ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District will officially welcome Dr. Cheryl James-Ward as its new superintendent on Nov. 1 after agreeing to a hiring contract with the former charter school exec this week.
The contract, which was agreed to by the board in a 3-1 vote with Trustee Katrina Young opposed, is for a term of three years and eight months with an annual salary of $288,000.
James-Ward was most recently the CEO of e3 Civic High School, a charter school in San Diego.
Ginny Merrifield, executive director of the North County Parent Association and a trustee of e3 Civic High School, gave an endorsement of hiring James-Ward during the board meeting this week.
“I can unconditionally say Dr. Ward is one of the most inspiring educators I’ve ever met,” Merrifield said. “Her integrity, her work ethic, commitment and dedication to students is unparalleled.”
The search, conducted by Texas-based firm JG Consulting, received applications for the position from across the country before the board selected the Carmel Valley resident.
Evan Sorem, a district parent and vocal critic of the school board, expressed his concern regarding the connection between James-Ward and Parent Association’s leadership.
“I am talking about the charade that everyone was engaged in over the last three weeks while everybody went around telling an out-of-state entity what it was they wanted in a superintendent, and you guys had her in your back pocket this entire time,” Sorem said.
Merrifield later contended during public comments that she was unaware of the school board’s decision until she was notified of the hiring by e3 Civic High.
Young was the lone dissenting vote in both the selection of James-Ward as a finalist for the position and the approval of her hiring agreement. Young did not give specific reasons for her decision.
“I want nothing but her success and I want nothing but the success of this district and I am 100% behind that,” Young said.
The other trustees shared their endorsements of the new superintendent.
Board President Mo Muir said JG Consulting told her before the decision that James-Ward was likely to be hired elsewhere if not by San Dieguito.
“Our consultant said to me that if you don’t hire her, I have another spot for her right now,” Muir said. “I will hire her right this instant, I know other districts will want her.”
The district still struggles with a division between families, students and faculty, which is just one of many issues the new superintendent must tackle when her tenure officially begins next month.
Trustee Melisse Mossy thinks James-Ward’s hiring can help usher in a new era for the district.
“I have great expectations that our district is entering a new chapter that will take us to the cutting edge of engaged, inspired and prepared students,” Mossy said.
Aside from her position at e3 Civic High, James-Ward is also a former principal and vice-principal in the Long Beach Unified School District, a principal at Capri Elementary in Encinitas and a teacher and dean of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I’d encourage anybody to look at her resume,” Trustee Michael Allman said. “You almost can’t make it up.”
As she did in statements given after she was chosen as the sole finalist for the position, James-Ward took a big picture approach in comments after her hiring agreement was finalized.
“We are at a tipping point in which dominant world powers may shift at any point and where more than half the jobs of today may not exist in just five years,” James-Ward said. “As we heard earlier, our focus should be on loving every one of our kiddos. And ensuring their mental, social and emotional well-being.”
The new superintendent of one of the state’s top-ranked districts finished her comments with a call for unity from those in the school district.
“I am humbled and honored to serve as your next superintendent,” James-Ward said. “Together, we move forward.”