Time traveling back into the past with the school’s 10 principals in 62 years

February 23, 2021 — by Carolyn Wang

Googling Saratoga High School results mainly in the school’s official website, the occasional news article and a less-than-500-word Wikipedia description of the school. 

Oddly enough, in the rich 62 years of the school’s existence, there appears to be no complete documentation of who the 10 principals have been, let alone their personalities and contributions to its evolution. As a fun adventure to embark on, here is a complete history of all the principals since the school’s founding in 1959, starting with present principal Greg Louie.

 

Greg Louie: 2019-Present

“He’s only been in the job for 18 months and in that time, the world has burned down. He is steering us and leading us through this whole mess. I’m grateful that he has been our captain through the Pandemic.” — guidance counselor Alinna Satake

Greg Louie grew up in San Jose and graduated from Silver Creek High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature with an emphasis in writing at UC Davis and fell in love with teaching there.  Before coming to Saratoga High, Louie served as an English teacher and football coach at Silver Creek and an assistant principal and principal at Santa Teresa High School. He held the latter position for seven years.

Louie, known as “Glouie” by many of the staff, has been described as a strong communicator who completes tasks with great attention to detail. According to teachers who have interacted with him, he is an exceptionally good listener with a subtle sense of humor.

“Working with him is very satisfying,” Satake said. “He models best practices. He’s an example for me to follow.”

To date, Louie has worked as a principal in online learning for longer than he has done in person. Many view his crisis management as one of his greatest strengths amid the pandemic.

“He’s been at school every day, keeping ships running because there’s a lot to think about,” said journalism teacher Michael Tyler. “It’s not easy to be a teacher or an admin in this online environment, but he’s done a good job. I hope he’ll be principal for many years.”

 

Paul Robinson: 2012-2019

“He’s the era of tremendous school spirit — the kind of principal who goes on music trips, down to Catalina Island and just really loves being around teenagers and helping them grow. He was always seen as the cheerleader at SHS: the school’s #1 fan with his red pickup truck.” — Tyler

Paul Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, where he starred on the basketball team, and got his master’s in educational administration and administrative credential from National University in San Jose, according to the Mercury News. He was inspired to become an English teacher by famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, someone Robinson worked with at Wooden’s summer camps. Before coming to SHS, Robinson spent the majority of his career in San Diego, with over 33 years of experience in education — 16 of those in administrative positions.

To much of the Saratoga community, Robinson, fondly known as “P-Rob,” was the heart and soul of the school. He shared a warm, nurturing spirit and  was immersed in all areas of the school, Satake said.

“When emotions get high, you can always rely on him to keep balance and go back to the core belief that people are good,” assistant principal Kerry Mohnike said. “For him, it’s not just a job, and you can appreciate the amount of time and energy and angst that goes into that kind of work.”

Satake called Robinson the “kind of friendly guy that was everywhere.” He was most involved in the community as he cheered with the students at the football games and played Friday lunch basketball games with other teachers and students.

During his tenure as principal, Robinson led many changes to campus that included, returfing numerous fields, upgrading technology and facilities and completing the multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art music building that was the centerpiece of the Measure E bond, according to a Falcon article. He also spearheaded the completion of the student/wellness center at the heart of campus.

After the tragic suicide of sophomore Audrie Pott in 2012 that occurred a few months after he became principal, he supported the introduction of CASSY counseling services as a major part of campus life.

But Robinson’s biggest achievement, according to his former colleagues, was animating school spirit and fostering a kind community.

“I left when they hired P-Rob, but I met him because he was there six weeks early,” said former dean of activities and assistant principal Karen Hyde, who worked at the school from 1977-2012. “Great guy, the most kid-connected principal Saratoga has ever had. He probably knew 50 percent of the kids’ names. He knew everything and was at everything. It was pretty remarkable.”

Robinson came out of retirement to be the interim principal of Los Gatos High for ‘20-’21 and still lives in the community. 

 

Jeff Anderson: 2005-2012

“Mr. Anderson spoke in a lot of idioms to explain things. It was like ‘we’re just going to whistle past the graveyard.’ He had these very funny phrases I’ve never heard before.” — Satake

Jeff Anderson went to UC Santa Cruz for his undergraduate degree in history, CSU Hayward for his teaching credential and CSU Sonoma for his master's in education, according to Patch. Upon his departure from the school to take on the role as the new assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction and human resources in 2012, he had 24 years of experience as a teacher.

