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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 3rd, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 23 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 23, Issue 23

New Santa Maria-Bonita superintendent focuses on community relationship building

By Taylor O'Connor

Darren McDuffie was selected as the Santa Maria-Bonita School District’s new superintendent, closing the months-long search after Luke Ontiveros announced his retirement for the end of December 2021. 


NEW SUPERINTENDENT
Rialto Unified School District’s deputy superintendent Darren McDuffie will be filling Luke Ontiveros’s seat this school year as Santa Maria-Bonita’s new superintendent.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA MARIA-BONITA SCHOOL DISTRICT

McDuffie told the Sun he was working in San Bernardino County’s Rialto Unified School District as its lead strategic agent for deputy superintendent and was looking for an opportunity to grow in a district. 

“Ultimately [my goal] is to build a new reality for our students’ success and growth,” McDuffie said. “What I need to do, as far as priorities are concerned, is just listening and getting to know the community. It’s key to learn about what makes this community unique and special. To be able to take that and work for the future for our students, and what we want it to be.”   

One area McDuffie said he wants to continue improving is the social and emotional aspect in classrooms after COVID-19’s lasting impact on student socialization. 

“There was a social and emotional toll that we’ve all suffered as a result. Now coming back and being aware [of] our social and emotional health and to be able to build those relationships with our students because we are whole beings, not just academic beings,” he continued. 

The transition has been going well for him so far, he added, as he met with community leaders, principals, and office staff so he could learn more about Santa Maria itself. He plans to continue making connections with faculty and the community and to lead from those relationships. 

“I really lead with three things in mind: the power of words [and] how we can inspire a community and students and staff with our words, how we need to make sure we use them in an uplifting manner,” McDuffie explained. “Kindness, and it’s about how we treat each other, and how that comes back to make us better and stronger in a community. And the power of building a relationship—and those are the foundations of everything we do.”

José Segura, president and CEO of the district’s teachers union—Santa Maria Elementary Education Association (SMEEA)—said he’s “cautiously optimistic” for McDuffie’s appointment. 

“I’m an optimistic person by nature; I think change is great, and I look forward to what a new hire in the district can bring. I don’t want to be blind to the reality of the circumstances in which we work, [but] I hope he can bring something positive and not more chaos and drama in our district,” Segura said. 

There’s been tension and difficulties between the school board and the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association for the past five years regarding teachers’ contract negotiations and school board decision-making, he said. During the initial superintendent search, SMEEA was also concerned that the board wouldn’t take the association’s input, according to previous Sun reporting

But the superintendent and union president met to discuss priorities, and Segura said he feels hopeful that McDuffie can help move the district forward and build better relationships all around. 

“I would really like to see him bring calm and order to our district. I’m excited about the background he has when it comes to strategies and [how] he’s open to diversity and lots of different voices in how we operate as a school district,” Segura continued. “You need to be able to reach out and be engaging with employees, management, and the community in general for the best education experience as possible, and McDuffie’s diverse background is going to allow that.”










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