The head of the Pomona Unified School District has been named Superintendent of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators.
Superintendent Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana will be the state organization’s nominee for the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year award sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators, said Bill Wells, executive director of the association.
The announcement was made last week at an association conference in San Diego. Meléndez de Santa Ana serves on the Western University of Health Sciences Board of Trustees.
"It was a surprise," Meléndez de Santa Ana said.
The honor, she said, belongs to many people, such as the district’s board of trustees, volunteers and community members working for the city’s children.
"This is a recognition of everybody," Meléndez de Santa Ana said.
All the school superintendents in the state are eligible for the honor, Wells said.
School boards nominate the candidates by submitting applications that are reviewed by the association’s Council of Superintendents.
The council narrows the field and sends its recommendation to the association’s state board of directors for final approval, Wells said.
Meléndez de Santa Ana – who was unanimously selected and is one of the youngest honorees – has many strengths, he said.
"She has a laser-like focus on student learning," Wells said. "That is a top priority for our association."
Closing the student-achievement gap that exists between white students and students of color is a critical issue throughout the country and an area of great concern to the association, he said.
It is also an area that Meléndez de Santa Ana along with others on the district’s staff are addressing, Wells said.
To do that "first, you have to have an absolute belief all students can learn," Wells said. "Dr. Meléndez is one of those leaders who believes it and acts on it."
Meléndez de Santa Ana said she believes in students and their ability to excel.
"I don’t believe we have an achievement gap," she said. "We have an expectation gap."
Wells said to be a successful educator, "you have to have the heart for the job" … she "shows up every day and gives it her all."
Meléndez de Santa Ana could end up among the four finalists for the Superintendent of the Year award bestowed by the national organization, Wells said.
In his nomination, school board President John Avila wrote that Meléndez de Santa Ana has "brought an unparalleled vision and passion which energized the community."
"Under her leadership, academic achievement has soared," Avila wrote. "We now have a climate of high expectations, high performance, inclusion, and accountability for students, staff and the community."