CARLSBAD — Change can be difficult, especially when it concerns the top spot in the Carlsbad Unified School District.
Former Superintendent Dr. Suzette Lovely’s tenure brought back trust, confidence and stability to the district.
Now, those responsibilities, and more, are on the shoulders of Dr. Ben Churchill.
He started on July 5, but over the course of transitioning, Churchill’s conversations with Lovely were productive and insightful as he learned about the district.
“It turns out it is a phenomenal district,” he said. “The staff is great, the teachers I’ve met are amazing. There is nothing broken, there is nothing here that needs to be fixed. I’m not going to be this guy that comes from out of state and takes us on a different path. For me, it’s a primary goal to establish my own relationships … and then to maintain the positive results and culture she (Lovely) established.”
Moving to San Diego County was a “dreaming big” scenario for Churchill, his wife, Nichole, and two kids, aged 10 and 6. He said a discussion with his wife focused on where, in a perfect world, where they would like to live.
San Diego was atop the list.
As soon as Lovely announced her retirement in January, Churchill wasted no time in applying. He made the cut, interviewed with the board and later tapped as the newest leader of the CUSD.
Coming from a district twice the size as CUSD, Churchill said his new home is the perfect size.
“I think my skills and experience aligned with what the board indicated they were looking for,” he added. “I think they were looking for someone with secondary experience … technology, program design and implementation … career preparation for students.”
And while Churchill is adjusting, so is the rest of the district. He said change can be tough, but the groundwork laid by Lovely and the leadership team have made for a smooth transition.
“To really go from excellent to exceptional and at the same time, get some local, statewide and even national attention,” Churchill said.
One program he sees with potential is the Great Kindness Challenge, which was started by a local family several years ago. As for the others, Churchill is taking time to settle in and discover what programs can take the next step.
CUSD Board of Trustees President Claudine Jones, meanwhile, said community feedback made it clear “wholesale changes” were not needed, a sentiment Churchill echoed. As the district has improved and programming becoming more recognized, Churchill is the man to guide the district from “great” to “exceptional,” she said.
“We got the sense from our interview that he embraced that idea,” Jones explained. “He just wants to elevate us that way.”
During the process, she said Churchill’s experience with technology and instructional background, to name a few, stood out. Also, his understanding of where the district was to where it is now was a positive sign.
“It seems like he has what it takes to take us to the next level,” Jones added.
Churchill’s journey into education began with a late start. He planned on a law career after his undergraduate studies at Valparaiso University, but an opportunity to teach English in China lit the fire. He also spent time studying in Cambridge, England.
Churchill earned master’s degrees from DePaul University and Northeastern Illinois University.
“I did all that back-to-back,” he said.
In fact, he spent six years in China before returning to Illinois and working through his former district for the next 13 years. He taught at an at-risk Charter school, became the principal before being promoted to the district administration as a chief academic officer.
Jones said Churchill’s references indicated he could have his pick of jobs in Illinois, but the California sun won out. The weather means no snow and make-up days, which Churchill laughed about no having to battle anymore.
“We are looking forward to the winter here,” he said. “One of my responsibilities in Illinois was to close school on snow days or cold days.”
Moving, though, is nothing new to Churchill. The Boston native spent time in his hometown plus stops in Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, where his parents still reside.
As for settling in California, Churchill said he and his family love life at the beach on weekends, although plans to explore all the county has to offer will come in time. His two daughters, naturally, want to learn to surf.
“We go to the beach as much as we can,” Churchill said. “Every morning, drinking coffee on my back patio, we look at each other and say ‘Is this for real?’ And it is.”