Luke Ontiveros, the new superintendent of the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, once attended schools that he now oversees. A wall in his office displays T-shirts from the district’s campuses, including one named for his great-great-great-grandfather. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Luke Ontiveros credits his own teachers for inspiring his career choice. Now, he’s back in Santa Maria overseeing schools where he once sat in the classrooms as a student.

Ontiveros, 54, is the Santa Maria-Bonita School District’s new superintendent, replacing another product of the local schools, Phil Alvarado, who retired in June 2015.

“I didn’t want to do anything else,” Ontiveros told Noozhawk. “When I was in college, my goal was to teach, and I think it’s because I was influenced by so many positive teachers. I had such a great experience in school growing up in town here that it just left an impression on me.”

In fact, before he even arrived to take over the office, Ontiveros said he had mail awaiting him — a letter of congratulations from a former teacher who no longer lives in Santa Maria but was eager to welcome him back and wish him well.

“That’s somebody who had an influence on me 40-some years ago, and she’s still looking out for the well-being of her students when they’re old, gray-haired men like me,” he said.

Ontiveros most recently served as superintendent of the Snowline Joint Unified School District in Phelan, in San Bernardino County, a job he held since 2013.

That district has 8,500 students, or half as many as Santa Maria-Bonita, but Ontiveros said the issues facing the districts’ superintendents are the same.

“I think the big challenge facing Santa Maria-Bonita is what’s facing every district right now,” he said. “It’s just we have so many transformational changes occurring in education.”

Those include a new state funding formula, new accountability requirements under the Local Control and Accountability Plan, the shift to Common Core standards and new assessment tests.

“We’ve got so many changes at one time,” he said. “It’s really, how do you maintain course and focus on a strategy that has some coherence to it?”

Ontiveros said his role, especially in the early stages, will be to listen and learn about the district before deciding what needs to occur next.

Kindergartners kicking off their educational careers this fall will graduate in 2029, he noted.

“This is an information age,” he said. “Being able to utilize that information effectively is a skill for kids’ futures that we’re going to need to know because Abraham Lincoln said everything on the Internet is true.

“We’ve got to continue to work on those critical thinking skills to allow students to evaluate information in an effective, efficient manner that’s going to allow them to be successful as adults.”

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 from 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.

His wife of 29 years, Carole, retired from education with their move. Their three children are grown, with two in college.

Among the 20 Santa Maria campuses, one has a familiar name — Ontiveros Elementary School, for the new superintendent’s great-great-great-grandfather, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. 

“That’s pretty unique,” he said.

Taking advantage of the relatively quiet July, Ontiveros is looking forward to the first day of the new school year on Aug. 16.

“The opportunity to work with kids is what makes this all worthwhile,” he said. “I’ve never had a notion to do anything other than to work in schools.”

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