photo-1-3We talked a lot about kids and surfing and being dads. We talked about the west coast skateboarding scene in the early 1990s and the movies of the 1980s, today’s technology and yesterday’s farming communities. Our conversation, ostensibly about Oly’s experiences at San Dieguito High School ranged from his growing up with a surfboard under one arm and a skateboard under the other to what it’s like to teach at the school from which you graduated.

It was a discussion that reminded me just how much the story of San Dieguito is the story of Encinitas. Ours is a school at the heart of the community, a touchstone for our coastal town, and a shared memory for so many.

Whether it was hanging out at the Straw Hat or going to hear a local band at a  house party, Oly remembered a feeling of community at San Dieguito and in Encinitas. “The bond of San Dieguito was greater than any subgroup,” he said, acknowledging that the distinctions skater, surfer, jock, and brain existed, but mattered less than the greater identification …Mustangs.

“It was different then than it is now,” he told me. “If we wanted to do it, we had to create it.”

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In a time when no one had an iPhone or laptop, that do it yourself attitude applied to music, skating, and life.

That music, the post punk experimentation of the mid ‘90s, saturated San Dieguito. Oly remembered the “network of garages, houses, and alleys” where bands like NIV, Niner, and The Barracudas jammed with a diversity of styles that would keep them underground and a popular part of Enicnitas life.


9th grade Oly (far right) with friends Shawn Haggar, Jon Foreman, and Brian Barker

Oly talked about skateboarding down the breezeways at San Dieguito, being chased off and relocating with the pack of boys skating together at Oak Crest. I could picture the young hoodlums rolling down Balour Drive, laughing and planning their next tricks. “By the time we got shooed out of Oak Crest,” Oly told me with a smile “we could go back to San Dieguito and skate.”


Those memories “stand still in time” for Oly, even as he walks the same breezeways as a current teacher at San Dieguito. The students he teaches now are building their own memories of school, and there is something full circle in the fact that “Mr. Norris” is a part of those memories as many students’ favorite history teacher.

Talking with Oly reminded me that schools change and towns change, but in many ways people stay the same. Students today are curious, adventurous, and filled with hope, just as those were who graduated with Oly in 1995. The adult Oly is owes much to the student Oly was. The school Oly is a part of now is built on the memories and traditions of the school Oly attended.

When we talked about how San Dieguito continues to change from year to year, we talked most about the people who compose our school. Many of Oly’s teachers grew up in the 1940s and 1950s and brought those attitudes to their work. Today, a generation of teachers of Oly’s vintage bring their own experiences and perspective to their work with kids. Those teachers, and their interactions with the youth of the day, help to shape our school.

It’s a story that has been going on for the whole history of San Dieguito; Mary, who graduated from San Dieguito in 1940 returned to teach here, moving the school forward with her modern perspective; today Oly, and more than a half dozen current San Dieguito teachers are also San Dieguito grads.

San Dieguito is a school that loves its own, and a school loved by its students and alum. That so many teachers are grads and that so many families have multiple generations of Mustangs brings a feeling of small town America to our community. As he left my office I looked at Oly, a man of stories and sincerity, and thought: there goes the spirit of San Dieguito.

Expectedly Unexpected

poeThey read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum” and discussed the math behind the swinging of the titular blade. It was math class, after all.

Math class at SDA.

Things at San Dieguito feel different than they do at some other high schools. Some folks say the students are nicer. Some talk about the kindness of the teachers. Others notice that it’s not unusual to see a student walking around in a onesie Pikachu costume or wearing a cape.

Those are all true observations, but as a proud principal, I’d add that one of the things so special about our school is a willingness to try something different.

This could be casting bronze in art class, choosing to do a winter concert without any holiday songs, or staging an evening of student-written one acts early in the fall.


Trying something different might look like physics classes presenting portfolios to community members about both what and how they learned this term, our alumni raising money to reinstall the Metal Mustang in the front of our school, or the AP Art History class staging art flash mobs during homeroom. Degas? Surprise!

It’s not unusual to see something delightfully non-sequitur here at San Dieguito.

