John F. Dean, former Orange County superintendent of schools, dies at 89

John F. Dean, who served as Orange County superintendent of schools from 1991 through 2001 and led OCDE through the county’s 1994 bankruptcy, died last week at the age of 89.

Dr. John F. Dean headshotDuring his decade-spanning tenure as county superintendent, Dr. Dean was admired for his work in helping to create safe school environments with high achievement and low dropout rates. He advocated for funding to serve special education programs and supported the Alternative, Community, and Correctional Schools and Services program to include incarcerated students and students experiencing homelessness. Dr. Dean backed rigorous world-class standards for all students, promoting English language mastery and bringing technology to every school.

“Dr. Dean was an exceptionally kind-hearted and effective leader who guided the Orange County Department of Education through the dark days of the county bankruptcy and led us into the modern era of data-driven decision-making and accountability,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares. “His passion for literacy and commitment to meeting the needs of each student has left a lasting impact on our schools and our county.”

Raised in Ontario, Calif., Dr. Dean earned a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in English and journalism from the University of Southern California. He received a master’s degree in education, administration and curriculum from California State University, Long Beach, and a doctorate in educational administration from USC in 1966.

Dr. Dean began his career in 1950 as an elementary school teacher in Ontario. Three years later, he and his wife, Katherine, moved to Newport Beach, where he taught at Horace Ensign Intermediate School and Newport Grammar School before joining the administrative ranks. He spent five years as principal of Harbor View School in Corona del Mar and five years as the district’s director of curriculum.

After serving for a year as dean at Orange Coast College, he spent 21 years as a professor of education and chair of the Education Department at Whittier College. He left Whittier in 1991 when he was elected to his first term as Orange County’s superintendent of schools. Dr. Dean was recognized with helping guide schools through the county’s 1994 bankruptcy crisis and was twice re-elected to his post. After 50 years in education, he retired in April of 2001.

Dr. Dean authored several books, including “Teaching in America,” “Writing Well: 60 Simply-Super Lessons to Motivate and Improve Students’ Writing” and “Games Make Spelling Fun: A Teaching Aid to Better Spelling.”

He was named a Distinguished Alumni in 1991 by Cal State Long Beach’s Graduate School of Education and was inducted into the California Reading Association Hall of Fame in 1989.

Dr. Dean was preceded in death by his daughter, Karol and is survived by his wife, Katherine, son Brian, four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and brother Jim.