New Superintendent Draws on his own Life Experiences to Improve District

Kane Salazar, Staff Writer

As a young boy, Jerry Almendarez had no goals, Almendarez didn’t care about school, and at his lowest point, was kicked out of his house. Almendarez was going down a bad road but a few words changed his life.

Almendarez is the new Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District. In his youth, Almendarez lived a couple blocks from Colton High School with parents that were blue-collar workers. His father was a construction worker during the day. His mom worked as an assembly line worker but stayed home during the day to take care of his siblings so she worked graveyard shifts. 

In his TedxTalk on YouTube, Almendarez explains his life as a high school student. He was always late, not only to first period, but to all his classes.  He needed to complete one semester in two weeks and didn’t pass his summer school English class. Since he failed the class and was going into his junior year, Almendarez was in danger of not graduating.

By the end of senior year, he met all graduation requirements, but by April, when the majority of students began to receive their acceptance letters from universities, Almendarez hadn’t even applied because of poor grades and lack of planning.

“Don’t think that your second chance can’t be your last chance you never know.”

— Jerry Almendarez

He ended up attending Valley Community College. On his first day, he witnessed the difference between high school and college.  Eventually, Alemdarez saw some of his friends from high school at his community college. Just as Almendarez, his friends spent more time on other things than their education.

Almendarez was placed on academic probation. This led Almendarez and his dad to get into an argument. His dad lost it and kicked him out of the house. His mom would typically defend him, but instead told him to leave the house. Almendarez grabbed his clothes, his stuff and left. 

The pastor went to his car and said to him, “Don’t think that your second chance, can’t be your last chance. You never know.” Once Almendarez heard that, he realized what he needed to do to change his life.

Almendarez graduated with his AA degree and his parents were so proud that one of their children out of three had graduated from college. From there, he went on to the California State University of San Bernardino and received his Bachelor of Arts in business and finance. He later went to the University of Redlands and graduated with his masters in education. 

Kane Salazar
Photo of new Superintendent Jerry Almendarez as he speaks at SAUSD Meet and Greet at Villa Fundamental Intermediate School’s multipurpose room on February 5, 2020.

I had the opportunity to interview Almendarez in a meet and greet on Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 at Villa Fundamental Intermediate. Almendarez said, “I was a bit nervous but Santa Ana was so welcoming and SAUSD is a lot bigger than Colton Unified.”  

Almendarez was superintendent of Colton Joint Unified School District since 2010. His 27 year career includes jobs as teacher, principal, and administrator. He served as a director of human resources for Colton Joint Unified from 2003 to 2007, and was the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources from 2007 to 2010. He also taught as an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University and the University of Redlands. 

He wants to make SAUSD better since he is responsible for the 10th largest school district in the state with 61 schools and programs, almost 5,000 employees and an expense budget of $697.4 million. His plans include decreasing student suspensions, increasing communication through social media and visiting schools to assess needs.

As the meet and greet wrapped up, I asked Almendarez about the pastor’s words. What if the pastor would have not told him to change? Almendarez replied, “My life would have been completely different and I might have been in jail.”