We’re a school of poetry slams, musical theater, and a student art gallery.

At SDA “different” is part of our DNA.

Trying something different might be ASB students hanging window boxes from the plywood walls around the construction site of our new classroom building, our fans bringing a sign promoting veganism to a basketball game, or our instrumental music class deciding to put on a concert for the public during finals week.

A rallying cry at San Dieguito is “Keep SDA Funky.”

photo-2We do.

And today, the final day of the first term, when I looked out my office window I saw that sometimes San Dieguito’s funky spirit extends beyond our campus borders.

That math teacher who read Edgar Allan Poe with his class did more than talk about the mathematics of a pendulum. After discussing arcs and differentials, he made a phone call. To the fire department.

I like to imagine that it was the excitement in that teacher’s voice that prompted the firefighter on the other line to say “yes” when asked if there was any way they could come out and help the class create a real life thirty foot pendulum to try out their equations.

Maybe the firefighter was a San Diegutio grad.

So it was a surprise, but not surprising when I stepped out of my office and walked up to see a hook and ladder truck next to our bell tower, a student wearing a red helmet suspended and swinging, and a line of students timing the swing of the pendulum …and smiling.

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photo-1-1As a snapshot in history, yearbooks are a great way to see what was happening on campus in any particular year. Celebrating the 80th anniversary I’ve been choosing a yearbook from each decade of San Dieguito’s history and sharing a few of the highlights, photos, and memories, to do my imperfect best to remind our 21st century audience what life at San Dieguito was like in years gone by.

1991 is recent enough to feel familiar, and far enough away to seem from another world.

A first look at the Hoofprint from 1991 shows a wealth of familiar faces: current physics teacher George Stimson, then high school senior (and now AP History teacher) Kerry Koda, and associate superintendent and former San Dieguito principal  Mike Grove back when he was a young teacher. The buildings in the background are the same, the grass on the quad looks as green, and even the mascot looks like a bluer cousin of our current unicycling Mustang.

photo-2-3And then you start noticing things that wouldn’t show up in a yearbook today: the kids dressed as a six pack of Corona for Halloween; they share a page with a militia of well armed cowboys and a handful of costumes that would be deemed …insensitive today.

Students stand in front of lockers in another photograph, a throwback to a time when San Dieguito issued these metal boxes of combination locked anxiety, great to decorate, but prone to becoming home to decomposing food and sophomoric hijinks.

photo-4-2Delightfully asymmetrical clothing and matching offset hair wins the day in many pictures, along with the reminder that cargo shorts were not a thing back in the early ‘90s.

Along with these differences, however, are the smiling student faces that remind us that youth then is more similar to youth now than it is different.

photo-4-3The students holding up the High School Surfing Champions banner would be comfortable down at Moonlight Beach today. Heck, many are still probably surfing there with their own kids.

Photographic evidence shows that students then, as before them and students now, loved a good tug-of-war.

And for any current student who enjoys wearing a full body Pikachu costume on a daily basis, a quick scan of the 1991 Hoofprint shows a smiling group of students who were kindred spirits.

photo-1The 1991 yearbook buzzes with energy. Pictures from the talent show, Spirit Week, and pages and pages of candid photos show a campus alive with spirit and a sense of fun. These were students standing on the threshold of a world of opportunity and ready to step forward.

What do Mr. Stimson, Ms. Koda, and Dr. Grove see when they look out at our school today? I hope great memories and a place where students carry on that enthusiasm for learning and life. …and where costumes are still part of our Mustang spirit.


They switched our leagues this year, juggling schools in the North County Conference into a new arrangement that favors geography over competitive equity. It meant that my school, traditionally an arts powerhouse, found two local sports dynasties on our league schedule.


While my school, San Dieguito, is the grandfather of all our district schools; everyone in the district was a Mustang when we opened in 1936, the two athletic upstarts, Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon, who broke away in 1974 and 1996 respectively, are known for traditionally strong sports programs, their gyms lined with banners that celebrate decades of athletic success.

