Fresno school administrator tapped as new chief for Sacramento City Unified

Jorge Aguilar has been tapped as the Sacramento City Unified School District’s next superintendent.
Jorge Aguilar has been tapped as the Sacramento City Unified School District’s next superintendent. Sacramento City Unified School District

Sacramento City Unified School District trustees have named Fresno school administrator Jorge Aguilar as their next superintendent, the district announced Tuesday.

Trustees chose Aguilar, 44, during a closed session Monday night. They must still approve terms of Aguilar’s contract with the district, spokesman Alex Barrios said.

A formal school board vote is expected May 4, according to board president Jay Hansen.

José L. Banda, hired nearly three years ago to run the Sacramento district, will remain as superintendent until his contact expires on June 30, the district said. Hansen said he hopes Aguilar can start work June 1 to allow time for overlap and an orderly transition.

“We had three meetings to come to our decision,” Hansen said. “The first meeting, we started with 28 candidates, which was an all-time high.” He said the candidate list was more than double the number applying when Banda was hired.

David Fisher, vice president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said the organization “welcomes the opportunity to work with the new superintendent to join with us to make Sacramento a destination district for California.”

“It’s a great opportunity because he’s coming while the district is in the most stable financial situation it has ever been in,” Fisher said. He said enrollment, while declining for some years, is projected to grow in 2017-18 by more than 200 students. “We think it’s a great opportunity to move the partnership forward.”

Since 2002, Sacramento City Unified has faced challenges with declining enrollment and looked for ways to retain families in the city and attract new ones. More than 70 percent of the district’s students are considered disadvantaged, based on state criteria.

Banda’s predecessor, Jonathan Raymond, was a hard-charging leader who bucked the teachers union on tenure and wanted to use test scores in performance evaluations, often drawing the ire of labor leaders. Banda, by comparison, was low-key and assumed control in 2014 as the state increased education spending, allowing restoration of some programs and class-size reduction.

Aguilar, in a statement, said he was deeply inspired by the commitment to urgently improve the academic achievement of Sacramento City Unified students.

He will become the third Sacramento area superintendent hired from Fresno Unified in recent years. Natomas Unified hired Chris Evans from Fresno in 2012, and Twin Rivers Unified hired Steven Martinez in 2013.

Based on state enrollment data, Fresno Unified is the fourth-largest district in California, serving 73,356 students. Sacramento City Unified has 46,815.

Aguilar has a degree in Latin American studies and Spanish and Portuguese from UC Berkeley, as well as a law degree from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He grew up in Parlier, a small rural community southeast of Fresno.

Sacramento’s Hansen said the long candidate list was winnowed initially to five candidates who participated in a 14-hour meeting on April 9. On Monday night, he said, trustees met with the final two candidates for six more hours and had lengthy interviews with both.

“Both were outstanding. Both were qualified,” Hansen said. “One was a little more qualified than the other.”

He said district representatives would spend the next several weeks doing “more in-depth background work” and would visit the Fresno district “to meet with folks.” Hansen said Aguilar “informed his co-workers this morning” of the Sacramento trustees’ action.

While Aguilar’s compensation has yet to be determined, Banda’s salary is $290,000 a year.

Aguilar has served more than two decades in education and has a strong focus on equity and student achievement, according to the district announcement. He previously worked as a legislative fellow in the state Capitol and served as a special assistant to the chancellor at the University of California, Merced.

Before launching the superintendent search, Sacramento’s district held eight town hall meetings and conducted hundreds of online surveys. The results showed that parents, teachers, students and community members wanted a leader with a proven track record of strong academic achievement for all students, particularly English language learners, special needs students and children living in poverty.

Aguilar is married and has four children who are expected to enroll in the district.

Aguilar’s position in Fresno was newly created in 2009 after a district controversy in which a math teacher allegedly changed an F to an A for a high school football player, according to The Fresno Bee. Then-Fresno superintendent Michael Hanson said he created Aguilar’s role to guarantee equal access to education for all students and identify barriers that prevent students from graduating on time.

Diana Lambert contributed to this report. Loretta Kalb: 916-321-1073, @LorettaSacBee