Caption: Sage Creek High School Principal Cesar Morales is stepping down to take a job running a private international school in Panama. He was the first principal at SCHS since it opened in 2013. Photo by Steve Puterski
CARLSBAD — From humble roots to an institution instilling academic excellence and future pathways, Sage Creek Principal Cesar Morales has built a formidable high school.
He’s the only principal the school has ever had after it opened its doors six years ago. However, Morales, 44, is stepping aside, taking a job with London-based Knightsbridge Schools International outside Panama City, Panama, in July.
The time was right and he and his wife wanted the opportunity to give their kids an experience in a Spanish-speaking country.
“For us, as a family, we always had 2019-20 as a target year because of our kids’ ages,” Morales said of moving abroad. “Our goal as a family was always to go live in a Spanish-speaking country for the kids to command the language and be more culturally aware.”
Morales and his wife, Claudina, are no strangers to living abroad. Morales studied abroad, while his wife taught English in Brazil. He graduated with a bachelor’s in Spanish from California State University San Marcos and earned a master’s degree from the University of California San Diego.
“He’s an incredible principal,” said Carlsbad Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Ben Churchill. “He has a laser-like focus … and maintained a culture of excellence and continually finding ways to make things better.”
Knightsbridge has several campuses worldwide, but the Panama location is a preschool through 12th grade school with 210 students, Morales said.
He had opportunities with other schools in Mexico, Ecuador and Columbia, but Panama presented the best of those choices, he said.
“Professionally, it will allow me to grow in a whole new set of skills and knowledge, being a private school and international baccalaureate program,” Morales added. “It’s going to stretch me. One of the main goals is to expand the campus and grow enrollment.”
Opening Sage Creek
Morales was tapped as principal by former Carlsbad Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Suzette Lovely after Proposition P, a nearly $200 million school bond, was passed to construct the city’s third and the district’s second high school.
The doors opened in 2013 with the freshmen-only first class, adding one class of students each year. Most of the athletic programs competed in the JV level for the first two years, before rosters could be filled with stronger and older athletes.
Perhaps more challenging, Morales said, was building the staff and adding a layer each year with dozens more staffers each year and keeping those core beliefs. But after the first several years, the staff was assimilated and those core values and goals remain a consistent presence in the halls.
“It’s an extraordinary team of staff, parents and students,” Morales said. “We have a high standard. We want to connect with you and for you to belong on this campus. The ultimate level of professionalism that our staff has, they are dedicated, they’re committed and they’re talented. I feel like we should always approach our jobs like it’s day one.”
Another challenge was the introduction of a new school to the district, thus offering another option for parents. However, Morales said it has been a running goal to work with his peers at Carlsbad High School and the district to find a balance between the two schools and how they approach parents and students.
Over the past two years, Morales and Carlsbad High Principal Dr. Bryan Brockett formed a solid working relationship, the two men said. The primary goal is to make sure the student finds the best fit for them.
“He set a tone there,” Brockett said. “His influence is really baked in the DNA at Sage. I think his impact has been fantastic and they’ve done a great job of launching that school off in the right direction. I think that impact will continue for a long time.”
In creating the roadmap for the school, Morales also instilled the school’s mantra, “Be you. Be your best.” The first part of the motto connects to every student from any background to ensure they are welcomed and embraced.
Being your best, he added, varies from day to day, but what is controlled is organization and intentions. As such, the students have responded from being recognized on a state and county level, and athletically by winning CIF championships and receiving athletic scholarships.
“Kids bring it,” Morales said. “It’s 100% about the effort and commitment you give to whatever activity you’re doing. To me, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
As Morales ends his run at Sage Creek, Jesse Schuveiller, who is currently in his third year as a vice principal, will take over. And while both are prepping for their new roles, they also must continue with their current responsibilities.
Schuveiller said he and Morales are “cut from the same cloth,” noting similarities in work ethic, ambition and putting forth maximum effort.
“We owe this to our kids and community to provide a fantastic environment to learn in,” Schuveiller said. “We are accomplishing that year after year.”
Continuity, he added, is another aspect he wants to continue and build upon, while avoiding complacency. Excitement is another key value for the school and its leadership, Schuveiller said.
“My goal is that students and staff, when they show up, they are excited and love being here,” he added. “They want to get to school because they are fired up.”
Although change is coming for the leadership of Sage Creek, Schuveiller said he doesn’t anticipate any sweeping shifts of how students and staff approach their days. He stressed the necessity to continue to build an inclusive environment and make sure every student is taken care of every day.