Truth be told, at San Dieguito we do a great job of living the line from former Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, who said “Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”

Our athletes, dedicated to their craft, value the opportunity to put on navy and white uniforms and carry on a proud tradition of athletics that stretches back to the Roosevelt administration. Their determination and dedication is profound, and their sportsmanship a hallmark of our school’s character. In addition, student athletes at San Dieguito are well rounded, and likely to participate in all kinds of activities. Last year our starting point guard had the lead in the winter musical. Our pep band drummer plays water polo. Baseball and ASB, soccer and journalism, athletics matter much, but our students do a good job of keeping perspective.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t see traditional athletic success. People are surprised when I say it, but last year we had two CIF champions, and while we don’t have cheerleaders or a football team, our student athletes take their sports seriously. The lessons they learn in practice and the heat of competition are as real as any learned at the most successful of schools.

The fact is, we simply judge success by more than wins and losses.

349With this releaguing, that’s probably best.

So when the new Avocado West League was announced, responses fell into two categories: gritty determination to show that we could compete with the very best, or wide eyed, head shaking sympathy that we would get destroyed nearly every other league game.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Now I’ve worked at a school that won lots of trophies, and know the spirit it inspires in the athletes and many in the student body. I’ve seen a major crosstown rivalry up close as an assistant principal who oversaw athletics, and been in on administrative planning sessions before a “big game” as we prepared for whatever might happen.

At that time, I was the guy who stood in the student section and made sure that chants stayed civil and avoided profanity. I monitored the front gate to see if homemade t-shirts would be obscene, or signs crossed the line. Preparing for “The Torrey Game” meant girding ourselves for hours of high tension supervision, and lots of work helping student fans understand how to have a healthy rivalry.

How different then when this year our new league had Torrey Pines visiting San Dieguito on a chilly January night for a soccer game outside and a basketball double header in the gym.


If our school were to design a “rivalry game” shirt, it might look like this.

Competition? We had that, along with a healthy dose of determination.

Our soccer coach, an English teacher, invited the staff out to cheer on our team. Our ASB put up signs to coax students to fill the gym for basketball. They all knew that the odds were stacked against us, but the point was to come support our school and the student athletes representing us.

What I didn’t see was clothing, signs, or banners disparaging the other team. I didn’t hear students planning ways to annoy or confront the opposing fans, or feel as an administrator that I needed to call in student leaders to head off any potential naughtiness.

The games themselves showed flashes of competition, examples of poise, and a healthy balance of determination and sportsmanship.

banks-cardThe Falcons notched wins that January night, but I’ll suggest that our students got just as much from the competition. To quote another famous Chicagoan, Cub great Ernie Banks, “The only way to prove that you’re a good sport is to lose.”

And don’t count us out every game; remember, the Cubs won the World Series last year.

As their principal, I’m proud of the way our student athletes played and the sportsmanship they showed. Our school spirit runs deep and is embodied in the way we comport ourselves, not just the numbers on the scoreboard. After all, at the end of the game those numbers vanish with the flip of a switch, but the quality of our character remains.

And while we may not win a CIF Open Division championship this season, you won’t catch me saying “there’s always next year.” I look around at our students, our teams, our fans, and our school and think: this year is pretty great.

“I Need You.”

bluesThe last time I wore the black suit I was a pallbearer. Today I got to wear it to play.

Well, maybe play the fool.

And that’s perfectly okay.

The occasion was our school’s winter assembly, a chance to celebrate students, promote the upcoming winter formal, and have some fun. My task was to co-host the show with an intrepid student who shares my sense of adventure. We brainstormed a couple of costumes that we thought the students might find funny (me dressed as him, us both in mascot costumes) and a final number that would see us joining a band to belt out “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” while dressed as Jake and Elwood Blues.

The song, as fun as it is, wasn’t a random choice. In The Blues Brothers movie the tune is prefaced by a monologue that embraces the audience with the simple truth captured in the title of the song. Dan Ackroyd, as Elwood, tells the audience:

We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight, and we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’ Law Enforcement Community who have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you’ll all enjoy the show, and please remember people, that no matter who you are, and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You, me, them, everybody, everybody.”

