San Dieguito Stories

At the start of this school year our art students began work on a mural celebrating San Dieguito’s eighty year history. They planned, prepared, and ultimately painted a fifty foot long celebration of Mustang history that has stood at the front of our school all year. Vibrant, well researched, and overwhelmingly happy, this project has served as an inspiration and point of connection between our current students and the thousands of past graduates who have called San Dieguito home since the school opened in 1936.

wall of history

With that same spirit of celebration, this fall I set about writing one post each week chronicling San Dieguito’s history. I started with Mr. Main’s announcement of “the proposed new San Dieguito Union High School” and ended just before spring break with a look at San Dieguito in 2017. This collection of short pieces, including interviews, a little historical research, and reflections on eight decades of student stories, attempted to capture some of the magic that surrounds San Dieguito.

It is, at best, an incomplete but heartfelt collection of San Dieguito stories, one that has provided me with hours of meaningful conversation, some surprising meetings, and moments of  unexpected delight.

Getting to the end of the project, I’ve had a couple of folks ask me if they could see it all together, and for them I offer this file that collects them all.

San Dieguito Stories

Thanks to everyone who has spent a part of their week visiting this page over the past year, making time to join me on the adventure that is San Dieguito. Thanks too to all the Mustangs, former and present, who have contributed to the story of our school

Happy 80th, Mustangs.

San Dieguito Principals

There are seventeen of us, eighteen if you count Rizzi, who was principal twice. It’s not a crazy number for eighty years, not when you consider that in that time there have been fourteen US presidents, nine United Nations Secretary Generals, and a dozen Dr. Whos.

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As you’d expect, lining us up in black and white photos you see a mix of serious expressions and dark ties. You notice high foreheads and mostly conservative jackets. Some of us are smiling in our official portraits, though just about everyone looks as if he or she could lay down a detention if bad came to worse.

Being a principal brings doses of joy and stress. My own time in this office, the same office principals have occupied since Arthur Main in 1937, has shown me that I have a unique and wonderful seat from which to watch the parade of youth that marches through the breezeways at San Dieguito. And what a cavalcade it has been for the past eighty years.

photo 2 (5)Watching those students learn and teachers teach, shouldering the responsibility that comes with the job, and managing everything from construction to academics, the company I have the privilege to keep is an interesting bunch.

Arthur Main was the first principal at San Dieguito, opening the school in 1936 in rented tents and a borrowed elementary school. He was followed by Donovan Cartwright, the San Dieguito principal who looked most like Errol Flynn, and Tom Preece, who faced a polio epidemic at San Dieguito that delayed the start of school in 1948. These three faced the challenges of opening a school, and a district, and building the foundation on which the post war growth would build.

William Mace and Matthew Korwin were at the helm in the 1950s, joined by San Dieguito fixture David Davidson, the first San Dieguito superintendent who was not also the high school’s principal. As the scare of communism rose, they saw San Dieguito through challenging political times, a preview of what would happen when sometime a decade later all hell broke loose.

photo 1 (4)Don Crickmore, for whom the current baseball diamond is named, was principal to begin 1960, followed by John Clark, who saw San Dieguito leave the 1950s behind and embrace a spirit of freedom that challenged many and enlivened others. The serious expression Mr. Clark wears in his yearbook portrait was earned through stress both local and national. His ability to navigate the challenges of the job was great.

Leonard Morris and William Hershey guided San Dieguito through the 1970s, a time of freedom and creativity. Their smiling faces and substantial sideburns speak of a campus that had left the buttoned down 1950s far behind and was looking forward toward an independence of spirit that has never left the school.

photo 3 (4)The 1980s belonged to Sal Ramirez, whose eleven year tenure is the longest of any San Dieguito principal. Described by some as student centered and fair, Mr. Ramirez was an enigma to some, a hero to others, and a frustration to a few. In a word, he was a principal. So often those of us who put on a tie and do our best to lead a school find ourselves in situations that challenge our best decisions. To serve in one position for more than a decade speaks to a talent increasingly rare.

