By Kathy Chouteau
The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) has a new superintendent. At its Wed., April 14 meeting, the Board of Trustees voted 5-0 to name Dr. Kenneth “Chris” Hurst, Sr. as the district’s next superintendent. Dr. Hurst, who will leave his role as superintendent of the Othello School District in Othello, Wash. to lead the WCCUSD, will commence his three-year contract May 17.
In his new role, Dr. Hurst will bear the distinction of the being the WCCUSD’s first permanent African American superintendent. (Per the district, Sylvester Greenwood and Dr. Cynthia LeBlanc both served as interim superintendents for one-year terms). He will be the district’s 10th permanent superintendent.
“I am excited to get to work in West Contra Costa Unified and about working together to provide a world-class educational experience for students that prepares them to be globally competent and allows them to compete and participate in our diverse and global society,” said Dr. Hurst. “I have an unwavering commitment and dedication to supporting a culture of inclusion and equity throughout the district and community, and what excites me is that we have a board and learning community interested in educational equity for all students.”
Dr. Hurst’s selection as WCCUSD superintendent followed a six-month search spurred by current Superintendent Matthew Duffy’s announcement in November that he would not seek a contract extension. During the search, the district hosted more than 50 listening sessions with students, families, staff and local stakeholders, as well as gathered input from 6,000 community members regarding what qualities and qualification they would like to see in the next superintendent. Nearly 30 people throughout the country applied for the role.
During Dr. Hurst’s five-year tenure with the 4,500-student Othello School District, located three hours southeast of Seattle, graduation rates increased by from 71 to 87 percent and absences were reduced by 33 percent. As superintendent of that district, he also implemented the K-12 pathway, Othello’s Social-Emotional Learning Standards, tripled the number of preschool children and increased the percentage of preschool students prepared for kindergarten from 30 percent to more than 98 percent.
The Othello School District that Dr. Hurst oversaw is 91 percent Latinx and 32 percent English Language Learners, with 75 percent participating in free and reduced-price lunch. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, he led them through the transition to Distance Learning, and eventually to a hybrid model this year.
Prior to heading up the Othello School District, Dr. Hurst served as the associate superintendent of educational services at Oceanside Unified School District, a 19,000-student district a half hour northwest of San Diego. There, he supervised the Oceanside Promise’s implementation to ensure all Oceanside students graduated college-and-career-ready and established the Oceanside Promise Foundation, a 501(c)(3). Collaborating with ConnectEd California, he implemented Linked Learning to create K-12 pathways to prepare students to succeed in college and their careers. He also collaborated to implement the Future Ready technology initiative, aimed at preparing students for success in college, career and citizenship.
“As the incoming superintendent, I am eager to work within our learning community to confront and address issues of systemic racism, implicit bias and ensuring growth mindset at every level of the organization,” Dr. Hurst said. “I’m equally excited about deepening our understanding of equity and systemic inequities and also moving toward what it should look like, feel like and sound like to have an equitable and culturally responsive education for all students.”
Overall, Dr. Hurst has more than two decades of experience teaching and leading equity in urban, suburban and rural K-12 districts. This includes six years as a principal and assistant principal in Oceanside, as well as the turnaround principal for Jefferson Middle and Oceanside High schools. Notably, Dr. Hurst led double-digit growth in Oceanside High School’s academic performance.
Earlier in his career, Dr. Hurst served as an administrator in the San Diego Unified and Poway Unified School Districts, in addition to serving as a U.S. Marine prior to entering academics. He earned his Doctorate in Education, K-12 Leadership (Magna Cum Laude), at the University of Southern California in 2011, and his Master of Arts Degree in Educational Administration (Magna Cum Laude) in 2008, and his Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics in 1997 at California State University, San Marcos. He also holds an Associate of Arts Degree from National University, San Diego.
Dr. Hurst and his wife, Crystal, are the parents of two adult children, a daughter who works as a sixth-grade teacher and a son who is a computer scientist.
“We are thrilled with Dr. Hurst’s background, experience and readiness to hit the ground running here in our district and help us to the next level,” said WCCUSD Board President Mister Phillips. “His acumen in social justice, equity and focus on accelerating student achievement here is impressive. His approach to collaborative leadership and knowledge of teaching strategies, as well as community involvement, are just what we need here in West Contra Costa.”