WATCH: Tributes pour in to honor Dr. Mijares’ 12 years as county superintendent

“Kindness is a virtue that powerfully manifests character, and character defines who you are.”

— Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County superintendent of schools

Throughout his 12-year career as Orange County’s superintendent of schools, Dr. Al Mijares consistently underscored the power of spreading kindness to make the world a better place.

Leading up to his retirement on June 30, educators and community members across the county have followed his lead by sharing their own statements of gratitude to the longtime educational leader and OCDE’s chief since 2012.

At the Orange County Board of Education meeting on July 3, board members paid tribute to Dr. Al Mijares for his service with a brief video produced by OCDE’s Communications and Media Services team. You can watch the video above.

Meanwhile, the response to our call for statements has been overwhelming, including thoughtful reflections on his tenure, tributes to his distinguished career and even personal stories. 

We’re presenting a selection of these messages below in celebration of Dr. Mijares and the impact he’s made on untold lives throughout Orange County.

“Every student in Orange County has better opportunities to learn and grow because Al Mijares was their advocate and champion.”

Dr. Jeff Hittenberger, dean of the School of Education, Vanguard University, and former OCDE chief academic officer

“In 1997, I was a freshman at Century High School in Santa Ana Unified and Dr. Mijares spoke at our first assembly, sharing about his college and career journey. He was the first Latino doctorate I had ever seen ‘up close’ and I was truly inspired by his story. He motivated me to pursue my own Ph.D. and I have him to thank for being a great community leader and role model. Gracias, Dr. Mijares!”

Henry Santos Metcalf, Ph.D., transition educational liaison, foster youth services coordinating programs, OCDE

“Next year will be my 55th year in education, and I’ve obviously met hundreds of outstanding leaders during that time. Dr. Al Mijares occupies a very special and unique place in my personal pantheon of heroes because of his remarkable ability to always keep the primary focus on the needs of students, especially those who historically have been underserved. More than anyone that I know, he’s a sterling example of Churchill’s definition of courage as ‘grace under fire.'”

Dr. Carl A. Cohn, professor emeritus and senior research fellow, Claremont Graduate University 

“Dr. Mijares was always a gentleman and a professional. He was a true example of a courageous County Superintendent always putting students first. Thank you for your statewide leadership. You will be missed.”

Richard DuVarney, Tehama County superintendent of schools and president of California County Superintendents

“It has been my sincere honor to call Al Mijares my friend, colleague and confidant. He is a remarkable educational leader who devoted his life to serving the diverse interests of students, families, staff and the wider community. We celebrate a legacy built on unwavering dedication to mental health and wellness, and a profound empathy for all members of society. Al has led a life characterized by unwavering integrity, kindness and service spanning decades, and he stands as a beacon of inspiration to all who have had the privilege of knowing him. His influence and impact will continue to resonate profoundly in Orange County and beyond, and shape the future of those he has touched with his wisdom and compassion.

Terry Walker, superintendent of the Irvine Unified School District

“Dr. Al Mijares has been an exceptional leader who dedicated his career to serving the youth and community of Orange County and beyond. With compassion, grace, and an unwavering commitment, he ensured that Orange County students thrived academically, socially, and emotionally. Dr. Mijares worked tirelessly as a champion for all students, leading with integrity, courage, strength, faith, and optimism throughout his distinguished tenure. His legacy of service and dedication will leave an indelible mark on the lives of countless students and educators.”

Dr. Andrew Pulver, superintendent of the Los Alamitos Unified School District

“It was an honor and privilege to work with you as leader of the Orange County Department of Education. For business, the importance of workforce development — preparing young people for a 21st century, competitive economy — cannot be overstated. Your support of so many successful OCDE programs from Science, Technology, Engineering, ARTS and Math (STEAM) to career prep in construction, nursing, hospitality, culinary and so much more will set the standards for years to come. Thank you for your service and dedication to Orange County’s children, faculty and administration. All the best to you!”