Penny Cooper Francisco followed Mr. Ramirez in 1993, inheriting a staff in need of some uniting. Indefatigable, a colleague told me “she didn’t expect anyone to work any harder than she did, but boy did she work!”  She listened, guided, and cared, and was remembered by staff as a natural-born leader who led with inspiration and a wonderful sense of humor.

Don Rizzi, who had served as an assistant principal at San Diegutio began his first tour of duty as principal in 1995, presiding over the division of the school into San Diegutio High School Academy and the new high school, La Costa Canyon. It wasn’t to be Mr. Rizzi’s last time in the office, nor his longest run as principal.

photo (1)When San Dieguito opened in the fall of 1996, Fran Fenical began her tenure as principal of the newly christened “academy.” With vision and purpose, Ms. Fenical helped to create and inspire the “funky” and inclusive culture that defines San Dieguito to this day. This school year, the 80th anniversary of San Dieguito and 20th anniversary of SDA, I’ve been able to witness first hand the love and respect the founding staff of San Diegtuito Academy have toward Fran. When she spoke to our current current body, wearing a tie dyed “Keep SDA Funky” shirt, she was a star.

Both the 12th and 14th principal at San Dieguito, Don Rizzi returned to the principal’s chair in 2002, bringing with him a smile and sense of good will. He served as principal until 2005 and in that time saw the school blossom, evolve, and continue to grow.

MG2Four of us fill the final dozen years of San Dieguito’s most recent history. Barbara Gauthier, Mike Grove, Tim Hornig, and I each took a turn in the wood paneled office overlooking the front of the school. Ours are memories still too fresh for history to digest, but each of us brought our best selves to the job and left with a bit of San Dieguito pixie dust still clinging to our suits.

Throughout our school’s eighty years San Dieguito has shown that it is greater than any individual, a strong school spirit constant even as the person in the principal’s chair changes. This sense of school is important, sustaining, and promises that whatever the next eighty years bring and whomever the next eighteen principals will be (Rizzi again?), San Dieguito will continue to be the special place so many call home.

A Nostalgic Streak

Every spring San Dieguito hosts a reunion for former faculty and staff. Guests from across the decades arrive to the library to socialize and share stories from their time on campus. The smiles and hugs are inspiring and the tales told are like something out of a surfer friendly Arabian Nights.

San Dieguito is unique, among other reasons, for its longstanding place in the local community. Eighty years of graduates have passed through its breezeways and many of those souls make the decision to stay close to home to raise their own kids. Lots of our current students are the second or even third generation to come through San Dieguito. This is their town; San Diegutio is their school.

That sense of ownership is true for faculty too. At this year’s Faculty and Staff Reunion I spotted two SDUHSD superintendents, three San Dieguito principals, and more former teachers than I could count.

staff 3Mary and Jay, two former San Dieguito teachers who spoke at the soiree, telling stories about the bus barn fire and the bank that was once on campus, also graduated from San Dieguito …in 1940 and 1942 respectively.

More recent graduates attended as well; alumni are always welcome. They listened as staff from across the school’s history told stories, laughed, and enjoyed the company of others with whom they shared the bond of working at this special school.

Toward the end of the night, as I was grabbing a last cookie and making my way toward the door, a graduate from 1974 stopped me. Pointing her finger at me she said: “Mr. Paige, I have a story.”

I leaned against a nearby table, curious. My time at San Dieguito has taught me the importance of stories in a school’s history. More than anything else, more than buildings or photographs or trophies or even art, it is the stories of those people who make up a school that matter most.

“Remember that post you wrote about the streakers?” she asked. I did. Bonnie Wren, San Dieguito’s Alumni Coordinator had been kind enough to reprint Buns, a post about some marvelous stories by Mike Koslowski, in the alumni newsletter.

“Those streakers weren’t all guys.” She smiled. “What Koz was talking about was me and my girls.”

