There will probably be a rush to assess Sandra Lyon’s legacy as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district.

But, at least in the eyes of one Board of Education member, it’s too soon to judge.

“People will say, ‘What did Sandy really accomplish?” Oscar de la Torre said during Wednesday’s school board meeting, Lyon’s last with the district. “But there are things that we’ll accomplish after you leave because of the seed that you planted.”

Lyon, who served as the top administrator in SMMUSD for the last five years, this week began her tenure as superintendent of the Palm Springs Unified School District. She’s now in charge of a system that has about 23,000 students in 27 schools.

Lyon’s stint as chief executive of the local district was characterized by several notable changes and successes as well as by numerous community controversies.

The seed to which de la Torre was referring was Lyon’s impact on the local district’s decision to hire education reformist Pedro Noguera to curb achievement gaps that have persisted between minority students and their peers.

“Being superintendent in Santa Monica and Malibu is the most difficult job that any public servant can take on,” de la Torre said. “You came into a difficult place, and there were things that were here that pre-dated you. They surfaced at a time when we needed a leader to steer the ship.”

Improving equity in SMMUSD was perhaps Lyon’s ultimate goal, as evidenced by the time devoted to the issue during the district’s annual convocation in August and the district’s ongoing work with Noguera. But Lyon’s energies were often spent on other issues, including litigation over chemical testing and cleanup in Malibu, debate over centralized fundraising and the possible creation of a separate Malibu district.

The May announcement of Lyon’s departure elicited cheers in Malibu, where parents have repeatedly criticized her for the district’s handling of environmental remediation.

“We hope that new leadership will bring common sense to the district and put protecting children and teachers’ health as their first priority,” America Unites for Kids leader Jennifer deNicola said in a statement.

School board members offered parting tributes at the meeting June 29, praising Lyon’s dedication and stewardship.

“For me, having had the opportunity to work closely with her, I felt and feel that, up to the last minute here, Sandy has brought to our a district a balance of gentleness and toughness, listening and leading, structure and openness,” board president Laurie Lieberman said. “She really embodies the values we want our students to possess: resilient, team player and critical thinker. We are really, really going to miss her.”

Board member Ralph Mechur said he admired Lyon’s ability to approach issues through the lens of what would be best for students.

“I know that Palm Springs will have the same success,” he said.

Added board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein: “I wish you weren’t going.”

Lyon thanked her senior cabinet, union leadership and district staff, giving a special mention to her assistant, Sarah Wahrenbrock. And she expressed confidence in the direction of the board, which will look different by the end of the calendar year. Jose Escarce has announced he won’t seek re-election to the governing body, and the terms for Mechur and Maria Leon-Vazquez are also set to expire in December.

Lyon said the board is in position to improve equity and reduce disparities in academic success in the district over the coming years.

“I really feel that our team in full is in place, and the work’s defined,” she said. “You’ve got two strong interims ready to go. … I can never thank you enough for your professionalism, support and passion for this community.”

Leon-Vazquez said Lyon didn’t back away from the problems facing the district.

“Despite all the negativity that came through with a lot of the hard issues, I give it to you that you took it,” she said. “It’s hard. You took it with much grace. You learned a lot, I’m sure. You steered us, and we’re getting going.”

jeff@www.smdp.com