Carmen García said she hopes to bring a new chapter of excellence to Morgan Hill schools

Photo by Marty Cheek
New MHUSD Superintendent Carmen García speaks with students at P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy.

By Kaylee Arca

When Dr. Carmen García stepped into the role of the superintendent of Morgan Hill Unified School District starting July 1, she described her first week as “exhilarating.”

The first official day on the job she arrived at the Community Center at 7:30 a.m. and attended the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast where she introduced herself. On July 4, she rode in a school bus through the downtown district as part of the Independence Day Parade. During the following days, she visited teachers and students in the summer session classes at P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy and Central High School.

García, 44, found it helpful to use some days during the month of June to get  to know a few of the people of the school district community and better understand its culture.

“Because I had some transition time, I feel like I had a little bit of a head start,” she said. “I would describe my first week as hitting the ground running, using all that June work.”

After a four-month, nationwide search, the MHUSD board unanimously selected García at the May 18 meeting for the job of heading the 19 district campuses. She has worked in public education for 23 years as a teacher, middle and high school administrator, researcher, and central office administrator. She recently served for two years as superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District in Southern California.

García follows Steve Betando who headed the district for seven years. Her contract runs until June 30, 2024. She will receive a salary of $275,000 with an additional monthly stipend of $3,000 for her academic degrees. Her salary is subject to a 3 percent merit-based increase after an annual evaluation.

Photo by Marty Cheek New MHUSD Superintendent Carmen García poses with 7th-grade students at P.A. Walsh STEAM Academy after visiting their summer class taught by Tatiana Valenzuela.

Born in Tepatitlán, Jalisco, México, García immigrated with her family at the age of 8 to Escondido, a community in Southern California. She and her siblings found themselves learning a new language in an unfamiliar school system. Her parents’ encouragement helped them make the adjustment.

“Through their unwavering support, along with key teachers and mentors, I’m living proof that education opens the doors of opportunity—an educational philosophy that has remained a central part of my moral compass throughout my career,” she said in an open letter to the district.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in history and Spanish, a master’s in education from the University of San Diego, and a doctorate from the University of Southern California.

She highlights her bicultural and bilingual upbringing as playing a major role in her career in public education. Her immigrant parents made financial sacrifices in helping Garica pursue the American Dream through education.

“As educators, every one of us has the opportunity and responsibility to help share the unique story of each of our 9,000 MHUSD students,” she said after the board welcomed her after its vote to accept her employment. “Any story is buoyed and molded by our unwavering support in our classrooms and school campuses throughout our school district so that all students can turn their version of the American Dream into a reality.”

As the district rebuilds from the pandemic and young people return to classrooms, she plans to tailor curriculum to students’ needs by encouraging the Morgan Hill community to support local education.

“I want to make a difference for kids because I know what’s at stake,” she said. “I know that when we get it right, we create conditions where it’s a tide that lifts all boats. I’m all about each and every one of our students.”

García said she’s “unapologetically passionate” as the new superintendent to bring a new chapter of excellence to the schools.

“I am relentless in my pursuit to ensure all kids are successful,” she said.

She intends to help struggling students raise their ability to learn in the classroom and also wants to refocus MHUSD’s efforts to help the district’s more advanced students further excel. Providing more opportunities to push the advanced students and also to excite struggling students by providing resources serve as other goals for the future of the district, she said.

“For those kids who are super, super excelling, what more can we do?” García asked.

The new superintendent is working to understand the district’s needs by launching a listening, reading, and learning program that welcomes parents, students, teachers, school board and city council members, and other community members to share their thoughts and suggestions.

“I plan to be fully present in our schools,” she said.

MHUSD New Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Carmen Garcia with her family: husband Dr. Gabriel Gutierrez, children Sebastian, Sophia and Emma, and the family dog, Luna.

García seeks to create opportunities for students and teachers to talk with her on campuses and discuss their needs.

Interacting with the community and looking at student data such as tests and attendance will help staff create coherency of educational quality among the schools, García said. She also plans to examine the district’s missions, values and goals to see how well they are used in the classrooms.

“We need to be data-driven,” she said.

Analyzing data will help the district staff to better understand the needs of students who do not attend school regularly, García said. It will also help the district create college and career readiness for graduating students.

“Each and every one of our students has a story, and we need to figure out what we can do to support them,” she said.

While serving as superintendent at San Marcos, García started a dual-immersion program to help struggling students. SMUSD partnered with local community colleges to bring dual-immersion classes to the various schools. The Southern California district also brought cultural classes to campuses when students asked for more diversity in their curriculum.

“When we surveyed students, the number one course they wanted was Chicano studies,” García said. “The students did not see themselves reflected in the U.S. history courses so they wanted to learn more about their culture.”

García will strive to provide an excellent education for all MHUSD students through missions, visions, and values of empowerment, student agency, critical problem solving, safety, inclusion and diversity.

“The focus is on student success,” she said. “We want to model and nurture civility, respect, compassion, personal responsibility, curiosity and integrity within an environment of diversity, equity, and service.”

As she steps into her new role, García has begun learning about MHUSD from teachers and staff and brainstorming ways to support students.

“I feel like I’ve arrived at home,” she said. “It’s a perfect match between where Morgan Hill is and where it could be with my skill set.”

Kaylee Arca, a 2017 graduate of Sobrato High School, graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies in May 2021.

Freelance Author