Mitch Torina shares his priorities and goals as interim principal for Santa Ynez Valley Union High School

Five years after retiring from the Santa Barbara Unified School District, Mitch Torina got a call from the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District asking for a few extra hands on campus, he recalled. 

click to enlarge Mitch Torina shares his priorities and goals as interim principal for Santa Ynez Valley Union High School
Photo courtesy of Mitch Torina
SUPPORT SYSTEM: Mitch Torina stepped in to provide support for the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District during the search for a permanent replacement, after Principal Michael Niehoff resigned last spring.

During the turmoil the school district faced last spring semester, the district superintendent reached out to local administrators for administrative support, Torina said. He came to the Santa Ynez high school campus two days a week for four to five weeks to help support the administrators.

“After [Principal] Niehoff resigned, they hadn’t expected to need a new principal. They hired a search firm for the principal, and I happen to know some of the people in the search firm,” Torina said. “As they got closer to the school year and after a round or two of interviews, they hadn’t found anyone fitting the need at the time so they asked me to fill in as an interim.” 

Because Torina was familiar with the administration, students, and staff, the district thought having him in an interim position until December would be a better transition than not having a principal at all, which Torina said was a “smart move.” 

“I decided [to] support Santa Ynez and students in the valley; I could do that without too much strain on me since I’m already retired,” he said. “The only structure limitation is because I receive a pension from CALSTRS [the California State Teachers’ Retirement System].”

Since he’s already retired, Torina said he couldn’t make more than a certain amount, otherwise he’d get penalized, and if he stayed on for the whole year he would have to come out of retirement.

“I am actually really enjoying retirement, and I didn’t want to do that,” he added. 

While he’s visited student organizations and engages with students occasionally, Torina said that it’s not his main focus as an interim principal. Instead, with two new vice principals at the school site, part of Torina’s focus to help the new administrators shift into their roles and provide support and stabilization, he said.

“Principals coming in to do the work, they have a vision where they want to move a school. I think the best administration comes in with, ‘Let’s see what’s here and then look at where we want to go,’” Torina said. “For me, there is no next step. … My job isn’t to make changes but exposing certain systems that are here and making them transparent.” 

Although he was enjoying retirement, Torina  said it wasn’t hard for him to come back to the education system. He’s been around high school students for his entire professional career, and the format and structures of the schools are similar. 

“Because we are the only high school in the area, we have a lot of feeder schools, but they are separate districts. That’s different [from] Santa Barbara Unified where it’s all under one district, the schools can have vertical alignment K through 12,” he said. “Here, every district runs their district a little differently, and we get them all here as a high school and it really is trying to create our vision and mission statement of: What do we want a student to become with us in their four years with us?” 

Community members and local organizations bringing their political views into the education setting makes it more difficult for the administrators, teachers, and staff to educate the students and prepare them for the next steps in their lives, he said. 

“Obviously, we want to support and engage with the community, but any time it takes away from educating our students, for me it just becomes noise,” Torina said. “Of course there’s issues everywhere, but how do we solve them? I don’t mind people bringing up issues, but come up with some solutions.” 

In the future for Santa Ynez and high schools in general, Torina said he hopes to see administrators take into account the technology that’s available and the different aspects of student mental health and wellness to improve the student experience. 

Although Torina will be out of the position come December, he said he saved a few days from the fall semester so he could come back to help with leadership development, he added.  

“It’s very important work, current work, and a shifting of education,” he said. “We have to be in partnership so all students are included, valued, and that they can be successful for whatever they want to go into and at high school we can prepare them for what the world has to offer.”


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Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].

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