I must have smiled back.

“You see we had it all planned and were getting ready at lunchtime,” she went on. “Our getaway driver was a fella. I won’t tell you his name. He’s pretty prominent in the community now. Anyway, we were up in the bathroom here by the library.” She motioned to a spot that is still a girls bathroom today. “He was at the far end of the parking lot. We all gave our clothes to another person, who took them out to the car. Then, as the lunch crowd was breaking up, we ran!”


I could picture the route she was talking about: down the “San Dieguito Ten Step,” past the door to the principal’s office, and out through the archway at the front of the school.

“You got away?” I asked, hopeful.

“Of course.” She smiled again. “Though the fella who was riding shotgun in the getaway car brings up the story at every reunion. It was a …memorable experience for him.”

To have a school that remembers its alumni and former staff, makes time for them to come together and reminisce, and honors their many and diverse experiences makes our school community stronger.

San Dieguito is a land of stories, some told with a smile and a streak of nostalgia.

The Next 80 Years

San Dieguito’s first eighty years began in tents during the Roosevelt administration. The next eighty years will end in 2097.

photo-3-11If that date feels like the setting for a science fiction story, it is …at least from our early 21st century vantage point. For perspective, 2017 is about eighty years later than the publication of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

It’s always fun to look back at the futurists’ projections of what lay in store for humanity in the distant or not too distant future. Jetpacks, flying cars, robots. Whither San Dieguito?

I won’t be the fellow who predicts automatons will teach the kids or we’ll be traveling on pneumatic tube roadways. I’ll refrain from imagining levitating classrooms or a dome over the field.

I could play it safe and say that actors will still be staging Shakespeare in San Dieguito’s theater, as they did in 2016 …and 1970 …and 1946. I’m confident that we’ll have a thriving ASB, dynamic student journalists, and an art department that is the envy of the district. What that theater, or that paper, or those art studios look like, that I’m not so sure of. I do hope that the breezeways designed by Lilian Rice will still be home to students traveling from class to class.

The reality, however, is tough to predict. Eighty years before San Dieguito opened Walt Whitman was publishing Leaves of Grass, including “A Old Man’s Thought’s of School” that notices:

these young lives,
Building, equipping, like a fleet of ships—immortal ships!
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the Soul’s voyage.”

Lots can happen in eight decades, so many ships of youth launched from this campus into the measureless seas of the world.

So, veering away from infrastructure and architecture, I’ll stake my predictions for San Dieguito’s next eighty years on the observations I’ve made looking back at our school’s first eight decades.

photo-7I believe that the Mustang class of 2097 will be kind. I think they will be creative and accepting and innovative. I think they will surprise people who don’t know them and rise to the expectations of all those who do know them.

Like our students today, and students I’ve met who attended from 1936 until today, I believe that eighty years from now it will be the students who attend San Dieguito who define San Dieguito. Theirs’ will be the story told by some future historian, stories of adventure and connections that tell of young people striving to be themselves while being part of something bigger than themselves.

Those future generations, like our current students and the alumni who still call San Dieguito home, are the lifeblood of our school. San Dieguito’s first eighty years have contained multitudes; the next eighty years promise to be as grand.

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The Time Capsule Crowd

We sat around a table in my office, an office that has belonged to San Dieguito principals since 1937, and talked about burying a time capsule that would be opened in 2068. Fresh faced and energetic, the students at the table will be in their sixties when the airtight container is opened next; I’ll be dead.

timecapTime is funny and time capsules are funnier still. What will the class of 2068 think of our quaint life in the year 2017? Will the flash drive we tuck into the time capsule puzzle them as a slide rule would today’s students? Can we know the water will stay out and leave our buried treasures intact?

Our discussion was a delight. Spending time with thoughtful teenagers is a pleasure and a privilege I enjoy as a high school principal. And after we talked about the articles and artifacts they wanted to bury for their grandchildren it struck me that for the final interview for my sketch of San Dieguito’s eightieth anniversary I could do no better than to talk with this group of students that my marvelous assistant, Lois, referred to affectionately as “The Time Capsule Crowd.”

