CARLSBAD — When classes resumed at La Costa Canyon last week, they did so with Kyle Ruggles as the fourth principal in as many years, and the eighth since the high school opened in September 1996. While the reasons for the high turnover are varied — some in the position chose to pursue other opportunities in the district and one left to start a family — Ruggles said he doesn’t believe any were intentional.
“I don’t think any principals come here wanting to leave,” he said. “I just think it’s been circumstances.” Ruggles said he has no plans to go anywhere soon, especially since becoming a high school principal has been one of his long-term goals. However, he didn’t apply for the position when it was available just a few years ago because he was only in his third year as principal of Hidden Valley Middle School in Escondido.
“I think when you’re a principal you need to stay for a while to really get a feel for the school and to facilitate the things you want to put in place,” he said.
That’s exactly the mindset Ken Noah, superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, was looking for. Noah is just beginning his second year with 12,500-student district that includes LCC, five other high schools and four middle schools. Ruggles is his first outright principal hire.
“This was my one opportunity to stop the revolving door of leadership at La Costa Canyon,” Noah said. “It was important to get this right.”
Noah said he spent a significant amount of time talking to teachers, students and parents “trying to understand the culture of the school — their hopes, dreams and desires.”
“There was a growing sense of isolation among the teachers and no opportunities for collaboration,” Noah said. “They wanted someone who could bring them together as a group of individuals with a common goal.
“The students didn’t want a friend,” he said. “They wanted someone to interact with them. And everyone I spoke to wanted someone who knows and understands the real workings of a high school, not leadership through rhetoric or fancy slogans.”
Ruggles “fit the bill,” Noah said. “He possesses abundant human relationship skills.”
Other than one year with Cupertino Union School District, Ruggles has been with Escondido Union School District since 1991. He started as a math and physical education teacher and became an elementary and middle school principal in 1998 and 2003, respectively. He’s also coached high school basketball teams.
Within his first two days at LCC, Ruggles visited every English class — the only four-year requirement — so he could introduce himself and his three assistant principals to all the students. “I want the students to know who we are,” he said. “We want to be present and visible so they can ask us questions and so we can support their learning. I feel like I’ve established some rapport with them already. It’s been very positive.”
Ruggles said he encouraged students to become connected and get involved. “We have the only marching band in the area,” he said. “We have the No. 1 speech and debate team in the country. Our drama program is an award-winning, nationally recognized program. I want to make sure students know they’re in a special place.”
That “special place” has been created as much by the teachers as the students, Ruggles said.
“I feel like I’m joining an all-star teaching staff,” he said. “They’ve established strong working relationships with their students by providing a warm, welcoming environment. I want to continue to cultivate that and develop those relationships and that trust, which is so important to student learning.”
Ruggles said he also wants to establish working relationships with parents. He’s already attended meetings of the many parents groups and he’s planning “mornings with the principal” so parents can meet with him informally “and speak their minds.”
“There needs to be that two-way communication,” he said. “I feel like this is a dream come true, coming to a school with so much rich tradition and an excellence in academics,” he said. “I’m very honored to be the principal here at LCC.”
With that attitude and his history or longevity in Escondido, it doesn’t seem likely Ruggles will move on anytime soon. But just in case, Noah said he asked for one final guarantee.
“I made him promise me he wouldn’t leave,” he said.