Photo by Kent Goodman
On Jan. 25 the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) listed a job posting for a new assistant superintendent of human resources. Currently, the position is held by 62-year-old Lars Christensen who is set to retire on June 30, 2021, ending his 38-year career in education.
Because late January to the end of March is the typical hiring season in the education field, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong has already begun the process of finding Christensen’s successor. After the posting closes on Feb. 17, a panel filled with teachers, classified union members, administrators and community members will begin the paper screening process. Then, another panel will conduct interviews with the finalist and Superintendent Tara Taupier will choose a candidate to send to the school board for approval. According to Armstrong, they hope to have a recommendation for the school board by March 9.
“We are definitely looking for someone who believes in our community and our organization,” Armstrong said. “We want [a candidate] who is ready to help us move forward in the work that we are committed to.”
Because Christensen announced his retirement so far in advance, the district has an ample amount of time to find a qualified replacement. Despite this, according to TUHSD Superintendent Tara Taupier, finding an equivalent successor will be hard due to Christensen’s unparalleled work ethic.
“We’ll really miss him,” Taupier said. “He makes a very difficult job look easy. [Christensen] works very, very hard. I have gotten text messages from him at 5:00 a.m. I have gotten emails from him at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. He works tirelessly to make sure that the job is complete, and those are big shoes to fill.”
Christensen was planning on retiring in June 2020 but quickly changed his agenda when COVID-19 forced the TUHSD into an online format.
“I had planned for the last 10 years to step away last year, but when we shut down in March, I called the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and said ‘pull my papers.’ I just couldn’t leave the people I care about in the middle of the crisis, I couldn’t do it,” Christensen said.
Currently, Christensen is in charge of negotiating with the certificate (teachers) and classified (employees) unions, managing position control (ensuring the correct number of teachers are hired), teachers’ leave of absence, salary schedules and disciplinary action for employees. Taupier believes that Christensen thrives in this job because of his empathetic nature.
“[Being in charge of human resources] often requires difficult conversations, and I think the level of compassion that he brought to those conversations and his ability to see individuals and not just policies was really special,” Taupier said.
In addition to human resources, Christensen is in charge of maintenance and operations as well as facility construction within the district. While this is not typically the role of the assistant superintendent of human resources, when the TUHSD chief financial officer (CFO), who was in charge of facilities at the time, left unexpectedly, Christensen stepped up and took on the extra role.
“[Facility construction and maintenance] is complex, and it’s its own language. Firstly, I just wanted to help, and secondly, I have an interest; I feel like I can speak that language pretty well and I enjoy the dynamics of it all,” Christensen said. “[The duties] have grown in scope … and they are a big part of my weekly life here. I didn’t anticipate this when I took the job, but [I] wouldn’t change a thing. I’d jump right back in if I had to do it again.”
Once Christensen departs from TUHSD, the facility services responsibilities will be transferred back to the business office. Corbett Elsen, the current CFO, will take the responsibilities and will, in turn, be promoted to assistant superintendent of finances and facilities. Elsen and Christensen have already started the transition process, and Christensen believes that Elsen will do a good job being in charge of facilities.
As Christensen’s imminent retirement inches closer, he has taken the time to reflect on his wonderful tenure at TUHSD and the true value of this district.
“[TUHSD] leads, we don’t follow, and I am proud to be part of a team that other districts look [to] for direction and guidance,” Christensen said. “I really want everyone to understand how special this place is. It’s natural for people who’ve been at a certain job for a long period of time to take everything for granted; I would be guilty of that, but we need to appreciate [these schools] every day because it is different here in a very positive way … and when I walk away on my last day, I’ll have a tear in my eye.”