Dr. Denise Wickham will lead the Ceres Unified School District when current Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegel retires in June 2021.
Wickham will assume the helm of the district, which has over 14,000 students, on July 1, 2021.The Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees made the decision at its Sept. 17 board meeting.
Wickham joined Ceres Unified in 2005 and held administrative roles in the Educational Services and Personnel Services divisions before becoming Deputy Superintendent of Personnel Services in 2013.
She previously served with Riverbank and Manteca districts.
“Denise has been instrumental in navigating some of CUSD’s most significant moments,” said Siegel, who over the summer informed the board of his plans to retire. “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.”
“She definitely has some big shoes to fill, but Denise is a strong leader,” commented Board President Mike Welsh. “We have watched her handle even the most challenging situations over the years with care and respect for the needs of all involved. I don’t think we could have made a better choice.”
The daughter of an immigrant dairyman, Wickham says her ability to benefit from the opportunities education provides has fueled her commitment to ensuring an equitable education for all students. Believing that, “Hiring is the most important thing we do,” to ensure successful outcomes for students, she has led the district’s focus on attracting quality candidates and providing the support they need to thrive. Wickham launched the CUSD Leadership Academy to develop emerging leaders and has advocated for and implemented meaningful professional development opportunities as well as recognitions of exemplary staff.
During a particularly severe substitute teacher shortage, she has been known to hop in her car to pick up a substitute teacher who had car trouble on the way to school, her staff said.
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,” said Siegel. “She is wholly qualified for this next challenge and I am confident that, under her leadership, CUSD will continue to thrive.”
Siegel was appointed superintendent of CUSD in 2010 when Walt Hanline retired. Siegel’s 32-year career in education began as a teacher at Ceres High School in the 1989-90 school year. He was later promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, where he led the district’s focus on fiscal solvency.
As superintendent, Siegel has made it his mission to increase students’ access to post-secondary education, launching the “Ceres is Serious About College” initiative and frequently presenting on the economic and career impacts of a college degree.
In a letter informing CUSD families of his intent to retire, Siegel expressed gratitude for the trust the district and community of Ceres have afforded him.
“It has been a privilege to serve the students, families, and staff of this outstanding district as superintendent for nearly 11 years.”