History of the County Office
Like other county offices in California, the history of the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE)/ Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Office has been driven largely by the changing educational needs of a growing population base. As the state’s population has grown, so, too, has its need to add structure to the education system to meet the new demands of numbers. Today’s education system has evolved over time – and it continues to evolve – in response to the needs and expectations of California’s citizenry.
In 1964, the county superintendent's office became an independent state agency within the county and modernized its name to the Sonoma County Office of Education to represent its broader duties and responsibilities. This same year, a very significant structural change occurred when it was mandated by the state that county offices of education become independent from county government. A June 9, 1964, resolution by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors transferred all educational duties, functions, and budgets to the newly established Sonoma County Office of Education, a freestanding institution. The county office retains this independent structure today; it is not part of the county government.
Sonoma County has also changed dramatically over the years. Once completely rural, today’s landscape retains its rural feel in places, but many of the hills and valleys are now home to growing numbers of residents. Records indicate that the number of students enrolled in public schools in 1852 totaled 230; today that number is about 65,000. How educational services are delivered to this changing student population has required innovations in teaching; how the whole system is organized to function efficiently on a larger scale has led to the establishment and growth of the county office.
Role of the County Superintendent
The role of county superintendent was initially defined in 1852 by the state legislature as an add-on function to the office of county assessor. From 1852 to 1880, the chief fiscal officer in Sonoma County was officially titled “Assessor and Superintendent of Schools.” The sole educational function of the job in 1852 was to oversee the apportionment of state funds to local school districts. In 1860, the assessor/superintendent was also given the responsibility of testing and certifying the qualifications of teachers.
The county superintendent of schools was an appointed position starting in 1852. The county superintendent became an elected position in 1879 when a bill was passed taking school duties away from the assessor and mandating county superintendency elections every four years. Elected county superintendents were given new duties to match their new status, most of them having to do with oversight of district operations and reporting requirements to the state. Other responsibilities were added gradually by the state legislature – in 1912, 1915, 1921, 1931 and so on – and the office of the county superintendent began to grow from a “one horse agency” to a small organization of education professionals supported by an expert clerical staff. By 1947, the county superintendent had assumed 22 functions, including curriculum supervision, emergency teacher credentialing, health and nursing services for districts, coordination of educational resources, attendance monitoring, funding apportionments, and financial oversight and review of all districts.
Periods of Growth and Change
Sonoma County saw one of its most dramatic periods of growth after World War II, followed by the greatest number of new school openings – 48 in the 1950s – in the county’s history. In response to this growth, the county office began to see its own flurry of development. The elected Sonoma County Board of Education was officially established in 1956, engaging community representatives in the stewardship of countywide educational activities.
In recent decades, the responsibilities of the county superintendent have continued to grow. In 1966, the Regional Occupational Program was initiated to help the county’s high school students prepare for future employment. This law was amended in 2013 and career technical education responsibilities were transferred to districts operating grades 7-12. A 1992 state law designed to help ensure the financial solvency of schools required county superintendents of schools to carefully monitor district finances and added new responsibilities to the county office’s business services department. In 2013, California enacted a new school funding model, known as the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), and a companion accountability program called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). These initiatives significantly expanded the local monitoring responsibilities of county offices of education across the state. Local school districts now develop performance-based budgets under the new system.
In 2017 the county was devastated by wildfires, including the catastrophic Tubbs Fire, at the time the most destructive such blaze in the state’s history. It caused more than $8 billion in property damage. The county lost over 6,000 homes and businesses. This included the complete loss of two public schools and one private school. The county superintendent of schools became the primary liaison with the governor’s office in reopening schools and districts, for the 2017 and future disasters. South Sonoma County schools and districts reopened within 10 days, but central and north Sonoma County schools didn’t open until four weeks later.
SCOE worked with both state and federal agencies to get grant relief and special legislation passed to protect school districts from lost school revenue.
In 2019, communities along the Russian River were impacted by a federal disaster flood. The river began to flood in the middle of the school day when students were present. The county office mobilized the affected districts and helped coordinate the evacuation of students and staff.
Unfortunately in 2019 the county was again faced with a massive wildfire when the Kincade Fire erupted and became the largest wildfire in Sonoma County’s history. County schools were closed down again for two weeks and nearly 200,000 people were evacuated as a precaution because of a forecast of winds that could have pushed the blaze all the way to the coast.
In March of 2020, health officers in the Bay Area and later the state told the public to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Schools closed statewide and teachers and students went on distance learning within 10 days. The 58 county offices were directed by the governor’s office to facilitate the conversion to distance learning and assist when possible.
By fall 2020, schools began to reopen with restrictions, though that fall was again marked by two federal disaster wildfires, in the Walbridge and Glass fires.
Sonoma County’s COVID caseloads were high throughout most of the year. Schools locally didn’t begin to reopen until March 2021. Schools became fully operational by 2022, though with some constraints.
As these changes took place, the county office staff changed to accommodate new needs. The county office employed 60 individuals in 1956, 367 in 1985, and over 600 in 2000. The county office employed around 350 individuals in 2022, with enrollment in the county’s public schools expected to decline by nearly 17% over the decade beginning with the 2021-22 school year.
Today, the Sonoma County Office of Education operates under the direction of Amie R. Carter, Ed.D., who became Sonoma County superintendent of schools on Jan. 3, 2023.
Appointed County Superintendents
J.A. Reynolds, 1852
R.F. Box, 1853
S.D. Towne, 1854
B.B. Bonham, 1855-56
W.G. Lee, 1857-58
Frank Shattuck, 1859
E.D. Harris, 1860
Charles G. Ames, 1861-69
George W. Jones, 1870-73
A.C. McMeans, 1874-77
E.W. Davis, 1878-79
Elected County Superintendents
Charles S. Smyth, 1880-86
Mrs. F. McG. Martin, 1887-94
E. W. Davis, 1895-97
Carl H. Nielsen, 1897-98
Minnie Coulter, 1899-1906
DeWitt Montgomery, 1907-10
Florence Barnes, 1911-18
Ben Ballard, 1919-22
Louise Clark, 1923-26
O.F. Stanton, 1927-31
Edwin Kent, 1932-41
Charles W. Wiggins, 1942-54
DeForest Hamilton, 1955-68
Walter A. Eagan, 1968-86
Dick Bacon, 1986-87
Marv Adams, 1988-94
Tom Crawford, 1995-2002
Carl Wong, Ed.D., 2003-2010
Steven D. Herrington, Ph.D., 2011-2022
Amie R. Carter, Ed.D., 2023-