photo 3He grew up in Encintias and graduated from high school in 1945, but his path from elementary school to San Dieguito’s commencement ceremony took him to an internment camp in Poston, Arizona, to Chicago, and back. More than simply a San Dieguito story, his is a story of strength and humanity, an inspiration and affirmation of the human spirit, much like the man himself.

I met Tak at his home in Encinitas and we talked for almost two hours, a beautifully meandering conversation in which tales of adventures from sun drenched Leucadia to the coldest winter of his life serving in the Army in Korea followed his charming and lyrical transition from one tale to another, always delivered with a smile, when he would look me in the eye and say: “Now that’s another story…”

The story that first led me to Tak has been recorded before. A local boy, he was born in 1927, attended elementary school in Encinitas, and was set to attend San Dieguito Union High School when it housed grades seven through twelve. Then, in 1942, he and his family were taken from their home and “relocated” to the Poston War Relocation Center along with other Japanese American families from California.

While his Caucasian friends began high school, got jobs, and drove cars, Tak found himself at an improvised school in an internment camp in the the middle of the Arizona desert. Here students carried their own chairs to a hundred foot long abandoned hangar where they had to learn science without materials for labs and had to share five students to one copy of Silas Marner.

When he was fifteen, Tak followed his older sister north to Chicago where he attended high school and made plans to go to college to study medicine. The freezing Chicago winter was nothing like San Diego County, but Tak felt welcomed by the people of the windy city and a sense of possibility.

Then, when he was beginning his senior year, his brother was “drafted out of camp” into the Army, his father contracted tuberculosis and was sent away from Poston, and Tak had to return to the desert and his mother.

By 1944 the families of the camp had built a school using adobe bricks as taught to them by local Native Americans. Students had classrooms and an auditorium, and Tak resumed classes and moved toward earning a diploma.

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Ms Yoch, 1945

San Dieguito Spanish teacher Josephine Yoch visited Poston periodically, and Tak would ask her about his friends still in Encinitas. He heard about life at the high school, football games, dances, and students living life near the ocean and among the flower fields.

Then, near Thanksgiving, they talked about the possibility of his return to San Dieguito to finish his senior year and graduate with his class. Ms. Yoch returned to Encinitas and, according to the stories told to Tak, conducted a vote amongst the student body, who agreed almost unanimously to welcome him back for the new semester. “I heard that one fellow voted no,” he told me, “but that he went into the service before I got back to San Dieguito.”

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Mr Dobbins, 1945

Back on campus, Tak played became an infielder for the Mustang baseball team, earned a varsity letter, and wore his blue letterman’s sweater with more pride than most can imagine. He attended classes in the beautiful buildings he’d seen built when he was a young boy, driving in each morning with a teacher, Mr. Dobbins, who agreed to let him live with him at his house in Oceanside.

“My happiness came when I was on campus,” Tak remembered, “when I could be with my friends.”

With those friends, Tak was able to be just another proud senior in the class of ‘45. He carved his name on the Senior Bench alongside his classmates, he attended school functions, and recalled that “everybody knew everybody, and all the students really felt like siblings.”

When his name was called at the graduation ceremony, Tak remembers not only the students standing to applaud, but the crowd of parents and friends standing as well. “It wasn’t just the teachers,” he told me, “or the students, but it was the community.” It’s a moment he has never forgotten.

Tak’s love for the San Dieguito and Encinitas community is profound. “Better than good,” he described it. “Home.”

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His dramatic story of returning to graduate with his class, however, is only part of Tak’s San Dieguito story.

With opportunities still limited in North County and a draft notice looming, Tak moved to Los Angeles after graduation. He soon served the country that had interred him, becoming a soldier in the US Army. Life led him to Japan and later Korea, and finally back to California, where he settled into family life in Los Angeles, raising children of his own.

Then, in 1974, Tak and his wife moved back to Encinitas, where his two daughters registered for classes at San Dieguito HIgh School.

“You’ll enjoy it here,” he told them, his senior dubious, her younger sister open to the idea. They did. “There weren’t the cliques at San Dieguito,” Tak explained, “and that stems from the general public.” He smiled at the memory. “From the warmth of the city.”

