Carlos O. Turner Cortez, shown in 2016, marched with employees of the district in the San Diego Pride Parade. Photo by Chris Stone

Calling himself heartbroken to leave the district, Carlos Cortez has resigned as chancellor of the San Diego Community College District to care for his ailing parents, he said Monday.

Cortez, who succeeded 17-year leader Constance Carroll in July 2021, had announced March 30 that he was taking extended emergency family leave to spend more time with his parents living in Florida.

Greg Smith — the district’s vice chancellor of people, culture and technology services (also called chief human resources officer)— will serve as acting chancellor while the district conducts a national search for a permanent leader, the district said.

In a message to colleagues Monday night, Cortez, 48, said he went on leave because his mother had surgery on two arteries in her neck, which led to emergency triple-bypass open-heart surgery.

“My family means the world to me,” he posted on LinkedIn. “I have been in California for over two decades. I have been a source of financial but not emotional support for my parents and larger family. Both she and my father have to have four surgeries over the next two months.”

Cortez said he’s planning to move them from Florida back to Connecticut, where he was raised and where they have a larger network of support.

“I hope to return to California — my home,” Cortez wrote, “but I also know that the good Lord is in charge.”

“I truly love this district and my job,” he said. “Over the past two years, we turned a $35 million structural deficit into a $16 million surplus, reestablishing critical reserves; we restored most pre-pandemic enrollment and are on course to move out of the state’s Hold Harmless designation; and we have collectively worked with intentionality to serve our students by reopening our vibrant, equity-minded campuses.”

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In his first year, he said, the district raised over $60 million dollars in grants and contracts to support student success.

“We are on track for a 2024 bond and will start building student housing this summer,” he wrote. “We also have had unprecedented raises and the expansion of adjunct faculty benefits despite the financial challenges that I inherited. We also have the most amazing leadership team in the state.”

In a statement released by the district, Cortez said: “I am incredibly proud of the progress we have made together over the past two years on behalf of our students and community we serve. My time at the district, both as president of the College of Continuing Education and as district chancellor, have been the highlight of my career thus far.”

SDCCD Board of Trustees President Maria Nieto Senour said the board supports Cortez in this decision and thanks him for his leadership.

“Dr. Cortez made significant contributions during his time as chancellor for which we are sincerely grateful,” Senour said. “This included overseeing the safe reopening of our 10 campuses following the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding enrollment, and putting the district on sound financial footing by replenishing our reserves and securing important new revenue streams through grants and philanthropy.”

Chancellor Cortez assumed leadership of the district, which includes San Diego City, Mesa, Miramar and Continuing Education colleges, in July 2021 as the district was beginning to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He previously served six years as president of the district’s College of Continuing Education.

The SDCCD chancellor is responsible for all operations in a district that is the largest provider of workforce training and education in the region with a $992-million annual budget, according to district officials.

The chancellor oversees San Diego City, Mesa, Miramar and Continuing Education colleges; assures that the district is administered in accordance with policies adopted by the Board of Trustees and state and federal regulations; and maintains a close working relationship with the community, K-12 and local higher-education systems, as well as local, state and federal officials.

According to his posted biography, Cortez before SDCCD was the acting vice president of instruction at Berkeley City College, and before that served as director of Education Extension at UCLA.

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His career in education began 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,” the bio says. “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.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in African American women’s history at Georgetown University in Washington, followed by a master’s in the same subject at New York University and a Ph.D. in education policy and administration at USC.