Superintendent Mark Richardson, who guided the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District for seven years, died suddenly on Monday, just days after celebrating the new Career Technical Education Center he helped bring to reality.

District officials did not share the cause of Richardson's death, but administrators on Tuesday shared their appreciation for the educator and his leadership over the years. 

“As a friend and colleague of Mark for over 30 years, his unexpected passing hits very hard,’’ said district Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction John Davis. “Mark brought passion, humor and professionalism to everything he did and he shared those gifts generously with all that worked with him. His impact on this district and community were profound and we were indeed fortunate to have benefited from his leadership during the seven years he served the SMJUHSD.”

District board President Jack Garvin recognized Richardson's focus on career and technical education during his tenure and his leading role in the funding and creation of the district's $22 million Career Technical Education Center, which opened at the beginning of the school year.

Richardson himself spoke at the dedication ceremony for the center on Nov. 10.

“His crowning gift to Santa Maria was the recently dedicated Career Technical Education Center and Agricultural Farm," Garvin said. "Without his personal commitment and vision of the future for all our students, this center would not have been developed. Mark left a true legacy for future generations.’’

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Prior to coming to Santa Maria, Richardson also served four years as superintendent of the Taft Union High School District and held various teaching, coaching and administrative roles in the Kern High School District.

As he neared his retirement in 2019, Richardson shared his optimism about the future of the district, stating, “The district is on the right path. We have an effective board, excellent leadership and a committed staff. We are in a great position moving forward. I want to thank everyone for making my time here worthwhile.’’

Board member Carol Karamitsos recalled Richardson's daily commitment to the betterment of the district and preparing students for the future, as well as his characteristically warm presence.

"During his tenure, he led the [district] through transformative change that elevated the opportunities for our students, their families and staff, most importantly by raising expectations for graduating students that are college- and/or career-ready," Karamitsos said. "Mark, the man, was an adoring family man and a generous friend. We mourn the premature passing of our faithful leader.’’

Richardson is survived by his wife, Kelly, two sons, Vaughn and Val, and his daughter, Sherah. Plans for memorial services have not been announced.