By Karen Billing
One of the first things that outgoing Rancho Santa Fe School District President Jim Depolo did upon moving into the district was attend his first school board meeting. He had not even begun to unpack.
The meeting Depolo attended was during a time when the district was looking at the possibility of building a new campus and there were nearly 200 people in attendance, sharing their views, some heated, on where it should or should not be.
He listened to all the public comments and felt compelled to offer one of his own.
“I said something like ‘I’m new to the district, I just moved in today and I just hope the board will really take into account what’s the best thing for the kids, not just SUVs and traffic,” he said.
Fast forward to 2012 — Depolo is now fully unpacked and is nearing 10 years service on the RSF School board. Depolo’s views haven’t changed: He’s still favors doing what’s best for the kids.
Come Nov. 6, voters will elect three trustees to the Rancho Santa Fe School board and for the first time since 2003, Depolo won’t be one of them.
“It was a harder decision than I thought,” Depolo said of the choice not to run. “I have put a lot of time and effort into the school and I like to think it is a better place, in part, because of my efforts.”
Depolo was appointed to the board when trustee Michael Kreiss resigned due to a move. When he first started, he had the pleasure of spending many meetings over coffee with former longtime superintendent Dr. Roger Rowe, learning a great deal from his perspective.
Depolo’s 10 years of service on the board admittedly wasn’t always the easiest.
His appointment came just after the failure of Prop Y, a $46 million school bond, and he was part of the board that removed former superintendent Dan Vinson and hired then- director of student administrative services Lindy Delaney to lead the district.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with her,” Depolo said. “She is dedicated beyond belief, knows the school inside out, knows the budget, knows the staff, the requirements and, most importantly, the students. She always has the students’ best interests at heart.”
Depolo served on the board through trying to build a new school to cure an overcrowded Rowe — a process that was, at times, “horrendous.” He watched the passage of Prop K, the $4.8 million school repair bond in 2004, but saw Prop H, the $44.5 million bond to build a school on Aliso Canyon fail in 2006.
“I used to go out into the community to talk about the school and people would always tell me the only reason I wanted a certain school site or configuration was because I wanted my kid to go to it,” said Depolo, whose children were in first and second grade when he started and are now a junior and senior at Torrey Pines. “In reality I thought my kids would never go to [the proposed new school] and, sadly, I was right. You get involved on the board for your own kids but it’s not for your own kids that you do everything you do.”
The most challenging thing during that time was getting the community to agree on what the best solution was for the district. He said there were multiple solutions, some of them maybe better than others, but nothing mattered unless they had a bond that could pass.
In 2008, the $34 million Prop E bond that eventually resulted in the beautiful new Rowe school upgrade finally passed with 71 percent of the vote.
“People said ‘Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?” Depolo said. “I don’t think it would’ve passed before. We had to go through what we did to understand what the best solution was. I always say we will know whether or not we made the right decision if people someday are sitting around Caffe Positano talking about how great the school is as opposed to remembering all the struggle we went through to get there. I think we’ve gotten to that point.”
Building the new school is obviously one of the big accomplishments of Depolo’s tenure, but he says it comes second to the success of the students who have come through the school.
He said he is proud of the “world-class education” that the school is able to provide. He said the high test scores are great, but he likes the well-rounded education the school offers and the growth he saw in his own children and their friends.
“As long as students are getting the best they can get out of the school, who cares if we’re number one or two or 13?” said Depolo, noting he likes the school’s metrics of aiming for 90 percent efficient or advanced and the skills and experiences they get at Rowe that cannot be measured by tests.
Now that he’s stepping away from the board, Depolo will turn his focus to a new inventory and supply management company, Biotech Vending, that he co-founded. He will also continue to do work with BrainX, an e-learning company, as well as on his son’s college applications.
He will miss serving on the board but won’t be going far
“I’m truly lucky that the boards I worked with all 10 years were very dedicated to students, we didn’t always agree on everything but we worked well as a group,” Depolo said.
He said that the district voters have a lot of choices come Election Day between the five candidates, but says he sees value in both continuity and in new blood, as long as everyone is there for the right reasons.
Depolo hopes moving forward that the board will have that same good working relationship and that, like he said on his first day in the district when he stood up as a newcomer, the board truly keeps what’s best for the kids at heart.