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‘I love the community’: Jeff Luna is named new Muirlands Middle School principal

Jeff Luna has been named the new principal of Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla.
(Courtesy)

Jeff Luna, a vice principal at Muirlands Middle School since 2008, has been named principal of the La Jolla campus. He takes the helm Wednesday, July 1, replacing Principal Geof Martin, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

Luna started teaching with the San Diego Unified School District 28 years ago and moved to administration in 2001.

Luna, who has three children with his wife, Rocio, said he’s “really excited” about his new position. “I love the community. I’ve been a part of it the last 12 years as both an employee and a parent,” noting that his two older children attended Muirlands.

Being so “deeply connected” to Muirlands, Luna “brings a great deal of passion and commitment to students, staff and families,” said district Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino. “He understands the perspectives of staff and families and shares their commitment to excellence and equity.”

The selection process began in March, Merino said. “I met with staff and parent groups and gave them an opportunity to prioritize what they are looking for in the next principal,” she said.

All candidates were then interviewed by the district’s area superintendents. Top candidates were presented for a Muirlands community panel interview via Zoom. Those found to meet the panel’s criteria moved on to the performance-level interview, which is “an opportunity for the candidate to show what they know and are able to do as an instructional leader,” Merino said.

Since the performance interviews could not be held on campus, which was closed because of coronavirus-related restrictions, Merino said the candidates viewed videos and were asked to identify strengths and steps for improvement and share what they would do to move forward.

After the performance interviews, the panel and Merino made a recommendation to the district superintendent for final approval. Luna’s appointment was announced at the district board meeting June 23.

“I feel like our team did a great job having honest conversations about the candidate and the criteria and looking for the best match for the school,” Merino said.

Luna “understands the community,” said Martin, the departing principal. “He knows instruction, he knows all the operational ins and outs. He brings a full spectrum of skill sets in terms of what a leader needs to have.”

Luna said one of his goals is to ensure that Muirlands is “a relevant and viable option [for education]. I know there’s a lot of options for people in our community.”

Middle school students have “a lot going on emotionally and physically that has an impact on their education growth and mind-set,” Luna said. “We do a great job of preparing our kids for high school and beyond. We develop that and support their becoming independent learners as they exit middle school and move on. It takes a special mind-set of a teacher and support staff to work with that age of kids, and we’re fortunate to have very seasoned, knowledgeable staff at the school to facilitate that.”

As he takes on the new position amid the coronavirus pandemic, Luna said his main focus for the summer will be sorting out reopening and distance learning options per state and district guidelines.

La Jolla public and private schools are planning to reopen their campuses following a June 15 county health order allowing San Diego schools to resume in-person classes following the months-long closure and distance learning forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it’s going to be advantageous this next coming year, as we open up in whatever format we’re allowed, to have some consistency as far as the people in place leading the campus,” Luna said, noting that Jenney Nash is staying on as vice principal. Muirlands will lose its second vice principal position due to declining enrollment.

“This is the best possible scenario we could have had for our campus,” Luna said.

Martin said “people are excited about it; [Luna] provides a level of stability and consistency for the school. That’s what people were hoping for.”

Luna said he has been collaborating with his predecessor to determine what the new school year might look like in August. He’s also been working with Merino and “participating at the district level in some of our think tanks and processes,” Martin said.

Luna said he and Martin are looking at survey results from Muirlands staff members and parents, focusing on “what went well with distance learning [in the recently completed school year] and what are some areas we need to focus on.”

Distance learning “was a tough challenge for everybody,” Luna said. “We’re eager to get at what we’re going to do next year, but we’re trying to be patient so we can plan and do our work efficiently.”

“We will take every step necessary to make sure their kids are safe,” he said.

Luna invites community members to email him at jluna@sandi.net.