The Principal’s Office: Meet Christopher Schuck. La Jolla Country Day’s head of school aims to help students find ‘their best selves’
• VIDEO: Watch part of the interview with Christopher Schuck, head of school at La Jolla Country Day School, by clicking on the image above, or go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ScmnKCRWwI
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the eighth of a 13-part series bringing you interviews with principals of the 13 schools in La Jolla every other week.
By Catherine Ivey Lee
As his college graduation from Princeton University neared, Christopher Schuck contemplated his future.
Raised in Washington D.C., where his father had moved the family from Wisconsin to work for Congress, Schuck had the vague idea that he’d enter the world of law, which was familiar, or perhaps the field of journalism, which he’d enjoyed as an undergrad freelance writer for The Trentonian and the sports pages of The New York Times.
It was only when Schuck decided to spend the year after college as a residential tutor for minority high school students that he realized his true calling lay in neither field. It was actually in education.
“I fell in love with the experience,” Schuck recalled in a recent interview of his work as a tutor for nine high school students through “A Better Chance.” The Great Society-era program supported promising students’ goals to enter competitive colleges by providing them with access to high-quality high schools and to tutors like Schuck.
“To that point I’d given no thought to teaching. After that point I really thought of nothing else,” he said.
Schuck’s satisfaction came not only from helping others to understand concepts they previously hadn’t, he said, but also from the awareness that some of the students would be the first in their families to attend college.
“Not only were you changing the trajectory of an individual but you were also changing the trajectory of a family,” he said. “That was a pretty powerful feeling.”
Nearly 30 years later, Schuck remains passionate about the power of education to transform lives. In his sixth year as head of school at La Jolla Country Day School, Schuck oversees the education of nearly 1,200 students, ages 3 to 18, on a 24-acre campus near the University of California, San Diego. The independent school offers what Schuck calls a “balanced program” of college preparatory academics, top-notch arts and athletics, participation in community service and a solid education in character building.
“Our goal is to help each student to become his or her best self,” he said. “We want to expose them to a variety of opportunities, to encourage them to find those things that really move them and inspire them, and to pursue those with some depth.”
Such lofty goals, along with the logistical challenge of running such a large, diverse school might daunt some, but the intellectual and thoughtful Schuck said he enjoys his “busy” and ever-changing job. One day he can participate in the school’s entrepreneur leadership lecture series and the next he can host a Holocaust survivor, he said. “The key is that I enjoy it. There’s a good energy about almost everything that is going on.”
It is also a job for which Schuck’s experience made him well prepared. Following his experience with “A Better Chance,” Schuck earned a graduate degree in education. Before being selected head of school in 2006, Schuck taught in the classroom for more than two decades, 19 of them at Country Day. Schuck joined the faculty in 1987 after moving to San Diego for his wife’s graduate work in psychology. He taught both math and English in each of the school’s three divisions (Lower, Middle and Upper School), chaired the English department, led the middle school and served as associate head of school.
Now in his 25th year at Country Day, Schuck says he considers the school “a home” where ties to some students and families extend for 15 years or more. In one case, a former Country Day student recently asked Schuck to be the celebrant at his wedding. “It was such an honor,” he said.
As a leader, Schuck said his job is to listen to and support the school’s faculty by ensuring they have the resources they need.
“The relationship between teacher and student is key to it all. It’s that teacher, coach, director who is going to help each student to find those things (they are passionate about) and develop them,” he said.
During Schuck’s tenure, the school completed a sweeping $47 million campus redevelopment. He said he is proud of his contribution to the school’s transformation, from its origins as a small school serving local families in downtown La Jolla to its presence today as a “San Diego institution.”
He is especially proud of the school’s outreach to the San Diego community, including students at KIPP Adelante, a charter middle school near downtown that prepares low-income students for a college-prep education. Twelve KIPP Adelante graduates are enrolled at La Jolla Country Day School’s high school, he said.
LA JOLLA COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
• Type of school: Independent
• Year established: 1926
• Number of students: 1,180
• Grade range: Nursery School to Grade 12
• School color: Blue
• School mascot: Torreys
• Tuition: $13,280 for preschool to $27,591 for high school
• Address: 9490 Genesee Ave., La Jolla, Calif.
• Phone: (858) 453-3440
• Website: ljcds.org
• UP NEXT: Meet Christine Hargrave, principal of Muirlands Middle School, in the Feb. 28, 2013 issue.
You can read profiles of principals from previous issues at: http://www.lajollalight.com/la-jolla-news/news/schools/the-principals-office-schools/
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Donna Tripi. La Jolla Elementary principal strives for continual improvement
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Evelyn Terry. For teacher, transition to Head of The Children’s School in La Jolla is rewarding
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Patricia Lowell. Principal of Stella Maris Academy keeps children in mind
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Jim Solo. Classroom visits, collaboration key to Torrey Pines Elementary principal’s success in La Jolla
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Christian Jarlov. Seasoned bilingual educator proud of La Jolla’s French-American School
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