Tak’s grandkids graduated from San Dieguito, just as their mothers did, and this year his great-granddaughter begins classes, some in the same buildings Tak sat in to learn English and history and math.

“Some things are different now,” he said, “but at the core of it San Dieguito is the same.”

Tak’s spirit is powerful and his positive attitude palpable. Talking with him, hearing his story, and seeing San Dieguito through his eyes can inspire us all to do our own part to make every student’s San Dieguito experience “better than good.”

Mercy Me

I was an idiot as a teenager. I was not malicious, mostly, though prone to selfishness and the inherent narcissism of an only child in his teenage years. An athlete and solid student, I got the cultural approval of the suburban 1980s and took for granted that I was a white, middle class, and male.

That’s not to say that I flaunted my privilege, or was really cognizant of it, but I realize in retrospect that what I imagined to be confidence could have been seen by some as arrogance or even callousness.

One of the realities of reaching one’s forties is an acceptance, and occasionally healthy embarrassment, of our teenage years. It’s a luxury we deny ourselves in the moment, and a perspective gained only with the passing of time.

As a high school principal, I have the opportunity to watch amazing students transform from kids into young adults. They come to us wide eyed freshmen, described by a friend of mine, another site administrator, as “eighth grade a dayers.” They leave to professional lives in college, trades, and the military. It’s a transformation that can feel like a whiplash.

…and it isn’t always pretty.

Nor should it be.

Adolescence is a time of discovering identity, pushing boundaries, and students finding their own voices. That there will be missteps along the way is a truth as old as time.

It helps me to remember this when I work with students. Those teenagers so passionate about issues that mean so much to them now, and may be forgotten by the time they are thirty, are doing what they need to do to learn how to fight for a cause, stand up against perceived injustice, and speak their minds.

Listening to them does more than simply help the students grow; it can help adults like me become more thoughtful, patient, and purposeful educators.

And when they treat us or each other more harshly than we’d like, or speak before they think of others, or even act in ways that feel rude, perhaps because they are, those moments may just be the opportunities they need to learn. They also may be the opportunities we need to remember, remember our own adolescent years.


“14 doesn’t look good on anyone.” Particularly me.

…and show empathy.

A wise parent, who had found herself in my office years ago because of a poor choice her child had made, once provided me with a line of perspective that has stuck with me for the better part of a decade. It was weeks after we’d met that first stressful time and we found ourselves standing next to each other at a ballgame, cheering on the freshman team.

We chatted briefly, and I made some kind of comment about her student’s improved behavior. Without embarrassment or anger she smiled and said: “Fourteen doesn’t look good on anyone.”

It’s hyperbolic, of course, but was certainly true of me, and it helps me keep in perspective that all of us do well when we remember that line from Shakespeare: “The quality of mercy is not strained.”

I was an English and Philosophy double major, but it took me until I was close to forty before I really, really understood what Shakespeare was saying. I needed life, not just school, to teach me that.

Truth be told, in the thick of things, when emotions are high and it would be a good idea for everyone in the room to take a breath and a big step back, it’s not always Shakespeare I think of.

I’d like to say I picture Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or someone with far more patience and wisdom than I’ve ever had, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, and these are sometimes the best I can do, I simply whisper to myself: “Just remember your own idiocy.” Not perhaps the slogan I want to put on a t-shirt or get tattooed on my arm, but a prompting nonetheless to slow down and do better.

However we get to it, our lives and the lives of those around us, are better when we can apply to everyone we meet, empathy, understanding, and that unstrained quality, mercy.

The Important Work

The important work isn’t glamorous. It isn’t always dramatic. It’s just work.

It’s what happens when you come in early and stay late, when you reflect on a complicated problem while on a long walk, or put into action the inspiration that came when you were waking up from a dream.

The important work often happens unexpectedly, unannounced, and is only recognized as important after the police have left, or the parents have stopped crying, or yelling, or both.

The important work matters. It puts the ocean of mundane responsibilities into perspective. The daily duties we perform are simply the sea on which our ship encounters the storms that define our professional character.

