Sonoma County schools superintendent Steve Herrington to retire in 2022

Steve Herrington is one of the longest-serving incumbents in countywide office and the third to announce retirement plans ahead of next year’s election cycle.|

Steve Herrington, Sonoma County’s superintendent of schools since 2011, will retire in 2022 after his term expires, capping a 51-year career in public education, he announced Wednesday.

His departure comes after several consecutive years of crises that have rocked Sonoma County schools, including wildfires, flooding in the west county and power shut-offs, both preceding and intersecting with the COVID-19 pandemic. But Herrington, 73, said none of those challenges pushed him toward retirement earlier than he would have gone otherwise.

“I can deal with disasters over the years and this one didn’t deter me any more than the last one,” he said. “It was time to spend time with family.”

Herrington is one the longest-serving incumbents in elected office in Sonoma County. He is the third person in a countywide post to announce they will not seek reelection in 2022. District Attorney Jill Ravitch and Sheriff Mark Essick also plan to retire after their terms expire.

While it’s not clear at this point who may vie to succeed Herrington as the top local school official, he said he plans to spend his final months on the job training that person to handle the duties of his office. The seat is on the June 2022 ballot, with a runoff in November if no one wins more than 50% of the vote.

California’s 58 county superintendents of schools are tasked with providing support, leadership and fiscal oversight of school districts — there are 40 in Sonoma County — as well as of their facilities and operations. All but five of the superintendents are elected.

When he campaigned and was first elected in 2010, Herrington said was eager to focus on improving teacher recruitment and retention in the area. He plowed his energy and resources into that work while in office.

“I felt I could make a contribution to the county as a whole in trying to bring the teaching profession opportunities it hadn’t had for a while,” he said.

Herrington’s leadership of the Sonoma County Office of Education, a 350-employee, $76.8 million state-chartered agency based in Santa Rosa, has been marked by several high-profile initiatives.

Those included the establishment of the North Coast School of Education in 2015, which offers seven teaching and administrative credential programs at costs half that of some university programs, according to the agency. The purpose of the program is to bolster a flagging teacher workforce, and make the profession more accessible to a diverse group of candidates.

The office also awarded $1 million in scholarships to help cover the costs for teachers and administrators seeking credentials.

“We needed to recruit and retain teachers of diverse backgrounds so students have good role models in education,” he said.

In 2015, Sonoma County’s student population shifted to majority-Latino for the first time in history, edging out the white student population by 0.5%, according to data from the California Department of Education. In 2020, Latinos made up 47.2% of the countywide student body.

The county’s share of Latino teachers lags far behind, though it rose from 5% in 2011 to 8.5% in 2018, the last year for which CDE data was available.

As school communities struggled through multiple years of evacuations, facilities and homes lost to wildfire and floods, SCOE sharpened its focus on providing mental and social emotional supports to staff and students. Its behavioral health unit, also created during Herrington’s tenure, now includes a cadre of mental health counselors who work with schools.

“We had to deal with basically student trauma and staff trauma as it relates to those (events),” Herrington said.

Before he leaves office next year, Herrington hopes to advance a 2018 initiative to build affordable teacher housing — another piece of the effort to recruit and retain diverse staff amid crushing shortages.

SCOE is engaged in a feasibility study examining the possibility of building between 40 and 60 affordable housing units on a 4-acre plot of land the agency owns behind Amarosa Academy in southwest Santa Rosa.

Herrington hopes to see the land rezoned as workforce housing before he leaves office. School districts would then be able to participate in a joint powers agreement to build and manage a portion of those units for their own staff.

“The problem is many districts can’t do it alone,” he said. “They have to do it as a cooperative. The county office would be the ideal agency to lead that.”

SCOE is also gearing up for an intensive series of vaccination clinics to reach children ages 5 to 11 when the COVID vaccine is approved for use in that age group. Herrington said one of his goals for the remainder of his tenure is to achieve a local vaccination rate of at least 70% in that age group, similarly to the 12 to 17 year-olds, who have been receiving the vaccine since May.

As Sonoma County voters consider candidates next year, he hopes a solid understanding of school finance and operations ranks high on their priority lists.

“I hope the electorate will pick a candidate with that knowledge base,” Herrington said. “Any superintendent needs to know school finance and how it works.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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