There are some things that make us all the same, and as an educator who has the privilege to work with students and parents, staff and community members of all points of view that reality really resonates with me. Schools are cauldrons of opinion, spiced with dashes of immaturity and angst, and occasionally stirred by that adolescent love of controversy.

That said, no matter who we are, or what we do to live, thrive and survive (and there are days we strive for each), we do share an underlying need for something more, for connection, for belonging, for (as Jake and Elwood would tell us) love.

bb2What this can look like at a school is manifold. Sometimes it’s a student being part of a team, learning life lessons during the hours of practice and competition. Sometimes a club or an activity can foster this sense of self and community. Sometimes it comes through the kindness of teachers, peers, and parents.

Here at San Dieguito building a campus culture means purposefully designing opportunities to celebrate kindness, generosity of spirit, and an atmosphere of acceptance. We hope to reflect these attitudes in the way we comport ourselves, the decisions we make about how we live and learn together, and even the ways we put on assemblies.

That today saw two videos celebrating all aspects of student life from Comedy Sportz to Girls Water Polo, that students and staff played together on teams competing in goofy events, and that the crowd smiled even when their buffoonish principal growled through a blues song, all underscored the good that we do our best to cultivate every day.

About halfway through “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” Elwood gets a second soliloquy. He pauses, and with the band humming behind him he adds:

You know people when you do find that somebody, hold that woman, hold that man. Love him, please him, squeeze her, please her. Hold, squeeze and please that person, give ’em all your love. Signify your feelings with every gentle caress, because it’s so important to have that special somebody to hold, kiss, miss, squeeze and please.”

bb1This is school, so let’s take the spirit of the lines rather than the specifics, but it’s in these words that we see another simple truth. We do well when we appreciate those who are important to us, who we care about and who care about us. We are at our best when we strive to be someone others can love, and when we acknowledge that we are more together than we are as individuals.

As my fellow blues brother and I danced around the gym pointing to the crowd there was real meaning to the line we repeated. With trumpets blazing behind us and the steady thrum of the bass, we gave voice to a refrain that the angels of our better nature know to be true: “I need you, you, you. I need you, you, you. I need you.”

We need each other.

At some point in the future our black suits will be worn by pallbearers; today let’s sing together and dance.


photo-3-2In 1984 Ray Bradbury visited San Dieguito High School. He spoke to the student body in the gym, part of the Science Fiction Fair, and was “funny, but eloquent” as he talked to the students as part of the week long event organized by students. A senior in 1984, Monica was a writer, and her English teacher, Jane Mills, told her that she had to meet Bradbury. It was the kind of encouragement that typified the special support staff showed students, and the unexpected opportunities that seem almost expected at San Dieguito.

Cows still roamed campus, or at least a corner of it, in the mid 1980s, yet another opportunity, this for more agriculturally minded students. Monica remembered the student who crafted a “fully functional cannon in shop class” reassuring me that “it was NOT used to dispatch his ‘pet’ project in Ag class.”

photo-4-1For Monica, opportunity came through theater with Mr. Ligget, whose height and “wicked sense of humor” made him an imposing figure who was “so passionate about acting” that he inspired his students as the tread the boards of the theater in the round.

In addition to the fine arts, Monica and her friends made up the Radio Club, a group of student enthusiasts who titled themselves KSDH and whose photo in the yearbook looks like the poster from a John Hughes movie, complete with boom box.

As iconic is the group photo from the 1984 Hoofprint staff, a delightfully ‘80s bunch of which Monica was a proud member. “That was a great group,” she remembered as we leaned in over a copy of the yearbook. “I learned so many things outside the classroom, things and interests that have continued into my adult life.”

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Monica is now the parent of current San Dieguito student, and our morning together drifted naturally into how her daughter’s experience compares to her own. “What I see at SDA,” she told me, “is more student interaction, and more acceptance of each other.” She paused thoughtfully. “I envision, and I am hopeful, for a future of more understanding, accepting, and generous human beings. Beyond all the academic accolades that SDA will no doubt continue to receive and humbly foster, it nurtures an environment for these amazing smaller human beings to thrive and move confidently forward.”

