A memorial service will be held Saturday, Feb. 28, for Newman M. Walker, who was superintendent of Palo Alto schools from 1975 to 1985 -- during some of the district's most difficult years of declining enrollment, loss of funding and school closures.
The service will be held at 2 p.m. at the Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Road. Walker suffered a serious stroke in 2001, which affected his balance, but otherwise had remained actively interested in the community, schools and Stanford sports, particularly women's basketball.
Walker died of a heart attack Sunday morning, Feb. 1, after an active week attending dinners, events and a Stanford women's basketball game, his wife, Annabelle "Ann" Walker recalled of his final week.
Walker came to Palo Alto from Louisville, Ky., where he was in charge of an explosive integration of two school districts, black and white, under a court order.
He arrived in Palo Alto during a time of plummeting enrollment and resultant school closures. He later recounted his arrival, when he drove straight from the San Francisco airport to a meeting of angry parents protesting a school closure.
He immediately demonstrated a style that made him memorable to many associates and parents: He walked to the podium and began by thanking the outraged parents turning out "to welcome me to Palo Alto."
Ray Bacchetti, who served on the Board of Education when Walker was superintendent, said Walker "had the charm, brains, toughness and humanity to run our school system when Palo Alto was losing both kids and money – a situation guaranteed to devour most superintendents.
"Newman knew his business, put public education at the center of democracy, loved kids and ran our district with his inimitable mix of toughness and humanity," Bacchetti said.
Current Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he had lunch with Walker soon after Skelly became superintendent and showed him around the district offices. "He remarked that it looked much the same as when he was here," Skelly recalled. "He was very helpful in the advice that he gave and the history of the district."
Walker "led this district during the most difficult times possible. He and the board made some very tough, unpopular decisions that had to be made.
"Whenever I think my job is hard, I think about how much more challenging it was for him," Skelly said.
Ann Walker recalled Walker's final week as one filled with events, friends and sports. She said they awoke about 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 1, talked a few minutes and then Walker said he planned to sleep in, and she said, "Me, too."
But within a half hour Walker started having chest seizures and was unresponsive to her. She called 911 and Walker was later pronounced dead at Stanford Hospital, apparently from a heart attack.
Walker was a native of Monett, Mo. After high school and receiving a B.S. degree from Southwest Missouri State, Walker taught in Rolla, Mo., before serving three years in the U.S. Air Force. He received an M.A. degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and an Ed.D. in school administration from George Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn.
At age 27, he was named superintendent of schools in Mountain Grove, Mo., and later became the youngest superintendent ever hired in Paducah, Ky. He was named superintendent in Louisville, Ky., where he became embroiled in a bitter court-ordered integration-merger of two school districts in a racially explosive time.
He accepted the superintendent job in Palo Alto in 1975, replacing retiring Superintendent Harold Santee.
In addition to plunging enrollment, Walker had to deal with the impact of the 1978 Proposition 13, the statewide property-tax revolt, and later statewide school district equalization measures to balance funding for districts.
When Walker and his wife relocated to Palo Alto, they brought with them a teenager from a large neighboring family that could not afford to send him to college. The youth lived with them in Palo Alto for several months while he worked for a fast-food restaurant and bought, fixed up and resold motorcycles and later cars for income.
The youth, Roger Cwiak, later attended Foothill College and Santa Clara University, studying civil engineering. After graduation he joined the City of Palo Alto staff, from which he recently retired after 28 years. The Walkers attended a retirement party for Cwiak the week prior to Walker's death.
In addition to his wife, Walker is survived by a daughter, Melanie Walker of San Francisco, and two sons, Keith Walker and Kelvin Walker (wife, Jan Hawkins), both of San Jose. The Walkers also enjoyed their role as honorary grandparents to Chanel and Tiffany Miller and Christopher Tseng.
The family prefers memorials be contributions to a charity or scholarship fund of the donor's choice.
Palo Alto Online
February 9, 2009
Newman M. Walker, former Superintendent of Palo Alto Unified School District, died Sunday, February 1, 2009 at Stanford University Hospital. He was born in Monett, Mo. on May 21, 1930 to Virginia Cox Walker and Milburn N. Walker. He graduated from Monett High School in 1948 and went on to complete his BA at Southwest Mo. State University. While serving in the US Air Force during the Korean War, he earned his MA in Counseling from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He then earned a Doctorate of Education from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1957.
