Luke Ontiveros was appointed Wednesday night as the next superintendent of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. “I will have a steep learning curve even though I’m from Santa Maria,” he says, “but I know I will be working with the right people. Our biggest strength in education is learning from each other.” (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

An educator with deep roots in the Santa Maria Valley and experience from elsewhere in the state has been named to lead Santa Barbara County’s largest elementary school district.

After meeting in closed session, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of education announced Wednesday night they had voted unanimously to hire Luke Ontiveros, 54, as the next superintendent.

“The process to fill the superintendent’s position was a rigorous one, and we appreciate the community’s involvement and certainly your input. We know that Mr. Ontiverous is the right person for the position,” board president John Hollinshead said. “We’re excited to have Mr. Ontiveros on the board to serve the children of our district, and we’re looking forward to his success as our next superintendent.”

Ontiveros is currently the superintendent of the Snowline Joint Unified School District in Phelan, in San Bernardino County, a job he has held since 2013. That K-12 district has more than 8,500 students.

“I’m very excited to be coming to Santa Maria-Bonita,” Ontiveros said. “Working in public education right now is the most transformational work there is. The purpose of schools is to ensure the next generation to carry on. 

“It’s daunting and exciting. I’m looking forward to working with a new team in Santa Maria-Bonita. I will have a steep learning curve even though I’m from Santa Maria, but I know I will be working with the right people. Our biggest strength in education is learning from each other.”

This was the second search for the person to replace Phil Alvarado as superintendent of the district, which has 20 campuses and more than 17,000 pre-schoolers through eight-graders.

“Mr. Ontiveros comes to our district with a history of collaborative and innovative leadership,” Hollinshead said. “He lives one of our most important goals: being a lifelong learner. In his role as superintendent, Mr. Ontiveros seeks the best practices and staff input. The educational landscape is constantly changing, and we are confident that Mr. Ontiveros will be an outstanding guide toward great achievement and growth for our students.”

Last year, the board narrowed the field of finalists to one, but the top candidate sparked objections from Santa Maria-Bonita teachers who charged the man “brings along baggage from past indiscretions or poor decision-making.”

After hearing opposition, the board chose to extend its search, including holding a meeting to collect public input about what staff and parents wanted to see in the next superintendent.

The board chose to restart the search, appointing Matt Beecher, assistant superintendent of business services, to serve as interim leader for the 2015-16 school year.

Alvarado had served as superintendent since 2009, but worked for the district for several decades. He also attended Santa Maria schools.

Prior to his current job, Ontiveros worked in the Ontario-Montclair School District, the Pollock Pines School District and the Silver Valley Unified School District. 

During his career, Ontiveros worked as a teacher and has held various positions, including assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and assistant superintendent of human resources. 

The new superintendent will bring expertise beneficial to Santa Maria-Bonita, district officials said. Last year, the Snowline district received a state Golden Bell Award for its English Language Acquisition program for students whose first language is not English. The Santa Maria district has more than 10,000 English-language learners.

Ontiveros grew up in Santa Maria and attended Santa Maria-Bonita schools — Miller Elementary, Adam Elementary and Fesler Junior High schools — in addition to St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic School. He graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1980.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Santa Clara University in 1984. He received his teaching credential from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and a master’s degree in organizational leadership from National University in San Diego.

He hails from the pioneer family of which one Santa Maria-Bonita campus, on West Rancho Verde, is named for a distant relative, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros.

The new superintendent and his wife, Carole, a teacher in Snowline’s distance learning program, have two sons and a daughter. 

His contract will be finalized at the board’s May meeting, and Ontiveros is expected to start his new job in July.

“Getting back to our family is a big deal,” Ontiveros said. “I have four brothers who still live in Santa Maria and many nieces, nephews and cousins. Santa Maria has always felt like home in many ways, and now we get to stay instead of just visit on the holidays.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at