After a seven-month search for a new superintendent, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District has hired a veteran educator from Riverside County.
Antonio Garcia, currently the Riverside Unified School District’s assistant superintendent of professional growth systems, was named superintendent Tuesday night after the district’s Board of Education met in closed session.
Garcia will replace Mark Richardson, who announced his plans in April and retired in June after leading the district for seven years.
Garcia will start the job on Jan. 1, with an annual salary of $260,000 plus benefits.
“We are so thrilled to have appointed you,” board President Dominick Palera said. “We’re looking forward to the future and what this district can do. I think we’re on the right path.”
“It’s going to be a great ride, so I’m glad to you’re coming on board,” board member Amy Lopez said.
Garcia said he was honored to be chosen to lead the district and appreciates the board’s confidence in hiring him.
“Thirty years ago, I was called to a career in education when I worked for migrant ed, and realized I needed to pursue a career in teaching,” Garcia said.
“After all, it was educators, along with my parents, who are credited for putting my life on a trajectory that would have turned out very differently otherwise, particularly given the assets and the challenges of growing up as an English learner in an immigrant household.
“Today, I answer another calling, and it feels just as strong to this culturally rich and beautiful community of Santa Maria, a place that will soon be our home for me and my family,” he added.
Garcia acknowledged the board and staff for their work to implement a vision for a better educational experience for the district’s students.
“I plan to do much listening and learning once I start in my new role in January, so that collectively we can build on that vision to take the district to a new level for all of our students in our school district,” he added.
After announcing the appointment, the board approved the employment agreement for Garcia, whose contract runs through June 30, 2023.
The contract includes assorted medical, dental and vision benefits, plus calls for paying Garcia $15,000 for moving costs and $650 as a monthly automobile allowance.
The board voted 4-0 for hiring Garcia and approving his contract, with board member Diana Perez absent.
However, she sent a statement saying she supported Garcia’s hiring.
“I am grateful for our board’s acknowledgement to bring a leader of such high caliber, commitment to education, and compassion for people from all walks of life,” she said in the statement read by Palera.
Garcia began his career as a high school social sciences teacher for Whittier Union High School, before joining the staff of the Riverside district in 1999, and rising through the ranks. He also spent time working for the Riverside County Office of Education.
District officials said Garcia has received recognition for equity-based work in improving teaching and learning.
Garcia’s wife, Maria, also an educator, attended the meeting along with their two daughters, both of whom currently attend UCSB.
Since June, John Davis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the district, has served as acting superintendent, and will continue in that role until Garcia arrives.
“Antonio, I’ll keep the chair warm for you for the next couple months … but I’m looking forward to working with you on making our already excellent district an even better place for students,” Davis said.
Board members also expressed gratitude to Davis for filling in during the lapse in superintendents.
“He jumped on the bus and got in the driver’s seat and held the torch high,” Lopez said.
Leadership Associates of Santa Barbara conducted the search for the new superintendent, spelling out a timeline during the spring that called for completing the hiring process in November.
The Santa Maria district includes three comprehensive high school campuses for ninth- through 12th-graders plus a continuation high school, with about 8,200 students in all.