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New SCHS principal looks forward to new endeavor

Chris Carter, the new principal of San Clemente High School, speaks with incoming freshman Andrew Laxamana (left) and Sharon McCann on Monday in front of the school.  Photo: Eric Heinz
Chris Carter, the new principal of San Clemente High School, speaks with incoming freshman Andrew Laxamana (left) and Sharon McCann on Monday in front of the school. Photo: Eric Heinz

By Eric Heinz

On Monday, the new principal of San Clemente High School stood at the gateway to registration booths on campus.

Smiling and shaking hands with young students passing by to initiate their first year of high school on Monday, freshman registration day, Chris Carter spoke with parents and students who had questions for him.

Carter said he was a “history buff” in college at San Diego State University, where he majored in history with an emphasis in teaching. After getting his degree, he explored the option of teaching but wasn’t sure if it was something he could parlay through history.

“I loved teaching but I constantly was being asked to take on other roles at the campus (at Shorecliffs Middle School),” Carter said. “It really wasn’t my goal to be an administrator—my goal was to be an activities director.”

John Alpay, District 3 trustee of Capistrano Unified School District, said he has confidence in Carter as the next principal of SCHS.

“I think he’s going to make a great principal and we need to rally around him and support him as we continue to bring San Clemente High School up to the next level,” Alpay said. “He’s been principal of Aliso Niguel High School and we’re looking for that leadership at San Clemente. He’s definitely a star performer and he’s going to shine. He’s ingrained in the community and he’s going to be great for San Clemente.”

Carter has been in CUSD since the beginning of his career. He began teaching in San Clemente in 1994 as a seventh-grade social sciences teacher and social activities program coordinator at Shorecliffs Middle School. In 1999 he was promoted to assistant principal of Niguel Hills Middle School. From 2002 to 2004 he was assistant principal of Dana Hills High School.

His first principal position began in 2004 at Don Juan Avila Middle School in Aliso Viejo. He was there for seven years until moving into the principal position at Aliso Niguel High School before being appointed principal of San Clemente High School by CUSD Superintendent Kristen Vital. His first day was July 1.

Coming in on the back of the dismissal of former principal Michael Halt, Carter said he doesn’t feel the pressure of filling the void of his popular successor.

“I’m proud of the accomplishments that I made at all the schools I’ve been at, and I think Mike did a great job here. Mike’s a good guy,” Carter said. “What I bring to this school is serious energy and I will pour it into this campus. I’m happy to be here and I think the community will get behind me as well and we’ll work as a team to make sure it’s the best it can be.”

Although Carter was appointed to and did not apply for the position, he said he is excited to get started in the new environment.

“It was one of those situations where the district had called and asked if I would entertain the change,” Carter said. “I was happy at Aliso Niguel, but I like to work closely with my district.”

Carter has been a resident of San Clemente since 1996.

“I love being a leader among a bunch of other leaders,” Carter said. “I love the collaborative atmosphere and working for continual improvement—how we can make this better, how we can constantly improve on something.”

Carter said he hasn’t had a lot of time to meet with a majority of the students and teachers but intends to make time to make sure people know him.

“I will try to get out to as many (sporting events) as much as I can,” he said. “I’ll try to get to the band and orchestra performances, all the plays and be visible at lunch and walk through the classrooms. You’ll see my car out here quite a bit.”

Since Day 1, Carter said he has been working with his team of educators to get the school year off to a good start.

“My goal was to go out and build the strongest administrative team that I could, and this is the first year in a while where we’re starting with a new activities director. I brought in a new upper campus administrator. We were able to keep Brad Baker (as an assistant principal),” Carter said. “We have some of the most phenomenal teachers in the district on this campus. My goal is to tap into that expertise and use those experts to spread incredible instructional strategies across the board. Within our collaborative program, we want to make sure we have common assessments across the board and have common expectations.”

Student Engagement

Working with his leadership team, the staff and administration at SCHS, Carter said he intends to reach students at all levels of the school.

“We will establish three goals: academic achievement, collaboration and leadership,” Carter said. “We also want to sustain a positive campus culture and communication. One of our goals in academics is to ensure there’s student involvement and engagement in the classroom. I really want to see kids involved in their learning every day.”

SCHS Principal Chris Carter speaks with Stephanie Lemar (left) and Freshman Kensie Lemar on Monday during registration day. Photo: Eric Heinz
SCHS Principal Chris Carter speaks with Stephanie Lemar (left) and Freshman Kensie Lemar on Monday during registration day. Photo: Eric Heinz

In order to achieve this, Carter said he wants to see students excited and participating in discussions outside the classroom about the topics they’ve learned.

He also said he would like to see teachers continue to engage with each other across disciplines.

“We will try to infuse walkabouts for teachers where they can feel comfortable for other teachers to walk by and see what’s happening in their classrooms,” Carter said.

