When Denise Wickham applied for the superintendent position for Modesto City Schools in March 2011, she had full support from employer Ceres Unified School District.
She finished second during the interview process. It turned out that Modesto’s loss was Ceres’ gain. Wickham was named retiring Superintendent Scott Siegel’s successor by the Ceres School Board on Sept. 17.
“There’s a reason things happen,” Dr. Wickham said. “I stayed in Ceres. I’ve been able to grow and learn.”
Wickham will have 10 months to transition into the top position as she’ll be mentored by Dr. Siegel during the 2020-21 school year.
“I’m humbled, excited and honored,” she said. “I have a lot of emotions. 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 will assume her new role on July 1, 2021.
“It’s going to be different,” she said. “I’m going to miss him (Siegel). We’ve worked together throughout his superintendency. He and I make a great team. 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 will oversee a school district that has over 14,000 students.
“Our students are being impacted socially, emotionally and academically through distance learning by being at home,” Wickham said. “Our main focus next school year will be recovering the learning loss through no fault of our educators. They’re working harder than they have before. We’re doing the best we can under these dire circumstances.”
Wickham’s ascension to superintendent of CUSD didn’t happen overnight.
She started working for the district in 2005.
Wickham filled administrative roles 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 presented the Richard Miller Award through the American Association of School Administrators in 2008.
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.”