"I will give you all I have - and more," Sims told the district's staff and administration, plus some parents and members of the public last Friday afternoon in the board meeting room. Speaking from the side of the room — with the audience to her left and the board to her right — she adroitly addressed both, as if she were at a slow moving tennis match.
After more than six months of searching for a replacement for Superintendent Dennis Goettsch, board members appeared elated and relieved to be free of the pressure from both within and without to get it done.
President Bart Sandborn said, "It's taken a long time, but we wanted a good fit." Vice-president Gary Agopian thanked the audience for its patience and said to Sims, "We welcome you with open arms." Board member Walter Ruehlig said, "It was worth the wait." Board member Joyce Seelinger said, "I'm thrilled that she's here." Board member Claire Smith talked about "leaping over tall buildings with a single bound" and "walking on water."
The room had a party aura as numerous people came up and introduced themselves to Sims, who shook hands and listened with grace and patience.
But it was not quite party time. As of press time Wednesday afternoon, with the board to meet that evening, Sandborn said the contract was still being negotiated. When asked how much the district was offering, he laughed and said, "Nice try," then added they "hoped to get it done tonight."
Sims' mother and aunt were both principals of San Francisco schools and almost all of Sims' professional life has been with that district. She was the principal of an elementary school for 13 years and served in several staff positions for the district, including supervising the office of parent relations, chairing the budget steering committee and serving on the negotiating team.
For two years, ending in July, she was Chief of School Operations and most recently has been the Associate Superintendent for Equity and Internal Coordination - a job that includes oversight of special projects, Small Schools by Design, charter schools, internal communications, district compliance with federal and state requirements and the translation office.
"She has been through the fire in the San Francisco school district, which had seven school closures, four mergers and eight relocations," said Ruehlig, who also believes there is steel beneath her good manners.
The fact that she comes from a large district in an urban area might be a key to her hiring, as Antioch faces the problems urbanization brings.
When asked if his job is being left in good hands, Goettsch said, "Of course it is." Sims begins work Sept. 5 and Goettsch is scheduled to remain until Sept. 15 to help with the transition.
Goettsch said Sims would be both the first African-American and the first woman to be superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District.
She attended the University of San Francisco, earning a BA in English, an MS in Education Administration and an PhD in Organization and Leadership.
In the several different ways that Sims said she was excited about the new challenge, she came across as dignified, friendly, able - and smartly dressed. She wore a tailored suit with simple jewelry and she might have been wearing velvet gloves.
In her interviews with the board and in her acceptance comments she talked the talk. On Sept. 5, the first day of the new school year, she may start the walk.