La Cañada High's new principal: Teaching is 'in my blood'

Ian McFeat started racking up passport stamps early. The new La Cañada High School principal was born in England and lived in South Korea before settling in Washington state with his family at the age of 8.

His father worked for the military in a civilian capacity, and his mother taught at U.S. Department of Defense schools. Degrees at Pacific Lutheran University led to stints teaching social studies in middle and high schools. McFeat then shifted into administration, most recently serving as vice principal of Kentlake High School, southeast of Seattle.

McFeat will see at least one familiar face in the La Cañada Unified School District. His girlfriend, Christine Castillo, is the new principal at La Cañada Elementary School.

Valley Sun: Why a career in education?

McFeat: To make a difference. I think the majority of teachers get into teaching to make a difference … My mother and [others in] my family are all educators. It was something that was really in my blood.

Q: What about La Cañada Unified appealed to you?

A: The idea of working really closely with district officials, working really closely with families, working closely with community. You have that in a large school district, but just not to the same degree.

La Cañada is appealing for a number of reasons. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the nation; it has so many cultural opportunities for students. At the same time you have a small-town feel to everything that goes on here, and that is rare.

Q: Community expectations for local schools are sky high. How do you meet those expectations while driving your own ideas?

A: I don't think about leadership that way. I think about helping to support people to be the best they can be. It might sound cliché, but my vision is really a shared vision that the staff and I, the parents and the local community are going to create together …There are a lot of things we are doing really well, so [I plan on] building upon the things we are doing well.

Q: Last year, a brouhaha over a complaint against a math teacher strained community relations. How do you see yourself contributing to rebuilding community ties?

A: It begins with listening, and I think that is the approach we are going to take as an administrative team. Also, it is all about customer service. We are at the service of the school board. We are at the service of the community. We are going to work together.

Q: What is at the top of your to-do list?

A: We are in a [Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges accreditation] year. That is a big priority for us, to be accredited.

Common core [standards are] coming. That is a huge thing. How are we doing to adapt? Testing is going to look different in two years, significantly so. It's not as huge a concern in terms of our student test scores, but we always have room for improvement.

Q: At your former high school, you were involved with a program that brought college-level courses on site.

A: It was really a district initiative where we partnered with the University of Washington to bring courses to the high school where students received dual credit. Our teachers were trained by university professors to teach the same content that a student would get at the college level. There are a lot of benefits ... in terms of enrollment to the university. It is hugely successful.

Q: La Cañada High School has had several principals in the last half-dozen years. How long do you intend to stay?

A: I want to stay as long as they will have me. It is a great opportunity. I think down the road I am going to pursue my doctoral degree … Honestly, I am fairly young. I am 34. I don't plan on trying to move on to the next thing. That is not really my style. This is where I want to make a home.

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