Jean Madden-Cazares wanted to be an educator from the time she was a young child.
Before she was even out of high school, she was already working to tutor students with learning disabilities.
Now, she's able to support quality education for students throughout the county as the new assistant superintendent for Learning and Leadership Services. She replaced Debbie Beldock, who retired from the position at the end of September.
She said she's excited about following in Beldock's footsteps by striving to be a responsive, caring, and innovative leader.
"I believe that the Learning and Leadership Services division is an amazing group of smart, talented, dedicated, and collaborative individuals who I will be able to depend upon in leading the work to support the success of all students across San Diego," she said.
The St. Louis, Mo., native said she learned a lot about hard work and patience from her parents and growing up in a family of nine kids. She learned her work ethic from her father, who was a hard-working fire chief, and learned about patience and helping others from her mother, who raised a large family and helped care for and teach her uncle who had significant learning disabilities.
After graduating college with a degree in elementary and special education, she took her first job in 1982 at Pacific Beach Junior High, where she taught in a self-contained special-education classroom. During her first year, some of her coworkers approached her about becoming an administrator, but she didn't feel ready. In fact, she imagined herself always being a classroom teacher.
"I'm not a person that seeks a title," she said. "I'm just a person who enjoys doing their work."
After 12 years as a teacher at schools throughout San Diego, Madden-Cazares was ready to take a leadership position and became vice principal at Rosa Parks Elementary in City Heights. It was the largest elementary school in San Diego at the time.
Then in 2000, she became principal at Green Elementary School, and after four years there, she was asked to move to Encanto Elementary School. The schools were very different. Green Elementary was an academic and athletics magnet with some of the area's highest test scores. Encanto Elementary was located in a high-poverty area of San Diego and faced many challenges as a school in program improvement.
Madden-Cazares made it her mission to ensure equity for the students of Encanto by boosting morale and improving teaching and learning at the school. She organized volunteers to plant trees, trim bushes, paint murals, and repair the aging campus. At the same time, she hired strong teachers and organized professional learning for all staff.
"We brought it back to life," she said. "It was the most rewarding job I ever had."
As the campus started to change, parents became more involved and test scores began to rise.
After four years at Encanto Elementary, she moved to the San Diego Unified district office where she supervised 28 elementary schools as an assistant superintendent.
In 2010, Beldock encouraged her to apply for a position at the San Diego County Office of Education. The two had worked together previously at San Diego Unified. Madden-Cazares was excited about the director of district and school improvement position, which allowed her to help leaders and support students from throughout the county.
"It was an opportunity to continue the work that I believed in and be able to reach more people," she said.
Although she hadn't initially intended to become an administrator, she said her openness to new adventures has helped as she has moved into new roles, as have the people she worked with.
"Each step along the way, I have had incredible colleagues, mentors, and staff that have taught me, supported me, and worked alongside me to accomplish great things," she said. "I look forward to being able to continue in this manner as the assistant superintendent of Learning and Leadership Services, and I am honored to serve in this role."