While Hollister School District’s choice for superintendent has faced scrutiny over incidents occurring in 2011, former colleagues and the search firm hired to find him gave candidate Diego Ochoa high marks. Ochoa was announced as the sole finalist on Dec. 26.
If approved by the HSD board on Jan. 8, he is expected to start in February and make $209,000 annually.
Ochoa spoke to BenitoLink about his record as principal of Castle Park High School in Chula Vista. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2011 that $92,295 in school funds were mismanaged. At the time, district officials revealed that $21,584 was taken from various school clubs without their knowledge. Ochoa resigned from his position at the school that same year.
Ochoa said the San Diego Union-Tribune article was “filled with inaccuracies,” adding that the school district was led by unethical individuals. He said they used him as a scapegoat when a larger scandal began to unfold. He pointed out that after he left Chula Vista, there have been no allegations of irregularities or mismanagement made against him.
Ochoa said the budget at Esparto Unified School District, where he began working in 2012, is “extremely strong, and I’m very proud of that, because I have taken the last seven years to rebuild my career.”
Jacqueline Horejs from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the national school executive search firm hired to recommend superintendent candidates to HSD, explained the process that led to selecting Ochoa. She said background checks, paper screening, pre-screening interviews, online community survey and focus groups were conducted.
In addition, the HSD board met with Ochoa several times, Horejs said, and there was unanimous agreement that he was the best candidate.
The search firm also met with Castle Park High School and Sweetwater district officials, both above and below Ochoa, about his involvement in the 2011 accusations. All confirmed that he was not culpable.
The search firm also reached out to officials from Esparto Unified School District, where Ochoa has worked for seven years.
“He was beloved by board and community at Esparto,” Horejs said.
Esparto Unified School District Board clerk Becky Schwenger told BenitoLink Ochoa was and is invested in the community, cares about students and staff, and he works very well with the school board.
“It’s our loss and Hollister’s gain,” Schwenger said.
Schwenger also said Ochoa secured transportation for student-athletes while leading the district to a balanced budget for the first time in at least ten years.
Esparto Unified trustee Pam Miller said Ochoa helped the district win grants, improved test scores, and improved the nutrition program by hiring a chef.
In addition to all the positive feedback Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates received from those who worked with Ochoa, he came in “clean as a whistle” on research done by screening firm Baker Eubanks after the second interview, according to Horejs. She said the firm investigated criminal, social media and other records.
“I don’t think any of the board members felt what happened in the San Diego area was any reason to disqualify him for the job in Hollister,” Horejs said.
She also said if any of the allegations had any “teeth” to them, his credentials would have been revoked.
“More than due diligence was done in this search for all the candidates,” Horejs said.
HSD has searched for a permanent superintendent since Lisa Andrew’s abrupt resignation in June after two years in the position. William Barr stepped in as interim superintendent in July while the district conducted its search for a new leader.
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