“He was very into good educational best practices,” Tyler said. “I think innovation in education and organization were his strong suits.” He recalls Anderson being a logical person and a good decision maker.

Longtime Redwood Middle School teacher and former SHS assistant principal Gail Wasserman, who worked at the school from 1993 to 2008, knew him as a straightforward and charismatic person who people liked to be around.

During his seven years as principal, Anderson supported the founding of  the Media Arts Program and was key in expanding the music program, an important aspect of the school culture.

“He knew how to balance the interests of parents, students and teachers,” said retired math teacher Deborah Troxell in a 2012 Falcon interview. “He gave teachers autonomy when needed and was one of the best principals I’ve worked under.”

Anderson is currently the principal of Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord.

 

The Year of the Interims: Bill Richter (fall 2004) and Harry Bettencourt (spring 2005):

“Bill Richter and Harry Bettencourt were awesome because they knew they were only going to be here for six months so they did whatever they wanted to make the school better.” — social studies teacher Mike Davey

In 2004-2005, two retired principals took on the role of running the school on an interim basis. Bill Richter filled in as principal for the first semester of the year and Harry Bettencourt filled in for the second.

Bill Richter was formerly the principal of Lynbrook High. He took up the interim position after former principal Kevin Skelly left for an associate superintendent job in San Diego in the preceding summer. He was key in convincing the community to move from a seven-classes-per-day schedule to the block schedule. His leadership also helped shift to open access classes, meaning that students weren’t barred from classes based on GPA or other factors.

“He was also a gregarious, open communicator, which made working for him easy,” Mohnike said.

Leading school for the spring semester that year was Bettencourt, who graduated from Carlmont High School in 1965 and received his teaching credential from San Jose State University. He retired in 2002 after serving as a teacher and administrator in the Fremont Union High School district.

During his brief time here, Bettencourt focused on reducing student stress and also helped the transition to the block schedule.

According to multiple former colleagues, Bettencourt was a kindhearted person who loved his work. Many, such as Hyde and Wasserman, recall funny and fond memories with him, while others have described him as someone who brought joy everywhere he went.

“His ever-present smile was the most recognizable indicator that he loved the work of running a school,” said assistant principal Brain Safine in a Falcon obituary. “He was a kind-hearted yet effective school administrator.” Additionally, Wasserman noted that he was “the most upbeat person I have ever met and a really wonderful man.”

Bettencourt, already in declining health, passed away in the spring of 2020 due to complications from COVID-19 at age 72. 

 

Kevin Skelly (1993-2004):

“He has the skill set where he could be a CEO of a major company but he chose to go into education. He helped me grow as a teacher and journalism adviser and stuck by me through some very difficult situations. He was a great guy — I really enjoyed having him as our principal.” — Tyler

Kevin Skelly earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in educational administration from UC Berkeley. Before working here as principal, he was a math and Spanish teacher.

Skelly, who was in his early 30s at the beginning of his tenure, was “unusually young” for a principal. He was regarded highly by many of his former colleagues during his 11 years at the school. 

“He had a heart of gold,” Hyde said. “He lived right across the street from Saratoga High, and his kids attended here too.” In addition to being a principal, Skelly, always recognizable on campus because 6-6 height and rail thin frame, was also a basketball player and would often play with the students. Living in the community also served as an advantage — not only did he attend most of the activities at SHS, he also coached youth sports in town. In fact, Dr. Tod Likins, former SHS principal and superintendent from 1980-1993, recalled Skelly on Halloween coming to school in a skeleton costume with the words “Dr. Skelly-ton,” much to the amusement of the staff and students. Multiple capital building projects, including a new science wing, a new library and the McAfee Performing Arts Center were also started under his leadership through the passage of a Measure B Bond in 1998.

“One of his amazing characteristic traits was that he always thinks the best of people,” Wasserman said. “He always thinks positively, even if something isn’t going right.”

Two high-profile scandals occurred during his time at the school that gained national attention: one being a large AP U.S. History scandal and the other being seniors who were barred from walking at graduation due to senior streak, both of which he helped the school overcome. He was also principal during the school’s demographic change from being majority white to majority Asian American.

Skelly’s ultimate legacy lies in the support he gave to improve every aspect of the school.

“Dr. Skelly was the first one who interacted with the kids. It’s a role that few principals had ever accomplished,” Hyde said. “He made Saratoga home. That was before you could be on campus at night. Skelly was always there so the kids were always there.”

