The 800 students and staff at Marina Village Middle School call themselves ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. But the Mustangs family has lost its leader; principal Jeff Warshaw announced July 15 he’d be leaving his post after six years to return to his native Southern California.
Warshaw started his new job as principal in residence for the San Diego County Office of Education on Aug. 1. “I’ll be working with the Learning and Leadership Services Division to provide support, coaching and professional development for schools and districts throughout the county,” he told Village Life.
In a letter to Marina families Warshaw explained, “Professionally, this new opportunity will allow me to play a role in shaping the success of schools and districts throughout the San Diego area. More importantly, my family’s return to Southern California will bring us closer to family members and give us the opportunity to play a more active role in their care and support.”
The letter came as a shock to parents. “Everybody’s really unhappy that he’s leaving,” said parent Jamie Lentzner.
Her son Grant, now a ninth grader, called Mr. Warshaw “my favorite principal so far in my life.”
The Lentzners moved to El Dorado Hills when Grant was in seventh grade and Grant said he immediately noticed a difference between the atmospheres at Marina versus his previous middle school in Foster City. “At my old school I saw three fights in three months, but I never saw worse than an argument in my two years at Marina,” he said. “If someone did something bad, Mr. Warshaw was always calm about it. I never heard him say anything down … just that Marina Village is ohana.”
Several years ago Marina adopted the theme of ohana and it’s permeated the school culture since. “It’s where everyone belongs, just like being in a family,” explained eighth-grade history teacher Denise Colter.
Warshaw said he’s most proud of helping create the tight-knit atmosphere during his tenure and explained how he personally leaned on his Marina ohana during his own time of need.
“Without a doubt, the most powerful experience I had at Marina was the Buzz Off event in 2009,” he said. “My son James was undergoing cancer treatment, and the school community rallied around our family. Dozens of staff members, students and community friends volunteered to shave their heads in support of James, and the event was incredibly uplifting, emotional and moving. I’m pleased to report that, nearly four years after completing his cancer treatment, James continues to be happy and healthy! My family will be forever grateful for the tremendous support we’ve received from our school community.”
Warshaw said the ohana culture has had a far-reaching impact. “I see it as one of the big reasons we’ve seen unprecedented academic success at Marina in recent years,” he said. “When students and staff enjoy being part of the school, we’re all more invested in our learning and success.”
Many staff, parents and students expressed heartfelt praise for Warshaw. Ninth-grader Mustafa Qazi reflected on his first day of sixth grade and the heroic first impression Warshaw made.
“I was lost and I had a heavy backpack. I didn’t know I was supposed to leave one set of books at home,” he said. “Mr. Warshaw saw me and took me aside to help me. He let me leave my books in his office that day.”
During the next few years Mustafa said he always felt welcomed at school. “Mr. Warshaw gives off a vibration that he’s easy to be around. He shows kindness and acceptance of all students.” In short, Mustafa explained, “Mr. Warshaw softened the experience of middle school.”
Denise Colter said the staff had one reaction upon hearing the news: “San Diego? Is that where we’re moving?”
“We have been spoiled,” Colter added. “Jeff is a super strong leader but doesn’t micromanage. He walks the walk with us and truly has an open-door policy to all.”
Sixth-grade teacher Kate Gezi also had high praise for Warshaw’s style. “He is so laid back, but not hands-off,” Gezi said. “He is super-easy to approach and has a GREAT sense of humor.”
Humility is also a word that came up time and again when people describe the former principal. Colter said she and others have said, “Our school is going to fall apart with you!”
Only to be told by Warshaw, “Then I didn’t do my job. A month from now you’ll scratch your head and ask, ‘What did that guy do?’”
Rescue Union superintendent David Swart said, “We are all very sad about Jeff’s departure; he is just the best. At the same time, this is a wonderful professional opportunity for him while getting closer to family. We are committed to find someone of his caliber to lead Marina!”
Students return to classes Aug. 14 and interviews for a new principal begin Aug. 23.
“It was necessary to wait this long so we could advertise for the position statewide,” said Swart. “(Vice principal) Cindy Giove will have the full support of our administrative team for the opening of school.”