Miramontes: OCDE doesn’t have ‘County Office’ in its name. Here’s why.

Here’s a question we often hear: Why is our organization known as the Orange County Department of Education when other county offices of education across California are known as, well, county offices of education?

The answer takes us back to a strategic decision made under the leadership of Dr. Robert Peterson, who served as county superintendent from 1966 through 1991. Early in his tenure, Dr. Peterson proposed changing the name of the then-Orange County Schools Office to the Orange County Department of Education, saying it was more in line with other county departments.

From the desk of Ramon Miramontes, Ed.D.

It was also reflective of the organization’s expanding role. Our office had evolved into an agency that coordinated academic programs and provided technical and special services to all school districts, according to a resolution. The change was approved in March 1969.

This spirit of evolution and adaptation has been the hallmark of the Orange County Department of Education since its inception almost exactly 135 years ago. 

On March 11, 1889, California Gov. Robert Waterman signed a bill that led to the formation of Orange County — and the office that would become OCDE. An annual report from 1890 documented a combined enrollment of 3,426 students, served by a total of 34 districts — though some operated less than six months out of the year. Total annual expenditures for the entire county were less than $65,000. 

Fast forward to today. Under the leadership of current County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares, our department now supports nearly half a million students and approximately 600 schools as a cornerstone of Orange County’s educational community. 

Our role is multifaceted, yet it can be understood through two primary functions:

First, we provide direct instruction to our county’s most vulnerable student populations through our Alternative Education and Special Education divisions, the latter of which includes our newly rebranded Connections schools.

Second, OCDE offers a comprehensive suite of services to local school districts. These range from meaningful training opportunities and high-speed internet access to legal and fiscal guidance, payroll systems, Local Control and Accountability Plan assistance and approval, student enrichment and much more.

When districts face hurdles in meeting specific performance goals on the California School Dashboard, OCDE and other county offices of education are also called upon to provide targeted support. This process, known as differentiated assistance, complements districts’ own efforts to ensure that students’ needs are met.

As we continue to grow and adapt, it’s important to underscore that OCDE’s core principles have remained unchanged. Driven by a commitment to empower all learners, we approach our roles not merely as administrators of the Orange County Department of Education but as stewards of a legacy of service and continuous improvement that dates back over a century.

Change is more than a chapter in our history. It is the very essence of our DNA. And it will be the engine that propels us forward, fueling our journey toward a brighter, more innovative and prosperous Orange County.

Dr. Ramon Miramontes serves as OCDE’s deputy superintendent of instructional programs.