After his departure from the school, Skelly worked as the associate superintendent of the Poway Unified School District and later as the superintendent of the Palo Alto Unified School District. He is currently the superintendent of the San Mateo Union High School District and still remains in touch with many of the faculty members at the school.

 

Patricia Dickson (1990-1993):

She worked well with our guidance department members. She liked new ideas, and really thought that teachers did best when treated like professionals.” — Mohnike

Patricia Dickson, the only female to hold the school’s top role, was at the school between 1990 and 1993.

Although Davey came to the school around the same time that Dickson left, he recalled her being a cerebral person. She was especially known for hiring around 17 teachers during her tenure, Mohnike said. 

Tod Likins, the principal before her, said, “Pat Dickson was hired in the usual and thorough manner. She was bright, experienced, and had been an excellent vice principal. She did everything anyone could ask for and did it well.” 

However, she was also described as more of an introvert who was less involved with the students and staff by some former colleagues. Some say it may have been that the community was simply not ready yet for a competent and effective woman to be at the “helm of the ship.” Overall, she clicked less with the staff, students and parents all of which likely may have contributed to her shorter stay.

Eventually, she moved into the district office and later left the district. 

 

Tod Likins (1980-1990):

“Tod Likins loved what he did. When you love what you do, it’s OK to make it your home.” — Hyde

Likins, a longtime resident of Santa Cruz, graduated from Santa Cruz High School in 1953. He attended UC Berkeley for his undergraduate studies in Physical Education and Life Science on an alumni scholarship, and was the former captain of his school’s wrestling team. After graduating in 1957, his passion for wrestling in college prompted him to go back to coach wrestling at his former high school, where he eventually decided to get his teaching credential at San Jose State. 

In 1962, after spending time back and forth as a biology teacher, wrestling coach and student, he obtained his master’s degree in guidance and counseling with an administrative and guidance credential from SJ State. In 1973, he obtained a Ph.D from Stanford University. Hyde remembers the diminutive Likins as being the opposite of Skelly in height but equal in presence and respect. He married the former principal of Gunn High School Noreen Likins (who also served as an assistant principal at SHS) and had two kids while living in Santa Cruz.

“He was probably the smartest principal we had,” Hyde said. “It wasn’t just his credentials he had emotional intelligence too, intuitively. He could read the staff and the kids.”

In his 10 years at the school, Likins felt proudest about the school’s recognition as a national distinguished high school, its athletics program led by legendary football coach Benny Pierce and the school’s implementation of an additional “X” period before school that gave students the options to choose a variety of electives beyond the traditional academics.

It was also under his leadership that the school changed test formats from mainly true/false and multiple choice questions to also include more critical thinking and free response ones.

“Critical thinking is extremely hard to teach, and so many people do not think critically,” Likins said. “As part of the state’s School Improvement Program, we (in a staff group decision) decided that we would try to teach critical thinking. And the best way to do that was to teach kids to write. You can’t write without thinking. If you tried to write without thinking, you’d probably get gibberish.”

The switch to more written tests went throughout all disciplines, including science and math. Hyde said that it was his vision for the school and the students that marked his legacy.

“Of my 38 years in education, the 11 years at SHS were by far the most satisfying,” Likins said. “There were challenges, of course, but the rewards were awesome.”

Likins eventually became the superintendent of the district from 1990-1997 and was said to have done well in his role there as well.

“Before, our superintendent was so hostile from anything that came from the staff that the principal would be stomped by the superintendent,” said Dr. Hugh Roberts, the former head of the social studies department who taught here from 1959-1989. “That really changed when Tod Likins became superintendent. I negotiated several contracts with him, and everything worked out cordially. People worked together to meet everyone’s best interests. He wound up being a very good superintendent in my view.”

Likins retired in 1997 after leaving his superintendent role, For the next few years, he and his wife traveled sporadically during Noreen Likins’s summer breaks until she retired from Gunn High School in 2010, when they finally began fulfilling their dreams of traveling the world. 

“Since then, we have traveled 4-6 times every month to every place in the world. We have literally all over the world from the north to the south pole and through the equator,” Likins said. “Well, at least that happened until 2020, when everything fell apart.”

Likins still resides with his wife in Santa Cruz.