So we talked.

We talked about life at San Dieguito in the year 2017, the experiences that meant the most, the places that were the dearest, and what it really meant to “Keep SDA Funky.”

photo-3-6Three freshmen were at the table, Bella, Martina, and Saylor, each from a different middle school and each with their own story of why San Dieguito was their school. Jack, a sophomore, spoke to his own transition from the comfort of middle school through the anxiety of coming to high school, and finally how he’d found his own voice at SDA. And at the head of the table, Stephanie, a passionate senior, held court with memories that ranged from her shy freshman year to her outspoken final year at San Dieguito.

Much of our talk circled around what makes San Dieguito the place it is today. “You can be yourself at SDA,” Saylor noticed. “You can really do anything,” Martina added. Stephanie, the elder statesman, explained “I feel good to be here because no one is going to judge me. It’s a place where there are lots of people to look up to. It makes me want to be my best.”

I asked the group when they stopped looking up to others and felt like they were the ones others were looking up to.

“When you find your style,” Jack answered. “It just happens. You aren’t consciously aware of it.” The other students nodded, the freshmen smiling.

“Are you optimistic?” I asked. They looked at me like I was from outer space. Of course, those looks answered. “Why?” I followed up.

photo 5“Because you can be yourself,” Saylor answered.

“And you can do anything here,” Martina added.

“In middle school,” Bella explained, “we read The Outsiders and our teacher had us do a map of campus to indicate where the different groups hang out, you know, the popular kids here, the sporty kids there. That would never work at SDA. There aren’t the same kinds of groups.”

“Everybody is just open,” Stephanie added. The table nodded.

That freedom to be who you are, and that understanding that for students that who may change many times over the four years of high school, is a core value of San Dieguito.

“SDA is like a Michael Jackson music video,” Stephanie offered with a smile. “Everybody looks different, but the come together to dance, and then at the end they each walk away in their own direction.”

That ability for each of our students to have a safe community from which to chart their own path is an important part of what makes San Dieguito the school it is. As our ninth graders told me:

rainbow“Just be yourself.”

“Don’t overthink it.”

“People are nice here. It will be okay.”

We ended our conversation with a nod toward that familiar refrain: “Keep SDA Funky.” I asked them what they thought “funky” meant at SDA.

Their answers, delivered with the gentle smiles adolescents bestow upon their parents and fellows my age who ask silly questions, ranged from “freedom” to “being ourselves.” Jack added “There’s no pressure to be funky at SDA. You can just be yourself.” He gestured to his t-shirt and jeans; not everyone dresses in a Pikachu costume; they just know they can and it wouldn’t be judged as odd. “We don’t have to be different,” he said. “We can just be us.”

I look forward to seeing these amazing students continue to grow, graduate, and move into a world beyond our campus. The spirit they bring to San Dieguito, a spirit I have no doubt they will bring to life after graduation, gives me hope that the world is in great hands. Our kids. Our future.

Today at San Dieguito…

Over the course of this school year it has been my pleasure to celebrate our school’s 80 year history through stories, interviews, and reflections on what life was like here on a campus that began with rented tents, grew to include pens for pigs and cows, saw the construction of shops and classrooms, and is now poised to open a wing of 21st century science labs that look forward to a future rich with technology. I’ve tried to capture both these physical changes to campus and the spirit of the students and adults who filled these breezeways. Admittedly, I’m more poet than historian, but the journey has been wonderful and I hope the modest scribblings that have come out of it have been worth a few minutes reading a week.

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Having tromped through the 1930s and 40s, years of football teams and flower fields; the 1950s and 1960s, when more cars filled the parking lot and San Dieguito acquired a gleam that has never left its eye; the 1970s and 80s, when it felt at times as if “anything goes” was a school slogan; to the 1990s and 2000s, when San Dieguito began to take on more the look that it has today, I’ve now reached a strange point in my narrative: the present.

