Santa Ana Unified’s Dr. Sonia Llamas to join OCDE as associate superintendent of Educational Services

An accomplished educational leader known for spearheading effective student interventions and fostering positive school environments has been selected as OCDE’s new associate superintendent of Educational Services. 

Dr. Sonia R. Llamas has spent the past 11 years with the Santa Ana Unified School District, serving most recently as assistant superintendent of K-12 school performance and culture. Beginning July 3, she’ll oversee OCDE’s Educational Services division, which provides support, technical assistance and professional development to all 29 school districts in Orange County.

Dr. Sonia Llamas
Dr. Sonia R. Llamas

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Llamas to our team,” Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares said. “Her exceptional leadership and her dedication to student support and success make her an outstanding choice for this role. We are excited to work together to advance educational excellence throughout the county.”

At SAUSD, Dr. Llamas led several district-wide initiatives aimed at improving academic, behavioral and wellness outcomes for students, including implementation of the California Multi-Tiered System of Support framework and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — both of which feature levels or tiers of supports and interventions.

An advocate for multidisciplinary collaboration, she also led the development of SAUSD’s Wellness Coordinated Care Plan, which integrated social work, health services, counseling, expanded learning, family and community engagement, and other supports to eliminate barriers for vulnerable student populations.

While the coordinated care plan impacted all students, it specifically helped English learners, foster youth and students experiencing homelessness receive resources necessary to be successful in school. It also adjusted school counseling ratios to 250 to 1 to personalize engagement.

Dr. Llamas credits collaboration efforts at all levels and a focus on school climate and wellness for a 91 percent reduction in expulsions and an 81 percent drop in suspensions in Santa Ana. In her new role at the county level, she said she plans to pursue a similar collaborative approach to empower educators and enhance professional learning opportunities.

“It revolves around comprehending the unique requirements of our communities and leveraging resources such as our higher education institutions, workforce development programs and community collaborators to establish optimal learning environments that promote student achievement,” she said. “This understanding is vital in anticipating the demands of future job opportunities and equipping our students with the necessary skill sets to thrive in yet-to-be-formed professional roles.”

‘An invaluable asset’

Dr. Llamas began her career as a social worker before joining the Los Angeles Unified School District as a counselor in 2000. She served at all levels, from kindergarten through grade 12, before becoming LAUSD’s administrator of student service programs from 2007 through 2009.

In 2009, Dr. Llamas was named the Pasadena Unified School District’s director of child welfare and educational options, and in 2012 she was hired as director of school climate in the Santa Ana Unified School District. Since September 2017, she has held the position of assistant superintendent of K-12 school performance and culture. 

At the district level, Dr. Llamas has been responsible for overseeing research and evaluation, college and career readiness, counseling, expanded learning, student support services, parent engagement, charter school oversight, development of the Local Control and Accountability Plan, and grants.

“Dr. Llamas is well-equipped to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to further student achievement and success throughout Orange County,” said Dr. Ramon Miramontes, OCDE’s deputy superintendent of instructional programs. “Her dedication to educational excellence and her passion for fostering student growth make her an invaluable asset to our community.”

Education and honors

A licensed clinical social worker, Dr. Llamas earned her bachelor’s degree in social welfare from UC Berkeley and her master’s degree in social work from California State University, Long Beach. She also holds a doctorate in educational leadership with a concentration in educational psychology from the University of Southern California. 

In 2019, Dr. Llamas was presented with OCDE’s Counselor Advocate Award, and she was named Administrator of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators’ Region 17 in 2016. Other accolades include the Chief’s Award from the Orange County Probation Department (2014); the Valuing Diversity Award from ACSA’s Region 17 (2023); the Counselor Advocate of the Year award from the California Association of School Counselors, Inc. (2022); the Catalyst of Hope award from Project Hope Alliance (2022); Women of Distinction recognition by the office of state Senator Tom Umberg (2022); and Women of the Year honors from U.S. Congressman Lou Correa (2021).

Dr. Llamas and her husband of 19 years currently live in Anaheim with three sons who attend public schools. Along with spending quality time with her family, she enjoys hiking, softball and soccer, traveling to other countries, and indulging in her love for reading, movies and the arts.

“I am deeply honored and excited to join OCDE’s Educational Services team,” she said. “Above all, I look forward to collaborating with district leaders, educators across disciplines, families and community partners to ensure that every student in Orange County receives a high-quality education and the necessary supports and opportunities to become the best versions of themselves.”

OCDE provides direct instruction to the county’s most vulnerable students through its Alternative Education and Special Education divisions and supports local school districts with services necessary for their operations. These include professional development, high-speed internet access and security, legal and fiscal guidance, payroll systems, Local Control and Accountability Plan assistance and approval, and student enrichment.