As a Mustang parent, and grad, Monica is vital part of making that dream a reality.

San Dieguito is blessed to have many parents, and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, who have graduated from our school over the past eighty years. People like Monica, so kind and giving, are the lifeblood of our storied school. Their love of San Dieguito and commitment to keep the best that it has been and will come ensure that future generations of Mustangs will be able to find themselves, support each other, and create the memories (as diverse as KSDH and Ray Bradbury) that will help to build the foundations of their lives.

photo-2-5Monica left my office, her yearbook under her arm, with a smile, and her impact on me was profound. That such care and dedication to making the world, and our school, the best place it can be exists can’t help but inspire. Her memories of San Dieguito in the 1980s, and seeing those goofy photos through her eyes, made me remember my own high school years. It’s no accident that that decade spawned so many angsty teen dramas, and -as evidenced in someone like Monica- it’s no accident that as we children of the ‘80s become parents of teenagers we bring an appreciation of lessons learned.

Ray Bradbury once said: ““We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” Monica knows how. She learned part of that at San Dieguito.

Baseball Caps

As a lifelong Dodgers fan who lived in the Bay Area for a decade I know a little about getting along with people who don’t share my point of view. During my time in a town that worshiped the Giants I worked as an assistant principal at a school that had to impose a strict dress code in response to gang activity. One of the forbidden items: blue LA Dodgers caps. Thanks, Sureños.

photo-3I saw the Dodgers play live in San Francisco on more than a few occasions, grimacing each time Barry Bonds hit another home run and everyone around me raised their voices to the sky. Once, after the coldest game I’d ever seen, a Dodger loss at AT&T Park, I shivered my way across the bay on the ferry trying not to explode at the toxic, and a little bit drunken, celebrating of the Giants fans heading home. It was so cold. I was so tired. Like it or not, I remember that night as if it was last weekend, not more than ten years ago.

That I would not give up an allegiance to a team that I’d followed since I was a kid in Oregon listening to Vin Scully describing the heroics of Garvey, Cey, Lopes, and Yeager, and that those around me would not surrender their own affection for the team of Willie Mays and Bobby Thompson meant that we all had to figure out a way to get along.

Their ball club was the winner, the home team, the local favorite. It was up to me, and a few fellow Dodgers fans, to navigate a world where our own choice wasn’t the majority voice. Comfortable? No. Reality? Yes.


So I wasn’t a jerk, even on the few occasions when my bums bested their rivals. A history teacher who shared my point of view and I serenaded our classes with the 1962 Danny Kaye song “D-O-D-G-E-R-S,” but we did so with a smile and a touch of self deprecation. Neither of us could really carry a tune, so that last bit was easy.

I treated the Giants fans I knew well, seldom mentioning that incident with Juan Marichal and the bat, and letting Barry Bonds swell into a home run champion* without adding my voice to the conversation. That his fortune would implode was obvious to all but the truest believers; I needed only to wait for reality to catch up for some cold comfort.

Sometimes the Giants won. Sometimes they do.

I found, however, that the longer the San Francisco fans and I showed each other respect, acknowledged that baseball was only one of many, many ways we define ourselves, and were willing to see the faces underneath the ball caps, the less likely any of us were to resort to rudeness, envy, or gloating.

With time and familiarity we became more human.

The ill feelings between Giants and Dodgers fans date back to the 1880s. Some years they’re worse than others. From time to time the rivalry becomes ugly, violent, disheartening. In recent years aggression has reached out of the ballpark and caused destruction that makes fans on both sides of the rivalry cringe.

I believe that better days are ahead.

Years ago it was McCovey and Valenzuela, today Kershaw and Bumgarner, tomorrow players not yet old enough to hold a bat.

I can disagree with my friends wearing Giants gear, and even know that they’re wrong, at least in their choice of teams, but that doesn’t mean I have to treat them poorly or can’t enjoy a meal with them, a conversation, or maybe even a ballgame.

We’re all human, no matter what cap we choose to wear.