I’ve given some thought about how to approach this. Ought I turn the keys over to others (students and teachers)  and ask them to pen a few words? They’re here after all, and know their school. Should I go out and drum up some current stories? Time encroaches on that pursuit; I’ve got a school to run, after all, and we’re already talking about building next year’s master schedule. So…

I realized that one of the biggest goals of this little blog is to celebrate life at San Dieguito, the students, the activities, and the spirit of our school. Over the past two years I’ve amassed more than a few entries on San Dieguito, and for a glimpse at life on campus circa 2017, I offer these.

Each fall Homecoming brings a crackle of electricity to campus. Here at San Dieguito, a school without football (or, as some maintain, a school “undefeated in football since 1996), “The Big Game” looks a little different. If our school had a motto, it would be “Keep SDA Funky” and homecoming week lives up to that as we enjoy a “Whirlwind” of activities.

photo 4 (1)Art matters much at San Dieguito. Construction is our current reality. Those two sentences fit together like cats and vacuum cleaners. Last fall, when two old buildings were razed to make way for our newest science and math building, the sacrifice that had to be made was years of student art. It was a wrenching moment for our school, but one that we’ve emerged from intact. The most dramatic day, involving chisels, tears, and smiles, looked like this: “Vertebrae.

Exhibition Day at San Dieguito is, put simply, magical. Who we are today is reflected on that day in the multifaceted celebration of humanity that makes up “SDA’s Favorite Day.

photo-2And finally, a little speech.

Each year the principals from our district schools are invited to make a presentation to the board of education. We’re given a few minutes to celebrate our school, share some highlights, and give the board members a taste of what life is like on campus. This year mine came in September, too early to talk about the year’s accomplishments, so I simply described the things about San Dieguito that “I Love…

That’s us today, proud members of a school community with traditions and memories that reach back to 1936 and dreams that stretch forward into the distant future.


photo-3-2The most fabulous first impression from San Dieguito’s 2002 Hoofprint is the yearbook’s maroon velvet cover. A shower of stars spill across the cover along with the silver words “I’d Like To Thank The Academy…”

Just wow.

Inside the pages of the yearbook a picture of life at San Dieguito emerges, a world of interesting haircuts, scooters, and school spirit.

Looking out from the pages of the Hoofprint are faces familiar to today’s current students. Mr. Davidson was teaching Chemistry in 2002, sometimes in costume. Mr. Hrzina sported a groovy bit of facial hair, Ms. Koda and Mr. Keillor looked exactly like they do now, and Mr. West proved that mohawk haircuts aren’t just for kids.


In 2002 students had lots of opportunities to share their creative spirit. The Battle of the Bands, theater events from Zombie Prom to Pygmalion, and painting murals are all represented in the yearbook, along with examples of students volunteering, working on cars, and making movies. Pages celebrating Comedy Sportz, Speech and Debate, and the Academic Team sit alongside images of student created fine art and more clubs than pack of neanderthals.

photo-1-3As the Hoofprint editors noted: “After a troubled day surrounded by cement walls and tedious assignments, there wasn’t anything more gratifying than coming together with various students who shared the same interest.”

Athletics also mattered to the Mustangs of fifteen years ago, and from Track and Field to “Mustang Fùtbol,” San Dieguito students demonstrated spirit and sportsmanship on the field, in water, and on the court.

photoSkaters, scholars, artists, and anarchists, San Dieguito students lived life in 2002 with passion and purpose. …and they had fun.

Over the past few months, as I’ve had an opportunity to peek inside the pages of yearbooks from San Dieguito’s eighty year history I’ve continued to be delighted by the familiarity of the expressions on the faces of students and staff; these are people inspired by hope, enjoying each other’s company, and eager to take on the world.

The class of 2002, in their thirties now, are well into their own adult lives, and it’s fun to see their youthful faces, looking forward toward a future that is now the present.