KING CITY — The start of a new school year Wednesday comes with new leadership at South Monterey County Joint Union High School District (SMCJUHSD), as Caroline Cota steps in as superintendent.
Cota, who began her new position this past April, brings 25 years of experience in education to the district, which includes both King City and Greenfield high schools, as well as Portola-Butler Continuation High School and Pinnacle Coastal Valley High School.
“As the new superintendent, I am excited to return to my first love: the education of high school students and their preparation for college, career and life as productive and engaged adults,” Cota said. “This is my 25th year in education. All but the last two were spent working with and for the benefit of high school students.”
Cota was a special education teacher for 11 years before taking over the French program, teaching her native language for five years. She then served as an administrator for eight years, first as a high school assistant principal and then principal at Desert Hot Springs High School, before her last position as director of human resources with the Martinez Unified School District in Contra Costa County.
Cota is a first-generation immigrant and English learner. She immigrated to the United States at age 13 and learned English in the English Learner Program at Los Angeles Unified School District.
“That experience taught me how valuable schools are in assisting students and their families to reach their goals,” she said. “I am excited for the opportunity to lead such an effort and look forward to the future successes of our students.”
Her education background includes receiving a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and her teaching credentials and master’s degree from National University. She also earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Azusa Pacific University.
Cota lives in Bradley with her husband. They have been married for 28 years and have two adult daughters, who reside in northern San Luis Obispo County.
“I am looking forward to being active on campuses and interacting with students and their families again,” she said. “I also look forward to creating long-lasting relationships with all our community partners for the benefit of students, our schools and communities.”
Cota said the district’s No. 1 goal for this year is to re-establish stability in the organization.
“After the pandemic and the turnover in district-level staff, we are excited to start a new chapter as a unified team,” she said. “When I arrived in the district in mid-April, our Board of Education shared their priority that we build a Cabinet of educators with the experience and skills to lead our district forward.”
The district recruited several experienced educational leaders to join its team over the summer, including an assistant superintendent of educational services and new directors in human resources, special education and student services.
Along with Cota, the 2023-24 SMCJUHSD Executive Cabinet members are: Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Griselda Delgado, Director of Human Resources Jeremy Shipman, Director of Special Education Chris Phillips, Director of Student Services Yvette Adams, Chief Business Officer Sherrie Castellanos, Chief Technology Officer Cristina Jimenez and Administrative Assistant Shirley Laws.
“Our Cabinet team is committed to serving our staff, students and families and will focus on establishing a sense of stability and transparency,” Cota said.
The second goal is to improve communication within the organization as well as with the community.
“We have launched newsletters for the staff and parents and are planning to hold parent and student forums and listening sessions with staff to better understand everyone’s perspectives,” Cota said.
This year, the district will be developing a new Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which will shape its priorities for the next three years, 2024 to 2027. There will be several opportunities for families, students and staff to engage in the process by participating in community forums throughout the year.
Long-term goals include continued development of Professional Learning Communities and the full implementation of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. The district’s expanded Educational Services staff will be “working on those two main focus areas to meet the needs of our students,” Cota said.
Another district goal is to “grow their own.”
SMCJUHSD is developing an Aspiring Teacher Program for non-credentialed staff wanting to enter the teaching profession and a Leadership Academy for staff considering school leadership in the future.
“We believe the professional development of our own staff will ultimately strengthen our organization and our community at large,” Cota said.
Several facility improvement projects are either in progress or in the design phase at the district, according to Cota.
Currently, a painting project is taking place to enhance the curb appeal for both King City and Greenfield high schools. Painting started in mid-July and should be completed by December.
Cota said a modular project is being planned to install two new portables at Greenfield High to support alternative education and one at King City High to support both alternative education and the district office.
Greenfield High School will also be getting four new dugouts for the baseball and softball fields and two new shade structures. One shade structure will be outside of a CTE classroom to expand the learning space, and the second shade structure will be in the quad area in front of the new building to provide an additional eating area for students.
The dugout project is in the final planning stages and construction should begin at the end of August.
SMCJUHSD is also working to update its facility master plan from 2018, Cota said.