By Pat ShermanSan Diego’s new police chief, Shelley Zimmerman, isn’t the only skydiving local leader.
La Jolla High School’s new principal, Dr. Chuck Podhorsky, has also checked skydiving off his bucket list. In addition, he enjoys boating, surfing, sailing, snow skiing and competitive archery.
“I’ve been doing archery as early as 13 or 14 (years old) at state-level competitions,” he said. “I’ve always been kind of an aspiring Olympic archer, if you will.”
Fittingly, the 47-year-old educator, who resides in University City with his wife and two young daughters, is aiming high when it comes to his new position.
“I have no desire to just be on campus and not continue to move toward greatness — that’s my job,” said Podhorsky, via phone, while on his way to coach his 8-year-old daughter’s softball team. “I’m going to continue to push the academic growth at the school.”
Podhorsky, who left his job as principal of Hoover High in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood to accept the position at La Jolla High, says mentors and coaches have long been his inspiration — particularly his 93-year-old father (who coached his baseball team throughout his youth in San Diego).
“I’m a big believer in coaches … whether it’s executive coaching or doctoral work — people who have that kind of ability to bring the best out of you,” said Podhorsky, who holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics from UC San Diego, a master’s in educational administration from San Diego State University and a doctorate from UCLA. “Sometimes it’s through athletics, sometimes it’s academia.”
Podhorsky said he is a firm believer in the adage, “good is the enemy of great.”
“My dad always taught me that the day you stop learning is the day you stop living,” he said. “You want to continue to push yourself … and I hope I model that through my leadership. … Whether it’s after a meeting or after teaching a class, you should take a step back and say, ‘What went well?’ ‘What do I need to change?’ ”
Since his first official day on the job, Tuesday, Feb. 18, Podhorsky has been immersing himself in campus culture, even accompanying a group of students to participate in a mock trial at a courthouse in downtown San Diego Feb. 27.
“I am completely impressed with how warm and welcoming the community and students have been,” he said. “The first day I got here the students came out and had the Madrigal singers sing the alma mater; the mascot presented me with the key to the school. It was an amazing reception.”
Podhorsky said his first on-campus meetings were with students. “They were coming in (on their own) presenting the work they’re doing and the clubs they’re involved with — from supporting programs in Uganda to incredible community service organizations — without a club advisor, without any adults.
“What I’ve learned in my 20 years of education is that sometimes as adults we just have to step back and let the voice of the students be heard. They are extremely eloquent.”
In the short term, Podhorsky said he will work to assure a smooth transition to adoption of Common Core State Standards for math and reading.
“From a long-term standpoint, I think the community is and should be very proud of La Jolla High School. … I would love to see the high school be, not only the best in the district, but the best in the state and nationally recognized. Part of my role as principal is to make sure we are doing absolutely everything we can to bring a high quality, rigorous environment to students, while, at the same time, making sure that they are having a really great high school experience.”
Podhorsky also said he hopes to strengthen the school’s collaborative relationship with neighboring scientific institutions and universities.
Asked if he would like to see his own daughters attend La Jolla High, Podhorsky doesn’t hesitate to respond in the affirmative.
“From what I’ve seen in six days, I would be honored for my daughters to attend La Jolla High School,” he said, adding, “When we at La Jolla High are getting national recognition and being written up and people are coming to visit and see the great work that’s going on, I’ll be happy, but never completely satisfied. I think that’s how you should operate in life.”