Daisy Estrada Ochoa | Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Unified School District

McKinley Elementary School’s new principal, Daisy Estrada Ochoa, started her experience in education as a 4-year-old in McKinley’s preschool program. In fact, the entirety of her schooling was in Santa Barbara — graduating from McKinley, then Monroe Elementary, La Cumbre Junior High, San Marcos High School, and eventually UC Santa Barbara. 

After being unanimously approved to take on the role of principal by the district’s Board of Trustees at their April 18 meeting, she addressed the board last Tuesday, May 9, to share more about herself and her journey through the Santa Barbara Unified school system.

She’s now finishing up her 16th year in education, having held multiple teaching and leadership positions throughout her career in the Santa Barbara Unified School District.

“When I began teaching, I quickly was able to see myself in my very own students, and was able to relate to their families with our shared experiences,” Ochoa said. “It made building relationships with the school community one of my greatest strengths that I feel contributed to my success as a teacher, and now as a leader.”

Ochoa thanked “the village around her” for supporting her dreams — her husband and their three children, her extended family, and especially her encouraging parents. She said her dad worked as a school custodian for years in the Santa Barbara school system. 

“Both my parents immigrated here many years ago, and I think that’s why I have such a connection to our community and to our students, because I really relate to their experiences,” she said. “If I can, you know, go through all the obstacles that one has to endure as an English language learner, anything is possible.”

Ochoa took over the role of principal permanently in April after spending the previous month on an interim basis. In her early career, she spent five years as a 1st-grade and 3rd-grade teacher at McKinley, but when she left the classroom, she said she was thinking about how it would “be great to come back one day.”

Ochoa most recently served as director of early childhood and after-school programs since July 2022, and before that, she spent seven years working as an after-school/expanded learning program coordinator and the early childhood education administrator.

Ochoa was also a dual-language immersion teacher at Cesar Chavez Charter School in Santa Barbara. Taking on the role of principal at McKinley — known for its dual-language immersion program in Spanish and English — was “truly a full circle,” she said. 

“As a child, I was a student in a bilingual classroom, later a teacher in a bilingual classroom, and now I’m also a parent of students in bilingual classrooms,” Ochoa told the board. “I am excited to be on McKinley’s journey in offering a pathway for students and families to develop their bilingualism and biliteracy.” 

Anna Pilhoefer, director of equity and multilingual learner services, said that the district’s dual-language immersion curriculum committee team has “only become stronger” with the addition of Ochoa. “She has already made a significant impact to the process,” Pilhoefer said.

Ochoa takes on the responsibility previously held by former principal Elena Garcia-Yoshitomi, now a principal in the Ventura Unified School District. 

“One of our goals at Santa Barbara Unified is to educate the next generation of leaders and scholars,” said Superintendent Dr. Hilda Maldonado. “Daisy is a shining example of that as someone who came up through our school system. We are so proud to see her grow with the district and give back to the community through her service as an educator.”


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