If you’ve called the administrative offices at La Jolla High School any time in the last five years, you’ve likely been met with a sweet voice saying “La Jolla High School, this is Rita. How can I help you?” And the problem-solving Rita McGee-Bastani truly means that she wants to help.
In her role, she daily fields calls from the San Diego Unified School District, parents, and other La Jolla High teachers and staff, seeking to find solutions to their queries right away.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. I’m the seventh of 10 children, and we all went to Catholic School, K-12. So when it came to all of us going to college, we all tried to work and pay for as much of it as we could.
Nine siblings! How many nieces and nephews do you have?
I don’t even know. I think it’s in the low-40s.
What did you study in college?
I have a degree that is not common: Interior Architectural Design. Am I using it now? No. I’m not a decorator, but I wanted to design space. I had a lot of different ideas for coordinating space, making it more efficient, form following function. That’s just what I liked and when you’re young, you go with what you love. There were a lot of jobs, but they were mostly decorating jobs. So I mostly did furniture sales.
How did you go from decorating to school administration?
I have three (grown) children and was super involved in their activities when they were growing up. I worked for an architect at that time and only worked 30 hours a week so I could be home when they got out of school. Once they graduated from high school and went to college, I found myself wondering what to do with my time and energy. I missed the involvement in children’s activities.
I had a friend who encouraged me to work at the (San Diego Unified School) District, and I eventually applied for a job. I did a lot of similar things for the architect I worked for as you would as an administrative assistant, so it was an easy fit.
The first principal I worked for (at Pacific Beach Middle School) didn’t like numbers and I’m a numbers person, so she was quick to hire me. Plus, with my own kids and nine siblings, managing and being around a lot of kids wasn’t an issue for me.
What kinds of activities did you do with your children?
I was the mom that took all the kids surfing or to sports. We moved to San Diego in 1983, so two of my kids were born here. My son loves surfing, so I would get up at 5 a.m. and take him and his friends to the beach before school. My son is still a surfer.
My daughters also surf, but they are not as addicted to it as he is. I could tell when he hadn’t been surfing for a few weeks based on his demeanor.
What do you like most about your job?
How much I do is a double-edged sword. I’m always busy, which is good because I don’t like boredom. I’m not good with idle time. Here, I am so busy all day. I like that, but it’s exhausting. I’m doing three people’s jobs because there just enough staff to do what is expected of us.
But my favorite thing is helping these kids to calm down. Freshman come in so doe-eyed and nervous, I like to let them know everything is going to be OK.
I’m a problem solver, so I like solving problems for teachers, staff, parents and students. I answer phones and fill-in for the receptionist, field the principal’s calls and slim them down so only the ones that are necessary go to him. Getting up at 5 a.m. is not my favorite part.
What do you do when school’s not in session?
It’s all about family. But my problem is, I like to spend time with my husband, but he works retail, so when I’m off for the holidays, he is at his busiest. I have three kids and two grandkids, so I try to spend time with them. My husband is from Iran, so we go there sometimes on vacations. It’s a wonderful country and we have such a good time with his family.
There was a time my daughter worked in Switzerland, so we spent some time in Europe. We love to travel. Plus, being one of 10 kids, there is always someone to visit. My mom is still hanging on at age 92, so I visit her, too. My vacations almost always involve visiting someone.
Do you enjoy Persian food?
Are you kidding? Have you had Persian food? It’s amazing! When the kids were growing up, we had Persian food every Sunday. My husband was never in the kitchen growing up, but when he came to the United States as a student, he lived with other Iranians and they needed to either learn how to cook or eat fast food all the time. They would share family recipes and I learned from him, my sister-in-law, or when we would go out, I’d try something and say, ‘I need to learn how to make this.’
Do you speak Farsi?
I’m nowhere near fluent, but I’m conversational. I write like a kindergartener, but I can still write it. When we go to Iran, I can piece things together. We’ve been married 38 years. But students who know me will speak some Farsi to me and that’s fun. Those who don’t know me are surprised when I bust out the Farsi and greet them.
What do you do to relax?
Nothing, like I said, I do not like boredom.
Just kidding. I’m a movie fanatic. I love movies. My favorites right now are “Leap Year” and “About Time.” My favorites change all the time. I have probably 800 movies. I have VHS tapes, which take up so much space, and DVDs. I have all the Disney movies, all the “Harry Potter” movies, all the “Twilight (Saga)” movies. People make fun of me for that, but I still like them. The acting is so horrible in the first one, but it got better.
I read the “Twilight” books and had to see how it was as a movie. I read the books, and then I watch the movies. And of course, I have all the “Back to the Future” movies. That is one series where the first, second and third movies are all good. I love these movies. That’s my thing.
Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (858) 875-5950.