When we survive a day of importance the reward is a feeling of relief and exhaustion and hope that might carry us until the next storm.

In our best moments and best situations, if we are fortunate enough to have someone to share those moments with, we might recognize the value of what we do. We might even give thanks for being in a place where we can make such a difference.

Doing the important work, work that it is, is more than a job. It is an opportunity for grace.

Home Movies

41 1The 1930s and 40s were lived in full color.

Unlike the black and white photos that fill yearbooks and scrapbooks, the world that students at San Dieguito inhabited in the 1930s and 40s was vibrant, colorful, and always in motion. Talking with early graduates, it’s easy to be transported by their technicolor memories and understand that life then was not so unlike life now: teenagers moved at full throttle, adults worried about whether the kids would turn out to be solid citizens, and the world of school meant high spirits and good friends.

41 4What a treat then, when San Dieguito’s intrepid alumni coordinator, Bonnie Wren, shared some amazing video from the 1941-1942 school year.

Bonnie explained that “the original reel of this 16 mm film landed in the Foundation Office one day, with no note or explanation of its origin. The old library had just been torn down, so we thought perhaps it had been found in the rafters there, or something! I took the film to a digital preservation company but they told me it was too degraded to save. I was lamenting this fact to Bettie Grice Wolfe (’41) who told me she thought she might have a copy, and she did! It was on a VHS tape, copied over a game show, I think, but I was able to transfer it to my hard drive.”

41 5The result is a thing of beauty.

Students watching the movies today would see much that is familiar in the flickering images of their peers from 1941. In one shot a student sits on a bench in the front of the school, the breezeway near the principal’s office stretching out behind her. In another, a group of students clown around in the quad outside the B building, and the expression on the girl’s face as one fellow in a sailor suit sneaks in for a kiss is the same as I’ve seen on kids faces today.

41 2Football was big in 1941, as the grainy film shows, with students lining the field to cheer on their Mustangs beneath the California sun on a field without lights. To see the rows of now vintage cars, which were then simply …cars, is a delight. Watching the players run and score, smiles beneath their leather helmets, reminds us that while sports change, the exhilaration of competition and the joy of rooting for the hometown Mustangs is timeless.

Images from a ceremony in the old gym show different fashion styles (we see far too few letterman’s sweaters today), but the pride in a job well done beams from teenagers and the smiles of adults alike no matter what the decade.

Similar too is the concentration on the faces of the student musicians, the laughter of the students hanging out on campus, and the pride of marching in the Encinitas parade. Of course teachers and administrators dress a bit less formally today.

41 6Perhaps the most striking difference between San Dieguito of 1941 and 2016, at least as it’s seen in the movies, is not on campus at all. In many shots, of the games, of teachers arriving at the start of the school day, and of busses of students returning from a trip to the beach, the ocean views across acres of open fields stands in stark juxtaposition to the building boom of the past seventy years.

But a school is defined by its spirit and traditions more than its geography, and this seventy year old video shows that both school spirit and strong traditions were as alive then as they are today. “San Dieguito High: Those Early Years” brings to life a time in our school’s story that should be remembered. The images leap off the screen and provide our contemporary audience with a window into history, our history, the history of San Dieguito.


You can see the video’s at our San Dieguito Alumni Facebook page by clicking on the image below.

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I love…

photo-5-1I love that San Dieguito is a school where the unexpected is expected, where school spirit is funky, and where people, students and adults, take the time to see past the outer masks we all wear and really listen to the content of each other’s character.

I love that at SDA students can find themselves, be themselves, and try and fail and succeed and know that they’re safe.

I love that right now you could walk up from this library to an art gallery on campus where you would see paintings and drawings by staff and alumni, and that if you made that same walk in a month you’d see student work that would astound you.

This is a place where students and teachers learn and laugh together.

10572004_10153277958182362_6097884111524666894_oIn just a few weeks our homecoming game will see hundreds of students, male and female, freshmen through seniors, playing flag football, and we’ll end the night with students playing a game with our staff. Last year at halftime the student body came out onto the field and danced.

