O.C. Board of Education to Select Interim Supt. at June 18 meeting

Six applicants for the position were interviewed at a May 22 OCBE meeting

O.C. Board of Education to Select Interim Supt. at June 18 meeting
The Orange County Board of Education is tasked with appointing a new O.C. Superintendent of Schools.

A new era could be starting in the relationship between the Orange County Board of Education and the head of the Orange County Department of Education.

At its regular meeting on June 18, the OCBE is expected to name an interim O.C. Superintendent of Schools. The job of the county’s top education official includes leading “an organization that serves the county’s most vulnerable student populations and provides support and mandated fiscal oversight to 28 school districts serving more than 600 schools and approximately 450,000 students,” according to the OCDE Newsroom.

The appointee would serve out the remainder of the term of Al Mijares, Ph.D., who is retiring at the end of June due to health issues. Dr. Mijares' term ends in 2027 and his appointed replacement could run for the position in the 2026 election.

Dr. Mijares has been the top elected education official in the county for 11 years. For the last few years, he and the board's conservative majority have not always been on the same page. The OCBE and Dr. Mijares have been engaged in numerous lawsuits related to control over the OCDE’s budget and the board’s legal representation. In 2022, the board majority voted to cut Dr. Mijares’ pay

In a recent email to Spotlight Schools, Ken Williams, D.O., the longest serving member on the current OCBE, described Dr. Mijares as "a graceful human being." He added, "It is no secret that we did not share the same governance positions and policies on how to best serve the children and families of Orange County." 

With six prospective candidates, the OCBE now has an opportunity to handpick someone to serve in the elected position who shares the current board's priorities, including promoting and expanding charter schools across Orange County. The board has the power to overrule local school boards, and recommendations from the OCDE, to allow charter schools to establish campuses in Orange County.

Meet the Candidates

On May 22, the board held a special meeting where it interviewed the six candidates vying to become O.C.'s next superintendent.

Each candidate was allowed to make a ten-minute statement and was then asked the same set of questions which included: How did you deal with a communications failure? What are three ways you would cooperate and support the board? What is your position on school choice? What did you learn from the Covid-19 pandemic? What is the primary purpose of education? Do you have any concerns that social emotional learning has lead to "academic content displacement?" What role do you see for the superintendent regarding the Orange County charter community?

You can watch each candidate's interview before the OCBE by clicking on their name below as well as learn more about them.

Stefan Bean, Ed.D.

Dr. Bean is a longtime charter school administrator in Southern California and currently leads Irvine International Academy. Dr. Bean lost to Dr. Mijares in the 2022 election with the endorsements of most of the current OCBE trustees. During the public comment period at the May 22 meeting, most of the speakers urged the board to select Dr. Bean. During his interview, he told the board a goal he would pursue if selected is to "resolve any legal dispute between the board and the department by identifying mutually beneficial resolutions to enhance collaboration between the board and the staff."

Dennis Cole

Cole is the current director of district partnerships and operations for the O.C. Department of Education’s Alternative Education division (ACCESS). He’s also an elected board trustee for the Fountain Valley School District.  In his interview with the board he said "helping youth grow is the reason I exist." Cole's definition for the primary purpose of education is: "to make sure that our students grow up to be effective members of our community, that they can pursue life, liberty, happiness, ... all the things that our constitution provides." He said anything that's not accomplishing that "needs to go by the wayside."

Charles Hinman, Ed.D.

Dr. Hinman came out of retirement in 2021 to serve as interim superintendent for the Westminster School District, the Fountain Valley School District, and for Oxford Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Orange County. He spent six years as superintendent for the West Covina USD and was also an assistant superintendent for the Newport-Mesa USD. In his interview he said that he agrees philosophically with the board. When asked about the purpose of education he pointed to "powerful questions" that must guide educators: "What do you want kids to learn? How do you know if they've learned it? Here's ... the magic. How will you respond if they haven't learned?"

Maria Martinez-Poulin, Ed.D.

Dr. Martinez-Poulin was most recently the interim superintendent for the Culver City Unified School District. Prior to that she worked as deputy superintendent for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, superintendent of the Whittier City School District, and a deputy superintendent for the Centralia School District. When asked if social emotional learning was causing "academic content displacement," Dr. Martinez-Poulin said: "I don't think there's displacement. I think there is a space to have both in education. We talk about being able to meet the needs of our students, social emotional, and also their academic development."

Ramon Miramontes, Ed.D.

Dr. Miramontes is the Deputy Superintendent of the O.C. Department of Education, a newly-created position he took on in March 2023. Since then, Dr. Miramontes has fulfilled many of the duties of the O.C. superintendent while Dr. Mijares was on extended medical leave. Prior to coming to the OCDE, Dr. Miramontes served as the superintendent of the Buena Park School District. In his response to a question about how he would work with and support the board, Dr. Miramontes said: "I think, first and foremost, get on the same page. Understand a little bit more of how we might work together to model for other districts and other counties. ... When a collective governance team works together, you can get a lot more done."

Kirsten Vital Brulte 

Vital Brulte was most recently the superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, O.C.’s largest, a position she held from 2014 until 2022. That’s when a newly elected board majority voted 4-3 to terminate her contract without cause. She also previously served as superintendent for the Alameda USD. During her interview Vital Brulte expressed support for charter schools and said there is a lot to learn from their innovation. In regard to the purpose of education and the potential for "mission drift" Vital Brulte said: "It always concerns me when we are telling kids messages that are not appropriate for school. Again, as I said, parents are their children's first teachers, and we want to make sure that ... those values are coming from their parents and their families and guardians."

At the conclusion of the May 22 meeting, the trustees praised all of the applicants. 

Dr. Williams said he “learned a lot from six very competent individuals, six great potential leaders.”

“Thank you everyone for applying,” Trustee Lisa Sparks, Ph.D., said. “This is such an important appointment.”

“Choosing one out of these six, I literally want to go in the back room and go cry right now,” Board President Tim Shaw said, chuckling a bit before adding, “It’s gonna be very difficult but we have great applicants to choose from.”

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