For many people in the Ramona Unified School District family and extended community, Montecito High’s Gary Tiegs is so much more than a principal.
His staff and students describe him as a father-figure, a great listener, someone who truly cares about their lives, and a generous servant of the community. That is why his retirement comes with a certain pang of sadness but they know he will never stop working with young people and their families.
Tiegs started his educational career in 1976 in West Riverside, Calif. Other than spending one year “chasing a pipe dream in Alaska,” as he has called it, he has been in the field ever since.
He began as an elementary teacher, teaching nearly every grade. In addition, he spent many years in secondary education teaching a range of subjects from English and social studies to physical education, and he coached track and cross country.
His next step was as principal at James Dukes Elementary, where he led the school for 11 years. In 2003, he came to Montecito High as principal.
Library Technician and Career Specialist Lynn Hardy came, too, and is one of Tiegs’ biggest fans, working with him for the past 13 years.
“His leadership style was a contributing factor in my decision to apply for a position at James Dukes 13 years ago and continues to be a factor as to why I’m still working today,” she said.
That unique leadership style was commented on several times when talking with the MHS staff and students. When asked about him, they immediately smiled and one would get a sense of intense fondness.
Counselor Mayra Vasquez, who has been on Tiegs’ team for the past four years, can’t imagine Montecito without him.
“He’s very supportive of the ideas you present to him, not just on an academic level but on a social and emotional level,” she said. “He is sensitive and thoughtful to the idea of serving students. He’s very fair, very loved, very respected, and serves as a male role model for many students here.”
“He recognizes that everyone on staff is not just a staff member, we are individuals that each have special talents and strengths that he pulls together collectively to do what is best for the kids,” said Hardy. “He takes the time to get to know who we are, who our families are, and actively listens when we tell him what is going in our lives.”
Vasquez and Hardy also commented on how approachable he is.
“His open door policy allows for anyone—staff member, parent, or student—to approach him knowing he will really listen with an open heart and mind,” said Hardy. “I think our kids see him as an authority figure that is approachable and truly listens to them. They know he won’t give up on them when others or they themselves have.
“Discipline is handed out when necessary, but tempered with empathy and compassion. For some of our students, he is the only positive male role model they know.”
“Having the trust level with students he has as an authority figure is rare,” Vasquez said. “But, students have that trust. And, Mr. Tiegs is honest with them. He doesn’t tell them what they want to hear but truly helps them sort through their problems with great compassion.”
Student Melissa Predmore agreed.
“I spent a long time in the office working this past semester and I also wrote a story on him for the school paper and he was really great to be around,” said Predmore, valedictorian of Montecito’s Class of 2009. “He was always busy helping students. He may come on strong, but it’s in a thoughtful way and you know he cares. He’s just a wonderful person.”
Tiegs, who took a leave of absence earlier this school year due to health issues, is looking forward to retirement in hopes of getting healthy again. But, he said he will sorely miss the students and staff, because they’ve been the highlight of his long career.
“I had the pleasure and privilege to work with some of the best kids in the world,” he said. “Any of the successes I have had as a teacher or principal were because of the great kids I worked with and the wonderful dedicated staff that always performed miracles on a daily basis.”
Besides getting healthy, he plans on doing some unfinished projects at his home and also hopes to be involved with students or education in some capacity in the future.