Scott Siegel attended his last meeting of the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees on Thursday evening as he enters retirement.
As the 2020-21 school year comes to a close on June 30, Dr. Denise Wickham is poised to take helm of the district of 14,000 students.
Siegel began his career with CUSD as a math and science teacher at Ceres High School in 1989. In 1999, he became principal of the school and later the district’s Chief Business Officer. He then was tapped to serve as district superintendent for 11 years, having taken over from Dr. Walt Hanline.
In March Siegel was given the “Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement” award by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce. At that time he said: “I can assure you that any contribution I have made to the district and to this community is dwarfed by what the district and this community has given to me. I thank this community for introducing me to my wife, for entrusting me with your students, for allowing me to have such a fulfilling career and for surrounding me with such fantastic colleagues and lifelong friends.”
Siegel has received the praise of his assistant superintendents for his “unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of Ceres students and families so that all students can reach their full potential. Beyond his role as the CEO of Ceres schools, Scott’s heart for the Ceres community is evident in his service through various boards, community organizations, and volunteer efforts.”
Under his leadership, CUSD weathered California’s worst fiscal crisis in memory without significant impact to student programs and services. He also oversaw a program in 2016 to place Internet-enabled devices in the hands of all CUSD students to support their learning, as well as access to free or low-cost Internet service at home. According to Wickham, having those systems in place for the over 14,000 Ceres students enabled the district to shift to distance learning after the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, while at the same time many districts scrambled to get devices into students’ hands, train staff to use instructional technology, and address connectivity issues.
Recognizing the socioeconomic challenges in Ceres, Dr. Siegel also helped to connect specific needs with resources. He made CUSD facilities available to the Second Harvest Food Bank for its food distributions, serves as a member of the Ceres Community Collaborative to empower and support vulnerable populations, and sat on the board of the CUSD Foundation which provides funding for K-12 enrichment and scholarships for graduating seniors. In 2015, he led the unification of CUSD Foundation and the former Ceres Education Foundation to maximize the impact of funds. He also was instrumental in forging a relationship between CUSD and the city, which allows for a sharing of facilities for youth sports programs.
For nearly two decades, Siegel has served as a member of the Ceres Rotary Club, leading subcommittees and contributing to countless community service projects.
Dr. Wickham had 10 months to transition into the top position while she was mentored by Siegel.
“I don’t see it as a big change. It’s really about continuing the work that is happening. I believe in the vision and mission of this district. I believe in the school board. They work hard to learn about the education system to make the best decisions for our students.”
Wickham said she will miss Siegel but said “he’ll be available to me as a coach and mentor. He has a vested interest in seeing Ceres continue to thrive. He set the course for the district. He’s been an amazing superintendent.”
Wickham started working for the district in 2005 and previously served in the Educations Services and Personnel Services division prior to becoming Deputy Superintendent of Personnel Services in 2013.
“It really is an amazing place to be,” she said. “I believe it’s the best district in the state.”
Wickham was named 2019 Educator of the Year by the Portuguese Education Foundation of Central California. She won the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Region 7 Bill Ullom Memorial Award in 2016. She was the recipient of the Ray Curry Award at the 2013 ACSA Personnel Institute. Wickham was recognized as ACSA Region 7 Central Office Administrator of the Year in 2011.
She was named ACSA’s Region 7 Elementary Principal of the Year in 2003 when she worked for Riverbank Unified School District.
She was Manteca Unified’s New Educator of the Year in 1993.
“Denise has been instrumental in navigating some of CUSD’s most significant moments,” Siegel said. “From the budget turmoil of a decade ago, to the rapid expansion of programs made possible by the Local Control Funding Formula, to the current shift to distance learning, she has led with integrity and a willingness to make difficult decisions that prioritize students’ needs.”
Wickham is also an active volunteer in the Ceres community. She is a member and past president of Soroptimist International of Ceres, holding seats on the service club’s board, Women of Distinction Committee, and Girl of the Month Committee. She regularly leads Soroptimist service projects and is a frequent presenter.
Wickham is also a member of the Ceres Community Collaborative, which works to connect Ceres residents with needed community resources, and is a mentor and presenter for the CUSD Ag Mentor program, which prepares students for careers related to agriculture.
“Denise excels at increasing student achievement through accountability and is passionate about maintaining our district-wide focus on equity,” Siegel said. “She is wholly qualified for this next challenge and I am confident that, under her leadership, CUSD will continue to thrive.”
(Dale Butler contributed to this article.)