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‘Together we move forward’: San Dieguito appoints new superintendent

The San Dieguito Union High School District board approved the contract for its new superintendent, Cheryl James-Ward, at its Oct. 14 meeting.

James-Ward, a Carmel Valley resident, is the former CEO and chief engagement and innovation officer of e3 Civic High, a charter school in downtown San Diego. Prior to joining e3 Civic High, she was a tenured professor at San Diego State University for 14 years.

Dr. Cheryl James-Ward has been named the new SDUHSD superintendent.
(Courtesy)

James-Ward will be the district’s first Black superintendent and her first official day on the job is Nov. 1.

SDUHSD President Mo Muir said she believes James-Ward is a strong leader and innovative educator who can bring unity to the district: “I can’t say enough good things about her.”

“My hope is that this is going to be the beginning of a new era in this district,” Trustee Michael Allman said. “She’s brilliant.”

James-Ward’s contract is for three years with a $288,000 annual salary and a $10,000 car allowance— it does not include healthcare coverage. The vote was not unanimous with Trustee Katrina Young opposed—Young said while she voted no, she did so with “a lot of hope for the future.”

James-Ward said she is “ecstatic, honored and humbled” to be the new superintendent of San Dieguito. In her introductory video to the district, she offered a promise: “Together, we move forward.”

“As a Carmel Valley resident for over 16 years, I love our amazing community,” Ward said. “I enter this position with eyes wide open, aware of the inter-conflicts and the impact it is having on our educational community.”

She said she understands the role that secondary education must play in preparing all students to thrive in “a global society that we cannot yet imagine.”

“Our focus should be on loving every single one of our kiddos and ensuring their mental, social and emotional well-being,” James-Ward said.

Allman remarked that James-Ward’s resume was so impressive that “you almost can’t make it up.” She started her career as a software engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory but took a leave due to her intense desire to teach mathematics. She began her love affair with education as a math teacher and dean of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

She went on to serve as the director of academic initiatives for the Long Beach Unified School District, principal and vice principal for the Long Beach Unified School District and a principal at Capri Elementary School in Encinitas.

While at SDSU, she served as the founding director of the online Master of Arts Program in Educational Leadership, led the SDSU Chinese and American Educational Leadership Symposiums, and taught both master’s and doctoral level courses.

During the interview process, Muir said James-Ward described herself as having “a heart like an angel but a nose like a rhino.”

Peyton Parker, Torrey Pines High School student board representative, and Olivia Pacheco, La Costa Canyon student board representative, were both active in the superintendent search process and had hoped for the next leader to be an educator who understands what goes on in the classroom and someone who would be willing to communicate with students.

“I was thrilled when it came out that Dr. Ward was a previous teacher, that’s really what the students wanted,” Peyton said.

Ginny Merrifield, an alumni parent and member of the board at e3 Civic, also complimented the board’s pick during public comment.

“Dr. Ward is one of the most inspiring educators I’ve ever met. Her integrity, work ethic and commitment to students is unparalleled,” Merrifield said. “One of her special gifts is inspiring teachers…I’m confident teachers will come to love her and the community can come together and heal.”

During public comment, parent Evan Sorem was critical of the board’s superintendent search. He said the three-week process and public input sessions were “a charade,” questioning the need for hiring an out-of-state firm to lead a nationwide search for someone who lived right in the community—he accused the board of having James-Ward “in their back pocket the entire time.”

“This is crazy, you guys are bonkers,” Sorem said.

He also questioned James-Ward’s connection with Merrifield, who also serves as the executive director of the Parent Association of North County, which has challenged the state over school reopening rules and mask mandates.

During her comments, Merrifield said the accusations that she was somehow involved with the selection were false. She said she was informed of James-Ward’s selection by the chair of e3 Civic’s board last week and never spoke to James-Ward personally about the opportunity.

In response to Sorem’s comments, SDUHSD Vice President Melisse Mossy said the process was “exhaustive” and they did take the public’s feedback into consideration seriously, setting the bar high.

In addition to voting against her contract, Trustee Young was the sole vote in opposition to James-Ward as the finalist for the position. She said she voted in a way that she believed was in the district’s best interest but she finds James-Ward to be intelligent, accomplished and competent—she did not want to share her reasons for her vote publicly until she had a chance to talk to James-Ward.

“I want Dr. Ward and the whole community to know that I want nothing but her success and I want nothing but the success of this district,” Young said. “She has 100% of my support.”

At the meeting, the board also shared their appreciation for Interim Superintendent Lucile Lynch, who led the district for the last five months.

Muir said Lynch came in during one of the most difficult times for the district and brought true collaboration, a sense of calm and improved communication between the board, staff and community.

“You really have been a problem-solver,” Mossy said. “You were the right woman for the job.”

Assistant Superintendent Bryan Marcus said Lynch’s was the first car in the parking lot in the morning and the last to leave—he also remarked on her calmness, her willingness to listen and care for students.

“Thank you for having our district very close to your heart,” Marcus said.


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