The Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees has selected Darnise R. Williams to serve as the district's new superintendent, the district announced Tuesday. A vote at a Wednesday, April 14, school board meeting is needed to approve her three-year contract.
Starting July 1, Williams will replace Crystal Leach, who has been filling in as interim superintendent after former superintendent Mary Streshly resigned in the fall amid calls for her to step down.
If the contract is approved, Williams' base salary will be $265,000 annually. The agreement states that she would paid $1,150 per day for up to a maximum of five eight-hour days to meet with the Leach prior to July 1. The district would also reimburse Williams for up to $17,500 in relocation expenses, according to the contract.
Williams previously led the Race and Equity Leadership Academy, a partnership between Los Angeles Unified School District and the University of Southern California, according to a district press release. The academy focuses on providing school principals and principal supervisors the tools to lead on racial equity effectively.
"In Dr. Williams, we have selected a superintendent that shares the district's values of ensuring that every single one of our students leaves our district ready to succeed in college, career, and adult life," said board President Alan Sarver in a statement. "Her combination of experience in curriculum and instruction, as well as, her equity-focused leadership, make her the ideal leader for the future of the Sequoia Union High School District."
Williams' 25-year career in public education began as a high school English teacher in south Los Angeles. She has "always focused on supporting all students in achieving college and career readiness," according to the press release.
"I look forward to building a strong relationship with the Sequoia District community so that we may collaboratively work towards our shared goal of preparing our students for long-term success," said Williams in a statement. "Ours will be a district that will continue building on the idea that equity, diversity, and inclusion are central to creating an environment where everyone thrives."
The district hired the search firm, Leadership Associates, to find and vet superintendent candidates in December 2020. The board had a discussion and potential appointment of a candidate in closed session on its Friday, April 9, agenda.
Amid calls to diversify administrators in the district, East Palo Alto City Councilman Antonio Lopez praised the school board's selection.
"I cannot overstate how historic this hire is: to have people that look like you be in key positions of leadership not only creates role models for our youth; it also sends a clear message as to the district's commitment to racial equity," he said in an email. "It is an affirmation to the concerned families of my community that the past will not characterize the present, that the district is turning a page in its history in hiring its first-ever Black woman as superintendent. I am so excited for Dr. Williams' leadership and am confident that she is exactly the kind of person our kids need."
Williams will be the second person of color to head the district. Harry Reynolds, a Black man, served as superintendent in the early 1980s, according to district spokeswoman Ana Maria Pulido.
Lopez acknowledged that Williams is but one individual, and in her first year as superintendent, she will need the support of community leaders.
"Speaking both as a member of the ad hoc committee to diversify Sequoia, as well as a councilman for the city of East Palo Alto, I would be honored to help our new superintendent in any way she prefers," he said. "Superintendent Williams, we are the wings of your leadership, ready to provide whatever assistance you need as you take the helm of serving our minority-majority district."
Williams' past roles include serving as a literacy coordinator, assistant principal, principal, principal supervisor, administrator of instruction and senior-level administrator.
Williams earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern California and a master's degree in educational administration from California State University at Dominguez Hills.
The board's April 14 meeting takes place on Zoom at 6 p.m. Join the meeting here.