RANCHO SANTA FE — The Depolo family was brand new to the area when Jim got involved with the school district.
“The moving van had literally just left and a neighbor from across the street came running over telling me there was a school board meeting that night and I had to go,” he said.
Because one of the reasons the Depolos moved to Rancho Santa Fe was the excellent school, he decided to attend the meeting.
“I went there and there were about 200 people in the gym all talking about the possibility of a new school,” he said. “I listened for a while, and you know me … I filled out one of the comment cards. I got up and put in my speaker card and went up there and told them I am new and I’m not sure about the background of the issue, but in the end you have to ask, are you doing the right thing for the students of this school,” he said.
Now after spending 10 years on the school board, doing the right thing for the kids has not only become his mantra, but it defined his leadership role within the district.
Depolo said a tearful goodbye at his last school board meeting on Dec. 13 to a group of people who had been a part of his life for more than a decade.
He said he decided not to run again because he is starting a new business that needs his attention and because school board veteran Richard Budge decided to run again, which put Depolo at ease that Burdge could represent the experience and continuity on the board. Another reason, he said, is that every board needs to have new energy and new blood.
“I think that balance is good for a board,” he said.
He said it has been a privilege and an honor to serve.
“Doing things for our kids and the next generation is one of the most important things we do as a community and a society,” he said.
Making his job easier was Rancho Santa Fe itself.
“The community is such a special place and very supportive of the school. Not only parents, but everyone, business, residents, young and old,” he said. “It allows the school to do some really great things and provide a terrific and well-rounded education.”
He said he believes the value of educating the whole child was evident in recent state test scores that were the highest in the history of the school.
Depolo was appointed to the board in 2002 to fill the seat of Michael Kreiss who moved out of the district.
“I stayed because I think I was helping and because people wanted me to,” he said. “I went up for re-election because people wanted me to stay. I told them if they wanted me to stay they would have to help me get re-elected.”
The second time he was up for re-election, it was right in the middle of building the school.
“At that point we were passing bonds. Now was not a good time to change people,” he said.
He said as he looks back on the past 10 years, he is confident the board has done the right thing for the kids.
“Building a new school overwhelmed so many things for so many years, but we did not lose sight of education.”
One of the things of which he is most proud was establishing the visions and values mission statement.
“Building this beautiful new school for our students and teachers is the biggest, most visible accomplishment, but bringing Lindy (Delaney) on as superintendent was a huge positive for the school,” Depolo said. ”She puts her heart and soul into it and she has the background as a teacher and has been here for a long time.”
He said walking in the footsteps of school namesake R. Roger Rowe would have been difficult for most people, but not Delaney.
“She did a great job walking in his footsteps, but made a path of her own,” he said. “She did a great job honoring his legacy he left and has been hugely positive to the school and the students.”
Depolo said he thinks the school board does a good job, as well.
“It continues to work because we asked questions and challenged each other but in the end it works together and gets things done,” he said.
He said the biggest challenge going forward will be a financial one, which will not go away easily.
But there is much opportunity for the school, in the special science programs like the Tech 21 lab and the very popular robotics program.
“Those kinds of things are terrific and the school needs to keep pushing those and looking for new ideas,” he said.
As he leaves he said he wanted to thank his wife, Laurel, and sons Sean and Matt, who are both in high school.
“I couldn’t have done this without Laurel,” he said. “She was very supportive and sometimes I think she believes in me more than I do.”