I love that we have a campus that embraces events like Cabaret Night, the Dorkathon, and the Homeroom Olympics, a place where students in AP Art history just celebrated our school’s 1936 opening by holding class in tents on the anniversary of the first opening day, when construction wasn’t completed and kids had class in canvas classrooms.

photo-3-6We have construction now, but no fear of tents.

I love that yesterday, when I was subbing in a Senior English class and stretching time as the sub plans were being delivered, in a delightfully unscripted moment a student raised his hand and asked: “No offense, but what do you do during the day?”

I did my best to explain what a principal does, though I’m not entirely convinced I did.

And I love that later that night at Back to School Night, when I went over to thank some students for volunteering to help parents find classrooms, that same student was there, and as I thanked him too, he said: “I’m not part of ASB; I’m just here because of the good vibes.”

Me too.

photo-5And those good vibes are evident all over San Dieguito, at concerts, games, assemblies, dances, and performances. That spirit of SDA shows up in our Link Crew, students who help new students feel comfortable at our school; our PALS program, student listeners trained to help peers through challenging times, and the hundreds and hundreds of students who find quiet ways to make our school better every day.

These same students remind us to embrace life and be playful, passionate, and positive.

With every student I see in a cape or a costume, a Mustang jersey or a goofy hat, I’m reminded of why we all do what we do.

photo 1 (14)As educators, at our best, every decision we make is for the students.

“How will this help kids?” That is the question great teachers and principals, and all of us with a hand in education should ask ourselves every day.

I love that at SDA, where you can wear a Pikachu costume …or you don’t have to, we embrace respect, kindness, and a funky spirit that feels most like love.



This post is what I shared with our school board when I had my yearly opportunity to present a window into life at San Dieguito. It was too early in the year to catalog a bunch of successes and I didn’t want to simply talk about what we were going to do, so I opted to try to capture a little of the spirit of our amazing school.

Oh, and I wore a Pikachu costume. 


A History Lesson


Robert Williamson, 1958

I was given a three ring binder in my first week as principal of San Dieguito filled with a photocopied document titled The History of San Dieguito Union High School District 1936-1981 by Robert Williamson.

Williamson, a retired San Dieguito history teacher, wrote the chronicle in the mid 1990s, choosing to tell the story of the district from its beginnings in the 1930s through the year of his own retirement.

It is awesome.

Typewritten and single spaced, its 133 pages are filled with a historian’s view of the political intrigue and social upheaval of almost a half century of Southern Californian life. He traces the challenges of starting a school and district, and records the names and actions of those who have formed our school and our school district.

photo 5 (3)It was through Williamson that I learned about the challenges faced by the early administrators at San Dieguito: a record 74% growth in the student body in the late 40s, the war protests of the 1960s and 70s, and an ongoing concern about how best to raise kids to be respectable adults, which had a different meaning in 1950 than it did in 1970 or does today.

Through Williamson’s eyes I watched as a polio scare delayed the start of school in 1948, a group of boys from San Dieguio shanghaied a boat at Disneyland in 1959, and the community dealt with overwhelming fears of Communism in the 1960s.

Williamson’s words sent me scrambling to old yearbooks to see images to accompany the descriptions of students who led some concerned parents to look for a law and order principal to deal with “too many unacceptable acts” to describe …in the early 1950s… acts eventually punished with the paddle.

It was also in Williamson’s history that I learned about a “very San Dieguito” twist to that sanctioned paddling:

Mr. Korwin, the principal, kept a list of names of every student who was paddled and then had a drawing at the end of the year and “the student whose name had been drawn was given a chance to give Mr. Korwin a swat with the paddle in front of all the students at the last student assembly of the year.”

photo 2 (4)Only at San Dieguito.

But this chronicle isn’t just a series of facts and anecdotes; Williamson intersperses long passages from board reports, newspaper articles, and letters. He clearly did his research, and did it with the passion of someone who really cares about his subject.

…and then, on page 97, he became part of that subject.

I had to read the passage twice before it clicked for me: Williamson was more than a historian, he was a part of this sweep of San Dieguito history.

