic’s duties after she was named president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation. The chamber announced the move last month.

Visionary

Tad Seth Parzen, a partner in the Downtown law firm Hillyer & Irwin and current roundtable chairman, describes Hovenic as “very dynamic.”

“She understands the issues,” he said. “She has a terrific vision of where education needs to go to be effective in the next generation.”

Because she has worked in so many levels of public education, Parzen said, Hovenic has “a wonderful understanding” of educational delivery systems and how parts of that system integrate.

Hovenic said international, economic development and fine arts issues could enter into her job as foundation head, but as of Jan. 1, the foundation’s core focus is education.

“It’s the business voice for improving education in San Diego,” she said.

Foundation Chairman Vincent Siciliano stressed the point in announcing Hovenic’s move, calling the foundation “the link between our region’s business establishment and the public schools where teaching and learning resources are critically needed.”

And Hovenic sees a need, though she noted in a recent interview that many of the views are her personal ones, rather than those of the chamber.

Importing Biotech Talent

There is the chronic problem of Qualcomm Inc., Gateway, Science Applications International Corp. and the 250 or so local biotech companies needing employees with mathematical and scientific skills. Too few students here pursue those subjects, she said, and much talent comes from outside the county and even outside California.

“We don’t home-grow enough,” she said.

Other concerns relate to holding students back a grade , something that could grow more common with California’s crackdown on “social promotion.” When a student is not promoted to the next grade, Hovenic is concerned about how well that student will learn during year two if he is taught the same way with the same teacher.

There is also the puzzle of accurately measuring the progress of individual students or whole schools. Here, Hovenic said, computer technology could be a boon.

Potential Database Applications

Consider the kind of management tool a districtwide database of student test scores could be, Hovenic said, one that could follow students’ progress through the grades and see where they succeed or falter.

Such data could help teachers with their work, Hovenic said. For example: A longtime teacher might reason he or she has always covered double-digit multiplication for eight weeks, “therefore all the kids need it.”

But class data may show students know the topic. Armed with such data, a teacher may choose to spend two weeks on the topic and free up six weeks for another.

“Let’s look at where kids are, and teach them to their next level,” Hovenic said.

Hovenic leans heavily on information technology in her work. It was a big part of her two previous jobs.

Technology Background

She previously worked for the county Office of Education, rubbing elbows with area businesses at its Joe Rindone Regional Technology Center and founding the center’s Classroom of the Future Foundation.

For six years before that, she was principal of Chula Vista’s Clear View Elementary School, which Cox Communications named an International Model Technology School, and which the state twice named a Distinguished School.

Hovenic’s career did not promise to be so technology-heavy and business savvy, at least at first.

She was born in Shreveport, La. Her father also was born there but fell in love with California, where the family moved before she reached her teens.

When Ginger Hovenic headed into the work world, she was encouraged to look into traditional occupations like homemaking, nursing, or education. She chose education.

Her work eventually led her overseas to work in State Department schools, and to teaching stints at International University Europe, Harvard and San Diego State.

She and her husband, Mike, now live in Poway. They have two grown sons: Mike, a pro golfer who lives in Beverly Hills, and Tom, who will enter medical school at UC San Francisco.

Ginger Hovenic also runs her own corporation. The Mike Hovenic Soccer Camp, which builds on her husband’s coaching skills, runs camps all over California and Hawaii and has trained, in Hovenic’s estimation, at least 250,000 children over 22 years.

During her rare free hours she enjoys golf.

Legislation, Accountability Focus

At work, Ginger Hovenic has continued the roundtable’s focus on school legislation and “accountability,” which is making changes within the school system based on measurements of school and student performance particularly measurements of individual student performance over time.

Charter schools , those schools that break out of the mold of public education because they are exempted from many aspects of the education code , are another focus. Hovenic is helping launch the chamber’s fourth charter school, Global Learning@Home, an Internet-based school geared toward serving the home-school market.

Like the three other schools that came before it , formed on Kay Davis’ watch , the chamber will do start-up work, then let the schools “take off from there,” Hovenic said. Her office also helps a consortium of 37 charter schools by hosting meetings of school officials and sharing information with them.

“I think I’ve always been a teacher at heart,” Hovenic said, sitting in her chair in the chamber’s Downtown high-rise quarters.

“And I’m still a teacher. I love gathering information. I love historical fiction. I love history. And when I travel and work in different countries, I really get involved in that kind of stuff.”

Still, she said, she’s not letting her mind wander.

“I just feel very focused on the work that needs to be done here,” she said.

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