Bringing students together to be engaged with SCHS also includes getting them involved with the campus culture, such as extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities.

“We’ve got a phenomenal athletic program and performing arts program—those are already here so we will continue to encourage kids to be involved,” Carter said. “We also need to make sure that all students have access to a variety of programs that meet their interests.”

Socioeconomically, SCHS probably has one of the most diverse campuses in the district, Carter said.

“We need to make sure kids have access … to being able to participate in any activity they want to,” Carter said. “I think having a variety of activities to meet the interests of our students is very important.”

Safety, Security

Many students remember enduring a series of bomb threats in the last few years. In order to ensure the safety and peace of mind for students, Carter said support efforts will continue to increase as they become available.

“When it comes to those types of situations, we have a very strong support system built within our district,” Carter said. “We’ve increased the campus supervision over the years, and as finances continue to come back to the district we will continue to add to our classified staff as well as our administrative staff and counseling staff.”

A new counselor and more academic advisers have been added to the staff, Carter said. There is also a student resource officer from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department on campus.

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comments (5)

  • Frankly I am disappointed by this PR attempt to introduce Chris Carter to SCHS. I have issue with several points that were made in this article. John Alpay states that Cater is “ingrained” in this community. As a SC resident that attends and participates in many town events, I have never seen Chris Carter. He certainly is not a leader in this town. I also am not aware of any substantial accomplishments he made at Aliso.

    The article states that Carter’s only educational experience is in CAPO. With the current state of education in this district, we should consider hiring educators from outside the district that can bring new ideas to help our troubled district.

    It is important to note that Carter was appointed to this position. Teachers, parents, students and other community members had no role in selecting him. I have heard that Carter essentially was given a 15K raise to accept this position, as the District jumped him on the step schedule. Perhaps that is why he gave a shout out to the district in this article stating, “I like to work closely with the district.”

    The fact that Carter states in this article that he will “try” to attend many school events is disheartening – he should be at these events – it is part of the job.

    I am happy that efforts are underway for San Clemente to divorce itself from CAPOUSD. This principal appointment, without any input from anybody in San Clemente, is another reason why.

    • Change is always difficult and resistance is inevitable, with that said, try to support the situation rather than negate it. Chris Carter will give SCHS all he’s got as the article described. My daughter had him as a Principal for all 3 years of middle school@ DJAMS and her last 3 years of high school @ ANHS. He is truly an involved guy and will bring it all together as best he can. Here is one little example: it was my daughters sophomore year at ANHS & his first year there and while I was volunteering at registration in a staff office with a couple of office workers I got to listen in……… Here’s what one custodial worker told an office worker about the “new principal”. ‘Never before had an administrator approached him to see how he was doing and what he needed to help him with his job’ – Just saying this guy is the real deal and I hope your opinion changes. There are many more ANHS parents (PTSO, etc.) that have wonderful stories for you and I can’t wait to hear your wonderful stories as you support the students and the staff to make your high school the best it can be……………..

    • Dear Not Impressed,
      Please know that you are in good hands with Chris Carter. I am saddened to hear that some people may not be very welcoming. I do hope that you know people who have had him as a principal in Aliso Viejo. Ask them about Mr. Carter. I promise that you will only hear positive experiences about him.

    • Your "Not Impressed" is distrubing to me. Reply

      You may not be impressed but I do not have children and I’m a resident of Aliso Viejo. Even I know who Chris Carter is and know him well because he is at everything. So many times I’ve thought, “Doesn’t he have his own family he should be with, but he is here?!” I think “try” in context for Mr. Carter is more like, there are 100 events going on for the school at once and if he could be at all 100 of them he would be but he is only one person and can only be in one place at a time. You may not feel he is a part of your community, but for 11 years he has been a heavy part of our community which is probably why you feel like you don’t know him and value his leadership. He is dedicated and you questioning that truly disturbs me. Please don’t question his dedication, you are getting a very qualified man and trust me, it’s not about the pay for him.

  • Still Not Impressed Reply

    Dear Michelle and the last comment, whom I am assuming are the same person as the comments were made in minutes of each other,

    Perhaps my points were not clear enough. The bottom line is that San Clemente High School staff, students and families had absolutely no input in the selection of Chris Carter. This was a District decision, that interestingly was made by another woman named Michelle, whom I have heard has been fired from her position. The positive comments made about Mr. Carter are wonderful. I am wondering why the Aliso Viejo High School community did not challenge this change. Perhaps, and I am speculating here, you also do not feel that you have a voice. Did anyone from Aliso weigh in on the decision to appoint Carter’s replacement? From what I hear the answer is no. CAPOUSD needs to be much more inclusive and responsive when making important decisions. Don’t even get me started on the mess that happened at Capo – with the new principal that started in July being replaced in a month. Sure, Chris Carter might be a nice, capable guy, but let’s face it CAPOUSD has problems.

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