Who will be Marina Village Middle School’s new principal?
That burning question around the north side of El Dorado Hills was recently answered when George Tapanes (pronounced Tap-in-iss) assumed the post Sept. 3. In an exclusive interview with Village Life Tapanes said he arrives with an open mind, instead of a laundry list of concrete goals, and will spend the next few months prioritizing what is important to the school’s vested “stakeholders”(teachers, students, parents).
“Every school is unique,” Tapanes said. “There’s no cookie cutter formula to make a school successful. Sure, there are proven strategies that are universal, but the uniqueness of each school means I come in with a blank slate. I listen to everybody and I try to connect as many dots as I can.”
Raised in Cerritos, Tapanes, 51, said his mother inspired him to be an educator.
“My mother drove it into me to be something.”
He earned a BA in history from Long Beach State University and then both a master’s in education and administrative credential from Azusa Pacific University in 1989, though he didn’t become an administrator until the 2000s.
Tapanes first taught middle school social science, but when his passion for football landed him a high school coaching job he made the move to teach high school students as well.
“I taught social science for eight years, but when a whole lot of Division 1 kids kept popping into my classroom, my principal said, ‘You better go out to P.E. land! They can bug you out there!’,” he said.
Tapanes made the move to PE teacher and the nickname “Mr.Tap” became his moniker both on and off the field.
In 1995 Tapanes moved to Fortuna in Humboldt County with his wife and two young kids, where, for 14 years, he raised his family.
“I was given a little bit of wisdom way back from a principal when I started coaching,” he remembered. “Don’t leave coaching until you’re ready to leave or you’ll have regrets.”
Tapanes coached football for 22 years at Fortuna High School, of which 17 were as head coach. “Usually coaches are burned out by December, but then you perk up again in January,” he said. “One year I didn’t perk up and I realized it was time to do something different.”
He became a vice principal at the school and then principal in 2010.
Making the leap from coaching sports to leading the school weren’t as different as Tapanes thought.
“I realized you still coach as a principal; you just do it in a different kind of platform,” he said. “Instead of building a football program you’re building a school. It’s a pretty cool thing to do. It has a much broader impact.”
When his son and daughter had grown, Tapanes and his wife of 29 years were still in Fortuna, but asked themselves, “What are we doing in this beautiful country without family?”
They decided to relocate to Roseville, where his married daughter and her four children now live three blocks away. His grown son is currently in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University and works for the government.
“It’s priceless having my three older grandkids scooter over to our house all the time,” he said. The youngest, still a baby, will surely follow suit. Tapanes also enjoys travel in his free time, watching college football (especially Boise State), running and one day hopes to take up golf.
“Golf’s on my bucket list,” he said.
Tapanes took the principal position at Inderkum High School in the Natomas Unified School District in 2010.
“We did a lot of cool things there like start an International Baccalaureate program,” he said. “I was there for three years and now I’m here. I’m excited!”
Mr. Tap has been busy making the rounds visiting his new Marina students.
“I told the kids when I visited their classrooms, ‘This is a challenge for me. I started at a middle school and I’m now coming back as a leader. There are differences and that’s a fun thing because it’s a new learning curve and a good place to put yourself because it stretches you a little bit,’” he said. “I can try to connect some of the things I learned at high school but try to learn newer things about the cultural pieces of a middle school.”
He has been struck by how beautiful El Dorado Hills is and likes the small community feel.
“You can tell there is a dedicated staff at Marina and the kids have been so kind,” he added. “They have a gentle, friendly demeanor.”
At previous schools, Tapanes said there are always messes to clean up, but not the case with Marina.
“(Former principal) Jeff Warshaw did a great job, first of all,” he said. “He built a really strong community and he established some lasting cultural pieces like the Ohana (family) theme. He built strong, trusting relationships with his teachers and those are things that will take time. You have to earn that. But I’m very grateful that he left a stable school.”
One of the current concerns that he hears today surrounds the imminent shift to common core curriculum. “There’s a lot of anxiety right now about it, but we’re going to be OK because we have a really strong staff,” he explained. “They’re caring, committed and really inquisitive about textbooks and what’s coming down the road.”
Tapanes’ focus on understanding the school culture is key to success, he added. “School culture is important because students need to feel safe and supported and teachers need to feel they have freedom to create the magic of learning for students. If you can get that environment, the academics are the simple piece.”
Tapanes will do his best to lead Marina to even brighter days ahead. “My definition of leadership is having the ability to rally people to a better future,” he said. “I’m excited about what the future’s going to be at Marina Village. As good as this school is, I think the best is yet to come.”