Dr. James Cowan, who served as Ventura County Superintendent of Schools for 24 years and left an indelible mark on Ventura County education, has passed away at the age of 87. “Jim was a true champion for all students and education in general,” said Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth. “During his tenure, he built a wonderful legacy for us all which continues to this day.”
That legacy includes the establishment of the local career education program for public school students, known at the time as the Regional Occupational Program or ROP. Dr. Cowan secured 20 acres of property at what is now the Camarillo Airport to house ROP facilities and VCOE special education programs. He guided the creation of several VCOE schools that serve students with special needs, including Gateway Community School, Dwire School, Penfield School, Triggs School and Phoenix School (formerly Hendershot School).
Dr. Cowan also oversaw the formation of four unified school districts within Ventura County. Unification is the process in which separate elementary and high school districts come together to form a new district that serves students all the way from kindergarten through high school. The unified districts that were created during Dr. Cowan’s tenure are Conejo Valley, Fillmore, Moorpark and Oak Park.
Dr. Cowan also gets credit for bringing the Academic Decathlon, Mock Trial and Science Fair student competitions to Ventura County. Since their establishment, Ventura County students have achieved great success in these competitions, including several wins at the state and national levels. A tireless advocate for educational equity, Dr. Cowan worked closely with leaders at the state level to bring extra help and teaching support to underprivileged students. He is the only county superintendent to serve two consecutive terms as President of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.
As a child, Dr. Cowan attended school in Ventura and went on to work as a teacher, counselor and administrator at Ventura High School and Buena High School. He joined the Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Office (now called the Ventura County Office of Education) in 1966 and was elected Ventura County Superintendent of Schools in 1969. He served six consecutive terms in office before retiring in 1993. Through his work, Dr. Cowan expanded educational opportunity for generations of Ventura County students. His impacts and contributions live on to this day and will not soon be forgotten.