Lucy Dunn, CEO emeritus, Orange County Business Council (retired)

“I know I speak on behalf of our Board when I say that we deeply appreciate your unwavering support, dedication, and commitment to our students, staff, parents, and community over the past twelve years as County Superintendent. The impact you’ve made on countless lives is immeasurable, and those who had the privilege of working with you will remain forever grateful. As you embark on the next chapter of your life, may God continue to bless you and your family richly. You will be truly missed!”

Dr. Sue Johnson, superintendent of the Savanna School District 

“Dr. Mijares’ unshakeable commitment to the success and well-being of every student was inspiring to all who worked alongside him. His dedication to rigorous academics and career pathways while promoting empathy and compassion will forever be his legacy, reminding us of the profound impact that a caring leader can have on the lives of students and families.”

Dr. Ramon Miramontes, deputy superintendent, Orange County Department of Education

“Our communal prayers and gratitude are with Superintendent Mijares and his family. The Orange County Department of Education under Mijares’ stewardship has been centered on improving supports for learning and relevance in our districts. Gracias Amigo Mijares.”

Dr. Jose F. Moreno, associate professor of Latino education and policy studies, California State University, Long Beach 

“I had the great pleasure of working with Dr. Mijares at the state level. He was celebrated as an unrelenting student advocate whose values and high character were admired across California.”

Dr. Wesley Smith, superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District

“I want to recognize Dr. Mijares, the first Latino superintendent at the Orange County Department of Education, for his distinguished service to all students and his commitment to preserving OC history. I am grateful for his help in making Mendez Monument Park and Freedom Trail a unique learning experience for all students. Under his leadership, the Mendez v. Westminster School District Monument Park curriculum was developed, teaching about this landmark civil rights case and showing that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Thanks to Dr. Mijares, students can visit this Westminster historic site, learn from the case, and find inspiration.”

Sergio Contreras, executive director, United for Student Success, Orange County Unified Way 

“As an elementary school administrator in SAUSD, I was fortunate to have Dr. Mijares as a supportive approachable superintendent who often visited schools and made everyone feel part of the team.”

Sally Melton, retired principal

“We will all miss the transformational leadership of Dr. Al Mijares as he begins his retirement. As a leader and a person, his impact on Orange County has made a profound and lasting positive difference for all students and families. During the pandemic, Dr. Mijares would not only host daily opportunities for leaders to discuss strategies to keep everyone safe but he would also make personal calls to check on all of us as leaders and people. Dr. Mijares has been a mentor, friend and role model to so many Superintendents and educational partners throughout his many years of dedicated service. On behalf of the Anaheim Elementary School District, we wish Dr. Al Mijares an amazing next chapter and thank him for his dedicated and tireless service to our community.”

Dr. Christopher Downing, superintendent of the Anaheim Elementary School District (2018 to 2024)

“On behalf of myself and our Board of Directors we would like to thank Dr Mijares for his leadership and lifetime dedication to our students. Godspeed, Dr Mijares.”

Reuben Franco, CEO of the Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

“Thank you for your unwavering commitment to the education of Orange County students. Your willingness to advocate for all students is an inspiration to the students, families, teachers and staff. Your leadership, expertise and unwavering commitment to the students and families is an inspiration to the entire community. Your grace and humility demonstrates exemplary leadership for us all.”

Rebecca “Beckie” Gomez, Tustin City Council member and former Orange County Board of Education trustee, Area 1

“Dr. Al Mijares has been a pillar in education, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to caring for County students. I am thankful for his leadership and mentorship, which instilled the values of dedication, compassion, and integrity in the Orange County Department of Education. Dr. Mijares has inspired a generation of leaders with grace and humility, leaving an indelible mark on Orange County education.”