For 28 years he enjoyed a fulfilling career as Superintendent of Public Schools in Mountain Grove, MO, Paducah, KY, Louisville, KY, and lastly, Palo Alto, CA. In 1966, he was named by the US Junior Chamber of Commerce as one of four Outstanding Young Superintendents in America. During his tenure in Louisville he earned a reputation as an innovative leader who fought for quality education for all students regardless of race or socio-economic status. Dr. Walker retired from the Palo Alto Unified School District in 1985.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Annabelle Arnaud Walker, daughter, Melanie Walker of San Francisco (and Louisville, Ky), son Kelvin Walker and his wife Jan Hawkins of San Jose Ca., son Keith Walker of San Jose, several cousins, nieces and nephews, and many cherished friends including Roger Cwiak. Newman and Ann especially enjoyed their role as honorary “grandparents” to Chanel and Tiffany Miller and Christopher Tseng.
A memorial service to celebrate Dr. Walker’s life and work will be held in Palo Alto at a date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that those who wish to honor Newman contribute to a charity or scholarship of their choice.
The Monett Times -- Monett, MO
Newman M. Walker, the innovative superintendent who led the old Louisville independent school district in a storied turnaround up to the point of its merger with the county school system, died Sunday at Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., of a heart attack. He was 78.
Walker had lived in Palo Alto since leaving Louisville in 1975, the year the old city and Jefferson County school systems merged in the face of court-ordered desegregation.
Regarded as an approachable intellectual, Walker put Louisville on the national education map with obvious improvements like better reading and math scores, as well as more nuanced changes such as an influx of enthusiastic young staffers and parents eagerly involved in schools.
"Newman simply was the best. He was way ahead of his time," said Frank Yeager, a former deputy superintendent of the city schools. "He was the best superintendent I've ever seen, and I ran school districts for 30 years."
Stu Sampson, a retired school administrator for both the city and county districts who worked for Walker, said, "His legacy was to challenge the impossible, and I know that might sound a little bit goofy."
"He was a tremendous motivator," said Sampson, who credited Walker's progressive methods and administrative style as formative to an entire generation of Jefferson County educational leaders.
Sampson said the training and leadership Walker provided "stood us very well as we got into our desegregation plan and merging our school districts" and prepared many to lead the merged system years later.
Yeager said that "teachers liked their jobs."
It was difficult to recruit "the brightest," Yeager said, but Walker could get "the very best" to come teach in what had been rapidly declining urban schools.
When Walker became superintendent in 1969, the school system was operating with a budget deficit and had a student population that, before court-ordered desegregation, was about 60 percent black and 40 percent white and increasingly poor.
His personal philosophy was to change what he thought was an atmosphere students found repressive and change their negative attitudes about education. Some of his early initiatives — in particular two programs called Focus and Impact aimed at reducing dropout rates, low attendance and declining test scores — drew criticism.
"He needed to try to reach every child regardless of race and socioeconomic background," Walker's wife, Annabelle, said today from Palo Alto. "He felt for some children, maybe the expectations weren't high enough. It was not always smooth, but that was where his heart was. ... I know he was very proud of the fact that they were able to try to start new programs, they were innovating new programs."
During his six years at the helm, Walker had improved the school system so much that he had been recruited by school districts in cities like Detroit and Richmond, Va. Federal grants followed the national recognition, enough that at one point, Louisville received more federal aid per student than any other school district in the country.
Sampson recalled one of his job duties as routinely going to the airport to pick up reporters from Time magazine or The New York Times, or school district officials "here to learn."
A native of Monett, Mo., Walker taught briefly before becoming a school superintendent at the age of 27 for the rural Mountain Grove, Mo., school system. After five years there, he became the youngest superintendent the Paducah, Ky., school system had ever hired.
Walker was superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District from 1975 until he retired in 1985.
He earned his bachelor's degree from Southwest Missouri State University, master's at Trinity University and doctorate from the old George Peabody College for Teachers, now part of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn. He served three years in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Melanie Walker, and sons Kelvin and Keith Walker. A memorial service is being planned in Palo Alto.
February 3, 2009