 

Donald Brand (1971-1980):

“If I were to give the top one or two personality traits, it would be that Don Brand was enthusiastic and encouraging.” — Roberts

Before coming to SHS, Donald Brand worked at Willamette High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was described by former colleagues as someone who liked to see innovation in the classroom — even to the point of that some of his ideas flopped.

“He supported almost anything, including one fellow’s idea about trying to run the school with no bells, because wouldn’t life be neat without bells?” Roberts said. “Well, we tried it. When about a third of the class was coming over 5 minutes late and you couldn’t effectively get things started for a class, it was very easy to say ‘that’s a failure.’”

Under his leadership the School Site Council began increasing the interaction between parents, teachers, and students.

In keeping with the chaotic times, the school was also subject to multiple bomb threats — none of which turned out to be real. Although Hyde described him as more of a “paper pusher”  who interacted less with students than some other principals, former colleagues also remembered him as someone who had a vision for the school that saw its enrollment peak in the late 1970s.

“I liked him a lot. He was the principal that came before me and we had very different leadership styles,” Likins said.

Brand moved to the district office after he left the school.

 

Vernon Trimble (1959-1971):

“He was a true scholarly gentleman. Not an educational innovator but an upholder of traditional academics. He fought for me when I was called a communist by the John Birch Society, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and investigated by the FBI. We always remained friends.” —Roberts

Dr. Vernon Trimble was the founding principal of the school in 1959. He started his career teaching at a Hawaiian private school. Before he was appointed as the principal here, he taught English and was the director of guidance and counseling at Los Gatos High. He was appointed to be the new principal in 1957 and began the planning of the school in 1958. (Kids living in Saratoga used to attend Los Gatos High.)

According to Roberts, Trimble saw himself as a father figure and was a strong supporter of academics and integrity, but less so in creativity, innovation and teaching styles. He was the “gentleman of the old school and a class act,” or in other words, an immensely respected and gracious man.

Once, when the John Birch Society, a far-right political group, tried to remove an economics book they deemed “inappropriate,” Trimble asked, “Why don’t you show me what paragraph on what page illustrates your concern.” When the group couldn’t answer because they had never read the book, Trimble stood up and said, “It was a pleasure to meet you, but we have nothing to discuss.”

Hyde remembers Trimble being very formal — “exactly what you’d think of the old-time principal.” He set the tone for the Saratoga community as an academic school. Additionally, he was said to be a kind, avuncular leader according to Likins, although he personally never knew Trimble very well.

Students during his time appreciated his “quiet interest in progress,” according to the 1965 Talisman yearbook.

His former colleagues believe the most important legacy Trimble left was the culture that he brought into a school that was being built even as students were attending classes.

“It was the level of congeniality and collegiality that made Saratoga feel very special for a very long time,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what it’s like now, but I think it’s those two characteristics he established that have been supported by other principals along the way.”

Trimble passed away in 1982 at the age of 70.

 

Falcon Fun Facts

1) The lyrics to the Falcon Fight song and Alma Mater that is now still displayed in the school gym was written in 1959 by Dr. Hugh Roberts. The lyrics, along with the song composed by Dick Moyer, the first music director, was hastily written in three days and originally only intended to last for “five to six years at most” until the students came up with a permanent one. Oddly enough, it never changed.

2) The school used to have a dean of girls and a dean of boys. In the ‘60s, the girls had pages of rules consisting of what they could and could not wear to school. Girls were not allowed to wear pants, have curler holders in their hair or wear red and black together. Once, a girl got sent home for wearing culottes (pants that looked like skirts).

3) According to both Hyde and Roberts, one of the most interesting people since the school’s inception was vice principal Gerald Zapelli, who worked at SHS from 1959-1976. He looked like a New York football player that would break you in half but was actually the “biggest marshmallow around,” Roberts said. Students would come out of his office trembling, only to realize a few moments later that nothing had really happened to them. According to Hyde, he was also “outrageous, and would smoke in the hallways and sleep in the staff room.” However, he was known for having a kind heart who was beloved by students.

 

A special thank you to former assistant principal Karen Hyde, former head of Social Studies Dr. Hugh Roberts, former assistant principal Gail Wasserman, former principals Tod and Noreen Likins, and the various current teachers and administrators for making this story possible. 

All the information presented in the article above was obtained from interviews from former and current school staff, previous Falcon articles, 1959-2020 Talisman Yearbooks, and the following websites: the Mercury News, Linkedin and Patch. Exact dates of each principal’s time at SHS were gathered from interviewees and Enacademic.

 

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