Dr. Nancy Watkins, associate professor, Educational Leadership, Cal State Fullerton

“Thank you so much for your leading of the Orange County School Department of Education during these past 12 years.  I met you when I was invited to a board meeting honoring different teachers in Orange County who received achieving National Board Certification.  I will never forget your note of kindness as well as the special “Orange County” Starbucks gift card.  I still have the gift card as it is a reminder of getting my certification but also that the Orange County Department of Education appreciated me getting the certification to better meet the needs of my students.  I also wanted to let you know that I will be praying for you and your family during your treatment of cancer.”

Luann Grismer, NBCT, teacher, Richman Elementary School, Fullerton School District

“Thank you for your ongoing leadership during one of the most challenging decades in public education. You have led with passion, grace, kindness and a focus on students. Please know how much we appreciate you and we send our very best wishes your way.”

Dr. Mark Johnson, superintendent of the Tustin Unified School District

“Dr. Al Mijares has been very important to the field of education. For me he has been both role model and mentor in my work as an administrator for SAUSD when he was Superintendent there, and later as Orange County Superintendent in my work in teacher education. During his tenure in OCDE, he represented the strongest affirmation of high academic standards for our students and teachers, he exemplified the greatest work ethic and integrity, and he shared a steadfast commitment to outstanding leadership. Al, I applaud your remarkable career with everything you’ve accomplished, thank you for your immense dedication to excellence in education, and wish you the very best in your retirement as you approach this new chapter.”

Dr. Anaida Colon-Muniz,  professor emerita, College of Educational Studies, Chapman University 

“I want to thank Dr. Mijares for his support of arts for special education students, and for his understanding of the value that the arts have in building well-rounded educational programs for all students.”

Phyllis Berenbeim, former OCDE coordinator of visual and performing arts and OC Arts & Disability (formerly VSA Orange County)

“It has been an honor to represent Dr. Mijares and the Orange County Department of Education in Sacramento for more than a decade. Dr. Mijares, and the entire OCDE team, have a long standing reputation and track record of supporting the needs of all students and the creation of exciting, innovative and well managed educational opportunities. OCDE’s quality programs bare out this focus. Most importantly, Dr. Mijares has always focused the full attention of OCDE on efforts to improve student performance, assist educators in the classroom and provide support and direction to local school leaders. I am a better advocate and person for having had the opportunity to work with Al Mijares.”

Jeff Frost, legislative advocate, Ball/Frost Group

“Al cared about people. His passion and compassion for others was only surpassed by his love for his family and friends. We will all miss his leadership.”

Dr. Clint Harwick, superintendent of the Huntington Beach Unified School District

“Thank you, Dr. Mijares, for your inspirational leadership. Your kindness toward staff and your passion for serving our students has been contagious. It has been an honor to work under your leadership. You will be greatly missed!”

Katelyn Brazer Aceves, community resource specialist, OCDE, and Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education member

“I knew Dr. Mijares through my collaborative work with OCDE on the annual Safe Schools Conference, which he regularly attended and provided his thoughts on School Safety. He was also very eager to help my Pacific Islander community and provided his advice and encouragement. We both worked for Paramount USD. When I retired 2 1/2 years ago, he sent me a letter of congratulations. An Amazing Leader. Felicidades.”

Dr. Victor C. Thompson, retired director of student support services for the Los Angeles County Office of Education and executive director, National Pacific Islander Education Network

“What I love about Dr. Mijares’ is that he led with his strong faith in Jesus. He hosted many general staff meetings with quotes from the Bible for example. I will miss his grace and style.”

Paul Gibson, former senior producer in OCDE’s Communications and Media Services unit

“Working with Al was always a pleasure. He’s a great educator and one of the nicest persons I’ve ever met.

Jack Oakes, board member, High School Inc. in the Santa Ana Unified School District

“Al Mijares is a remarkable educator who exemplifies consistently a mission driven approach to leadership putting students first in all decision making. He has provided outstanding support for local school districts through his immense technical knowledge, compassion and relationships with local communities. He will be greatly missed as a trusted confidant and courageous leader resolute in his advocacy for public schools!”

Dr. Gunn Marie Hansen, superintendent of the Westminster School District

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