The search is on for a new principal at Santa Barbara High School (SBHS) after the Santa Barbara Unified School District announced last Thursday that Elise Simmons is resigning from the position just weeks before classes are set to resume on August 21. She leaves the district next Wednesday, August 2 — and takes a pay cut in the process.
The district said it is conducting an “immediate search” for her successor, “using a variety of media channels and networks.” In the meantime, veteran district employee Fred Razo will take the role of interim principal while the district conducts their search.
“We have received questions about the selection process, and I want to assure you that the process has started with the opening of that position this week,” said Sandra Trujillo, executive assistant to the superintendent. “Please know that SBHS staff, students, parents, and community members will play a key role in the selection of the next principal.”
Trujillo said that John Becchio, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, will be assembling a small team of school stakeholders in order to design the multi-step selection process and determine the “broader involvement of stakeholders during those steps.”
Simmons worked with the district for a total 24 years, and served as principal at Santa Barbara High for five years. She was the second woman to ever hold the position of principal at the high school since its establishment in 1875.
“I like to tell people that I have been ‘raised’ by S.B. Unified,” Simmons told the Independent. “As an educator, I obviously value learning and the decision for me to leave is one that is grounded in my desire to grow.
“My whole life I have strived to better myself, and now it’s time for me to expand my impact and understanding of our public school system by joining the Santa Barbara County Education Office,” she said.
Simmons is taking the position of coordinator of student and family services at the County Education Office. While the new position may allow for professional growth, it does not come with a growth in salary.
At the County Education Office, Simmons will be making an annual salary of $149,510 and some change. According to Santa Barbara Unified’s certified management 2023-2024 salary schedule, a high school principal makes a base salary of $149,578 to $166,475 per year. Considering Simmons would be entering her sixth year as principal in 2023-2024, she’d be higher up on that pay scale. Leaving the district, she’ll be making around $10k less per year.
In her new role, Simmons said she’ll be able to “reconnect with students in alternative education programs” through her work with the Juvenile Courts and Community Schools.
“I will get to spend time learning and supporting Early Education and Elementary programs since our county serves 20 districts; 14 of them are elementary districts,” she added. “I am excited to bring my expertise in serving students and families to the rest of our County.”
Simmons was first hired as principal in 2018. Before taking the position, she served as assistant principal at Santa Barbara High, principal at Alta Vista Alternative High School and La Cuesta Continuation High school, and as a teacher at La Cumbre Junior High School in the district.
“What I will miss the most are the daily interactions with students, staff, and families,” she said. “The students at SBHS are beyond wonderful. I often tell others that the students are what give me hope that the world will be okay — they have a deep sense of what is just, and their ideas are transformative. I will miss the staff — their wisdom, strength, and care that they bring each day is remarkable.”
In her time at Santa Barbara High, Simmons helped expand their Career Tech Ed pathways to include interpretation and translation, oversaw the creation of the school’s Wellness Center, and led them into their second year of providing a dual-language immersion program.
“Dr. Simmons has led by example through some of the toughest times that an educator can face,” said Dr. Hilda Maldonado, the district’s superintendent. “I have always admired her commitment to the well-being of her staff and the students they all served.
“Her quest for professional growth is one I can personally relate to and wish her nothing but the best as she moves forward,” she continued. “She has left her mark on one of the most important institutions in all of California, and I’m grateful to her for that.”
Simmons joins a wave of educators leaving the school and the district, which has had quite a few changes in leadership in recent years. At Santa Barbara High alone, 17 faculty have left the school this year, and 22 left last year.
In the past few years, many of the district’s administrators and most of the cabinet have left the district, including several employees who took new positions at the county — Simmons is the seventh in three years to leave the district for the County Education Office, following Shawn Carey, Anne Roundy Harter, Camilla Barnwell, Tiffany Carson, Armando Uribe, and Shannon York.
“While I am stepping away from S.B. Unified, I will remain an educator in our community and will continue to ensure that our places of learning are safe and inclusive and that all students are given access and opportunities that will lead to a stronger community overall,” Simmons said.
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