COVID-19 really did turn politicking into a spectator sport, complete with rabid fans who direct their indiscriminate, inappropriate, and often inarticulate anger at everyone if the game plays out in a way they don’t like. 

Only it’s not a game. And in the case of the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District, the losers have consistently been the students. The high school is losing its fourth principal in five years at the end of the 2022-23 school year, and nothing anyone can say will change his mind. 

“There’s small groups in the community that have divisions with one another, and it feels like they are using the school to fight whatever battles they want to fight,” Principal Michael Niehoff said, adding that he wanted to focus on education and improving the experience that students had on campus—but he wasn’t able to. Instead, he had to deal with “external culture.” 

The high principal turnover rate says a lot—and the salary and benefits should be enough to sway someone to stay. Previous Principal Michele Borges made $187,000 in salary and benefits in 2021, according to Transparent California. 

High School social sciences teacher Greg Wolf (who the Santa Barbara County Education Office recently named teacher of the year—nice!) said that he can’t speak to why every administrator has hightailed it out of Santa Ynez. 

“But usually, when things are going well you don’t have turnover. When things are funky, you have turnover,” Wolf said. 


He added that his high school students have expressed their frustration during class about the tense situations caused by outside forces. One of his students even said that the students have been more mature than some of the adults involved in the discourse, such as the explosion over a temporary rainbow-painted crosswalk on campus. Really, the maturity level of some of the discourse is embarrassing! 

“Frankly, some of the behavior you’ll see from the adults, especially with something that’s become politicized like the [crosswalk] speed bumps, is not civil discourse,” Wolf said.

So what are these outside agitators who are so concerned about education teaching these high school students? 

That if an adult or group of adults doesn’t like the decisions a school official is making, just bully them until they do what you want or they leave. If you’re frustrated or angry, just scream about it on social media. Opinions that are different than yours are bad, and there’s no room for discussion. 

If this is Santa Ynez High’s present predicament, now heading into a sixth school year of turmoil, who’s going to want to take over?

The canary thinks screamers aren’t dreamers. Send help to [email protected].

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