San Dieguito superintendent set to retire

San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Ken Noah is retiring at the end of June. He has been with the district since 2008. (Photo by Heather Rushall)

San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Ken Noah is retiring at the end of June. He has been with the district since 2008. (Photo by Heather Rushall)

Heather Rushall

San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Ken Noah says he’s excited to travel and do volunteer work following his retirement at the end of June.

Noah joined the district as superintendent in July 2008 after spending 33 years in the education system in Oregon. After completing his undergraduate degree in history, he taught high school for six years. He then went on to achieve a Master of Education degree at the University of Oregon after a colleague suggested he pursue a career in educational leadership.

“In that six years, as I was working on my graduate degree, the person who was my superintendent at the time had a conversation with me early on in my career,” Noah recalled. “He said ‘you really have a lot to offer if you were to think about being an educational leader.’ So I took that path in terms of my graduate studies.”

Ken Noah
Ken Noah

Climbing the administrative ladder, Noah was an assistant principal then principal of Redmond High School before moving into the principal position at Rex Putnam High School. He then became the director of education for four years, and spent seven years as the deputy superintendent of North Clackamas School District. In July 2002, Noah became superintendent of the Gresham-Barlow School District in Gresham, Ore., before moving to Encinitas and into the San Dieguito district position he is now retiring from.

Noah’s only daughter lives in Los Angeles County, so the opportunity to move to California had benefits that reached beyond becoming the district’s superintendent, he said. Noah became a grandfather for the first time a little more than a year ago, which he said is another thing he looks forward to enjoying after retirement.

Three main goals

In his time as San Dieguito superintendent, Noah strived to achieve three main goals: create consistency among the nine “autonomous” schools in the district, “take a very high performing organization even higher,” and make upgrades to infrastructure and technology, including the use of funds made available through Proposition AA, a $449 million bond initiative approved by voters last November.

“This district had very, very old facilities, and we were way behind the curve with respect to our ability to provide … technology to kids,” Noah said. “That was largely an infrastructure issue and has really become a connectivity issue for our kids.”

Noah said his favorite thing about his job is how rewarding being a leader has been.

“It’s really rewarding and it’s fun to be in a leadership position,” Noah said. “To be the person who really is the person who has the vision for what can be, and then figuring out how to utilize strengths and talents of a leadership team to see that become a reality.”

Being a leader is both a challenge and a reward, according to Noah, but despite his love for being in charge, he will have to leave the reins with the school district.

“My wife has already informed me that I am not the superintendent when I’m at home, so I can’t carry on there,” Noah said with a laugh.

Although his position does not allot much interaction with students, Noah said that getting to work with student representatives who serve on the Board of Trustees and “help shape decisions” has been another rewarding part of the job.

School board President Barbara Groth said the superintendent “is a kick.” She said he has a great sense of humor, is a fearless leader and is “respectful and respected.”

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with him,” Groth said.

Looking to the future

Groth said there are challenges ahead for the district – including the Prop. AA bond – but said she feels the board made a good decision in the new superintendent.

Deputy Superintendent Rick Schmitt was chosen by the board to take Noah’s place. He will start his tenure July 1.

Rick Schmitt
Rick Schmitt

Schmitt said his leadership model is to “lead on behalf of the students,” and his priorities will be to take advantage of the Prop. AA bond funds to provide upgrades throughout the district and assist in the transition to the national Common Core curriculum standards, particularly in math and English. He said he also hopes to focus on providing the best education despite a tight budget, facilitate an increase in enrollment in the district and “train and attract talented staff.”

Once Schmitt moves in, his old position of deputy superintendent will likely no longer exist. According to Groth, the board still has some decisions to make regarding those changes, but that a “leader in curriculum” is a necessity.

“I hope whoever takes over has a lot of energy, because they’re going to need it,” Groth said.

As for the outgoing superintendent, his last piece of advice for Schmitt is this: “Be the smartest guy in the room at the end of the day – smartest meaning wisest. There are times when no decision is the best decision. And when I mean no decision, I mean no decision right now. Sometimes giving things time gives you a clearer vision of what it means to exercise that wisdom.”

Heather Rushall is a San Diego freelance writer