Lillian Barna, former TPS superintendent, dies at 92

Lillian Barna, superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools from 1988-1993, passed away recently in Saratoga, Calif., at age 92.

Barna, Tacoma’s first Latino superintendent, retired from a long and distinguished career that began in New York. She studied education in New York State and did her student teaching at a Bronx secondary school where she met her future husband, Eugene Barna. Eugene, also a student teacher, eventually decided to pursue a career in engineering instead.

As a young married couple, they didn’t want to start a family in New York, so they set off across the country looking for someplace better. They kept going until they hit the West Coast. In the Saratoga area, Lillian taught preschool, elementary, junior high and high school. She also served as a principal and administrator in early childhood education before taking on the superintendency of the San Jose Unified School District. While keeping her home base in Saratoga, she later became superintendent in Albuquerque Public Schools in New Mexico and then Tacoma. In Tacoma, she succeeded long-time superintendent Del Cross.

In “retirement,” Barna didn’t really retire. In 1993, she chaired the Women Administrators Advisory Committee for AASA (The National School Superintendents Association). For decades both the superintendent profession and the association had been dominated by men. Barna summed up her committee’s work in two sentences: “It’s not only important for women to get there, but it’s also important that we help them to stay there. Our committee geared itself toward helping women be successful.”

AASA honored Barna with its national Distinguished Service Award in 1994. She served on several AASA committees including the Legislative, Resolutions, and Superintendents' Salary Committees, the Urban Advisory and Women's Caucus Boards, and the National Association of Administrators of State and Federal Education Programs.

She enjoyed teaching again in retirement at Santa Clara University, San Jose State University and the National Hispanic University in their teacher and administrator preparation programs.

Her contributions toward the education of young people have been recognized by the California, New Mexico, and Washington State legislatures. Other awards include the Woman of Achievement Award (Santa Clara Committee on the Status of Women and San Jose Mercury News). She was inducted into the Hunter College Hall of Fame and won the prized Anne Campbell Award in 1998 from the Women's Caucus of AASA for "consistent, unselfish, and courageous support of women in school administration."

Barna broke a number of barriers. She was the first female Rotarian in Albuquerque, NM, and continued to serve in her local chapters for the rest of her life.

Lillian and Eugene celebrated 60 years of marriage in 2011 with more than 50 friends. At that time they reflected on their joy of traveling together—most memorably their first trip through Europe in a Volkswagen bus–traveling two months without reservations, staying in pensions and bed and breakfasts, and mingling with the locals. Machu Picchu also was a favorite destination.

Lillian was born Jan. 18, 1929, and died May 27, 2021.

Eugene passed away in July 2016.

While many certainly will remember Lillian as a school leader, she will be remembered fondly as a doting mother, aunt and grandmother. She is survived by a loving family including sons, Craig and Keith, his wife Tonya, and their sons Andrew, Bronson and Louis.

Information for this story came from the obituaries of Lillian and Eugene Barna, a San Jose Mercury News story about their 60th wedding anniversary and

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Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


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