Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, Ph.D., is the Superintendent of Schools for the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), the largest in Orange County and sixth-largest in the state, with 56,000 students at 61 school sites throughout the Santa Ana community. The K-12 school district is the second largest employer in Santa Ana with approximately 4,500 educators and staff members. SAUSD boasts 28 California Distinguished Schools and four National Blue Ribbon Schools.
Dr. Meléndez previously held the position of Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the United States Department of Education (ED) from 2009 through 2011. During her tenure as the Assistant Secretary, Dr. Meléndez served as the principal advisor for Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, on all matters related to elementary and secondary education.
While at the U.S. Department of Education, she played a critical role in the development of the Blueprint for Reform, the Department of Education’s proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA); she also successfully led the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education as it administered billions of dollars in grant funding appropriated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. During her tenure as Assistant Secretary, Dr. Meléndez gave more than 85 speeches in 20 states and Washington, D.C., at events ranging from back-to-school events to university commencements. She also was responsible for implementing the signature program — School Improvement Grants.
Prior to arriving at the Department of Education, Dr. Meléndez served as Superintendent for the Pomona Unified School District in Pomona, California. Additional posts during her illustrious career include having served as program manager at the nonprofit Stupski Foundation, where she focused on creating high-performance learning organizations to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps; Deputy and Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer at Pomona Unified, where she redesigned instructional services to increase student achievement and support to school sites; and Director of School-Family Initiatives at the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project, where she oversaw grants for the Annenberg Foundation and implemented schoolwide accountability reform in 15 Los Angeles County school districts.
Dr. Meléndez also served as an educator in the Montebello and Pasadena Unified School districts, assuming the positions of Director of Instruction, Principal, Assistant Principal and Teacher. From 1990 to 2002, she served in various faculty positions at universities in California.
As an experienced leader, educator and an English learner herself, Dr. Meléndez has focused much of her work supporting diverse populations and has been especially instrumental in moving forward the national conversation on supporting English Language Learners. In 2009, her success as an education leader was recognized by the American Association of School Administrators, which voted her California Superintendent of the Year.
Dr. Meléndez received an honorary doctorate from Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology in May 2011, and has received the following accolades for her educational leadership:
Dr. Meléndez was named a member of the prestigious Board of Trustees for the J. Paul Getty Trust in 2012. As a Trustee, she will help to oversee an annual $270 million operation that supports the visual arts. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, where she was in the Rossier School of Education program specializing in language, literacy and learning. Dr. Meléndez earned a bachelor’s degree cum laude in sociology from the University of California at Los Angeles. She is married to Otto Santa Ana, an author and professor in the Department of Chicano Studies at UCLA.