As chancellor, Carlos Cortez will oversee San Diego City, Mesa and Miramar colleges and the San Diego College of Continuing Education. SDCCD photo

After a national search, the San Diego Community College District on Tuesday announced the promotion of one of its own to succeed Constance M. Carroll as chancellor.

Carlos O. Cortez, president of the San Diego College of Continuing Education since 2015, will take over as head of the state’s second-biggest community college district on July 1. (Only LACCD is larger.)

“I love this district and I am honored to be appointed as chancellor,” Cortez, 46, said in a statement. “Chancellor Carroll has established the SDCCD as national leader in student equity and outcomes. I am committed to working with our student leaders, faculty, classified professionals, and administrators to move the district to the next level of success.”

Maria Nieto Senour, president of the SDCCD board, said: “Dr. Cortez is the Board of Trustees’ choice to lead the SDCCD into the future. We are pleased with the outcome of this search process, which included robust input and participation from district stakeholders and the community.”

As chancellor, the University Heights resident will be responsible for all operations in a 100,000-student district that is the largest provider of workforce training and education in the region with a $780 million annual budget.

The chancellor oversees San Diego City, Mesa and Miramar colleges and the San Diego College of Continuing Education — known until February as San Diego Continuing Education, which serves 40,000 students annually at seven campuses.

“In conducting its search, the Board of Trustees prioritized selecting an individual with the skills and experience to lead the district’s strategic planning and action to meet the current and future challenges confronting its students and communities,” said Senour.

“These challenges include safely reopening the district’s campuses and engaging students to increase enrollment as we move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, which has deeply affected each of the district’s students and employees. The Board of Trustees has confidence that Dr. Cortez will be able to assist the district in emerging from this crisis even stronger than before. He is exactly the type of leader that is needed at this moment in the district’s history.”

Cortez — who on Twitter lists his full name as Carlos Osvaldo Turner Cortez — was chosen out of finalists that included Barbara Kavalier, president of St. Charles Community College in St. Charles, Missouri; Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona; and Pamela Luster, president of San Diego Mesa College.

Cortez will replace Carroll, 75, who is retiring after serving 17 years, making her the longest-serving chancellor in the district’s history.

His appointment is pending final approval of his employment contract — with details to be released at the March 25 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

In a district COVID-19 update, Carroll reported having had both her COVID-19 shots “and I am eager to see everyone have the same benefit.” She also noted the fact she “will never actually work physically here again.”

She concluded: “As I have been clearing out my office, I have been finding notes and memorabilia from many people within our district, and these remembrances, among others, I will always cherish. Continue to do the excellent job you are doing.”

Among the messages received from the community during the search was the importance of continuing the progress and achievements made by the SDCCD during Carroll’s time as chancellor.

“The district is deeply indebted to Chancellor Carroll for her accomplishments and service,” said Senour. “During her historic tenure, the district has completed an unprecedented modernization of its campuses, achieved the highest possible bond ratings that saved taxpayers millions of dollars, expanded its student equity and success programs, established the tuition-free San Diego Promise program as a national leader, and secured legislation which allowed San Diego Mesa College to create one of the first baccalaureate programs at a California community college.”

More recently, she said Carroll has provided steady leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic, overseeing a districtwide response that has provided thousands of students with laptops and emergency grants that has allowed them to continue their education online while campuses were closed.

The SDCCD governing board worked with the Association of Community College Trustees to assist in the search process, which sought diverse and competitive candidates from all regions of the country and included participation by a 25-member search committee comprising faculty, classified professionals, labor groups, administrators, trustees, and businesspeople.

Cortez has taught consistently for the past 23 years. He has served as an administrator for 16 years and as CEO for 11 years.

As president of the San Diego College of Continuing Education, Cortez oversees one of the four colleges of the SDCCD, the seventh-largest community college system in the United States.

Cortez is also an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests center on the role of educators and administrators of color in the historical development of American social welfare and education policy.

Cortez’s scholarly achievements and professional pursuits are focused on equity, diversity and inclusion not only for students, but also for faculty, professional staff, and administrators.

Throughout his career, Cortez has elected to work primarily with underserved, ethnically diverse student populations from low-income communities. He has been a staunch advocate for policy and finance reform as a member of various state and federal level legislative task forces, including his current service on the California League of Community College’s Advisory Committee on Legislation and the Noncredit Coalition. His commitment to social justice drives his passion for urban education reform.

Before leading SDCCE, Cortez most recently worked as the acting vice president of instruction at Berkeley City College. Before BCC, he served as director of Education Extension at UCLA.

He began his career in education as a Teach for America Corps member. His experience spans the public, private, and charter school sectors in Washington, D.C., Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Diego.

Cortez served as principal of New Village Charter School in Los Angeles, and as assistant principal of special education services at Grape Street Elementary School.

In 2017, Dr. Cortez was awarded the Martes Award for Excellence in Research by the Association of California Community College Administrators and was recognized as San Diego Male Leader of the Year by then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber.

In 2018, he received the Excellence in Continuing Education Award from the Association of Community and Continuing Education, the Innovation of the Year Award by League for Innovation in Community Colleges and the RP Group Research and Planning Project award.

In 2019, he was awarded the Teach for Innovation McGrory Award for Innovative Alumni Leadership and his organization was named the NACCE Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year.

In 2020, Cortez was awarded the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) Lighthouse Award as a Turnaround School Leader and was named a Top 100 Leaders in Education by the Global Forum for Education and Learning.

Cortez holds a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in race and gender politics from New York University and a doctor of philosophy in education policy and administration from the University of Southern California.

All three degrees focus on African American feminist political history.

Updated at 4:24 p.m. March 16, 2021

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