The Santa Maria-Bonita School District has hired a 28-year educator from San Bernardino County as the next superintendent.
The school board finalized the hiring of Darren McDuffie on Wednesday night during a closed session before announcing the new leader in a public session.
McDuffie, who earned a doctorate degree, works as the Rialto Unified School District’s deputy superintendent/lead strategic agent for strategics, congruence and social justice.
Board members mentioned McDuffie’s commitment to building a collaborative culture.
“Dr. McDuffie is a proven relationship-builder between employee associations, district administration and community organizations,” board president Ricky Lara said. “He is open minded, he listens to concerns, he engages with children and their families, and he follows through on his word in a professional manner. He brings outstanding experience in instruction, collaboration, planning and motivation. He is an equity-minded leader with a focus on social justice. We know that Dr. McDuffie will be an exceptional superintendent for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.”
While working for Rialto, McDuffie has led that district’s implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan, initiated equity and social justice framework and training, and managed district operations.
He was greeted by a nearly full board room, including faculty and staff who applauded the announcement of his hiring. After the short meeting, they lined up to meet McDuffie and take pictures with him.
McDuffie told the crowd that he considered it a great honor and privilege to be selected as superintendent.
“I’m excited about this opportunity for being here to lead the Santa Maria-Bonita School District as we go into this new era where we insist in making the aspirations and dreams of our students become a reality,” McDuffie said. “It is all about our students, all about our children.
“I am just really excited about what we can do together. … I really am wanting to come in and listen to all of our educational partners here in Santa Maria and really begin to build relationships and build teams to create synergy to do what’s best for our students.”
His fifth-grade teacher while growing up in South Central Los Angeles fueled his career as an educator after telling the boy he could do anything he put his mind to and demonstrated she cared for McDuffie. That led him to declare that now is the time to create unlimited possibilities for students.
“These possibilities go beyond what we can imagine because it lies in the untapped genius of our students,” he said.
Before joining the Rialto district in 2018, McDuffie served as assistant superintendent of human resources/personnel for the Alvord Unified School District in Riverside, chief human resources officer for the Los Angeles County Office of Education and executive director of personnel for the Capistrano Unified School District.
His early education career included serving as a middle school principal, elementary school principal, middle school teacher, and fourth- and fifth-grade teacher.
He also served for eight years in the U.S. Army, including serving in Operation Desert Storm, achieving the rank of sergeant before his honorable discharge.
He earned his doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern California, a master’s in instruction from Central Michigan University, and a bachelor’s in elementary education from Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
He has been married for 30 years to Dr. Kaishawn McDuffie, who received her doctor of nurse practitioner degree from Loma Linda University. They have two grown daughters.
In November, the district hired Leadership Associates to spearhead the search for the new superintendent.
The search launched after Luke Ontiveros announced in late October that he planned to retire at the end of December after five years on the job.
Ontiveros grew up in Santa Maria and attended Santa Maria-Bonita schools. He returned to Santa Maria after serving as the superintendent of the Snowline Joint Unified School District in Phelan, in San Bernardino County, a job he had held since 2013. That K-12 district has more than 8,500 students.
The new superintendent is expected to start July 1. Until then, Matt Beecher will continue to serve as interim superintendent.
The Santa Maria-Bonita School District has more than 17,000 students in preschool through eighth grade attending classes on 21 campuses with 2,000 employees.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.