Describing the controversy around a piece of student artwork that incorporated an American flag, a daring move in 1969, our historian becomes history, writing:

One day in the Advanced Placement US History class that I taught, a student asked me if he could put up a display he felt expressed his feelings about what was happening in the US.”

The “I” startled me, as The History of San Dieguito Union High School District 1936-1981 took on the feel of the new journalism of Tom Wolfe or Gay Talese. The immediacy was amazing; I felt transported to Williamson’s classroom, and then beyond to the controversy that followed.

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Robert Williamson, 1973

This inclusion helped me understand Williamson’s point of view, and allowed me to see the work as a whole as the wonderfully personal history it was.

As Williamson went on to write about the ways in which the 1970s unfolded on campus, I could picture the students protesting, smoking, and throwing marshmallows at the school board.

I could feel the stress of the principals that sat in this office before me, and also felt the strange camaraderie that came from reading this story in the same office in which much of the story took place. On the wall behind my desk is a button once used to summon the principal’s secretary to take shorthand. Along with the wooden paneling and antiquated back door, every day I’m reminded that my office was the office of the first principal, Arthur Main, back in 1937.

When Williamson gets to a particularly rough patch in our nation’s history and the impact it had on the school community, he writes:

It would be nice for the peace of mind and the lack of tension to have schools be quiet places where teachers passed on the wisdom of the past in a civil and respectful manner. However, being a public institution, public schools cannot escape the turmoil going on in the rest of society.”

How true those words were of the time he wrote them, of the decades before he wrote them, and of the decades that have followed. And what an opportunity this truth offers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this opinionated, passionate, and heartfelt history of our school, and found myself wishing to know more about the story of San Dieguito. It left me hungry to talk with alumni, celebrate the students who were so very young so many years ago, and understand our school and its rich history.

I’ll leave the last words of today’s post to Robert Williamson, who summed up his efforts by telling readers:

It is always good to look back to see where we were then and how far from there we are now. We do that, not with sadness or bitterness over the changes that have taken place, but to better help us understand why we are where we are today.”

1936-37 San Dieguito Jr High Cullen School 1936

The first class at San Dieguito Union High School, 1936

Back in the Saddle

photo-1-7It was a hundred degrees in the morning, but the kids wanted to sit outside to make plans in the fresh desert air. Three weeks before classes started, forty or so students and their Associated Student Body instructor had traveled with parents and chaperones to their annual planning retreat in Palm Springs. This morning it was time to talk about spirit days, Homecoming, and the Welcome Back Dance.

They kicked around ideas, looking for activities that would resonate with their classmates. Their adviser, a twenty year veteran, showed them lists of what he’d seen over the past two decades. They wanted to repeat some of the events that had shifted from innovative to traditional, and they bandied around new ideas they thought would be fun.

photo-3-4Fun for me was seeing that on their own current students decided that they wanted a western themed Welcome Back Dance, complete with costumes and hay bales …an idea that San Dieguito students came up with on their own back in the 1940s.

More than a few of the alumni I’ve talked with have described the fun they had dressing up as cowboys and hillbillies when they did their own western dances in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Looking at the photos of these students from decades past. I see the same youthful exuberance I see in the faces of students today. Times change, technology changes, and the city around our campus looks profoundly different than it did decades back, but in the smiles beneath broad brimmed hats I see a universality that ties together San Dieguito Mustangs from across time.

For perspective, the first western themed dances at San Dieguito took place about sixty years after the actual gunfight at the OK Corral. More time separates the 2016 dance from 1940. And yet, no matter the decade, there is something familiar in the pictures of the students.

58-16These are students having fun, caring for each other, laughing, and dressing up to dance. I’ve sprinkled photos from 2016 and 1958 together in this post, and see in all that same spark of joy that I imagine will still be lighting students’ faces fifty years from now.

When this year’s Welcome Back Dance takes place, in a courtyard built in 1937, our students will saddle up as some of their parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents did in their own time on our campus. Tying these generations together is the shared experience of San Dieguito, the human spirit of play, and now, as then, probably a lasso or two.