10 Questions with former DP principal Mike Couch
By Sarah O’Hara | Staff Writer | June 4, 2012
Mike Couch, former principal at Dos Pueblos High School, has returned while current principal Shawn Carey is on maternity leave.
Mr. Couch taught at Santa Barbara High School for 25 years and then served as the principal of DPHS from 1992 to 1999. The Charger Account recently sat down with Mr. Couch to talk about how DPHS has progressed since he was principal.
Q: How has DPHS changed from when you were a principal and now?
It’s interesting, because I don’t think the students are any different—they’re great. The teachers are great but I don’t know too many of them very well anymore. The real changes have been to the physical plant: they’ve added so many things. It’s wonderful that we have the beautiful auditorium and the Elings Center for Engineering Education. The only thing that I’m not sure I’m used to yet is the cement—there used to be so much open space.
Q: What is your favorite memory from DPHS?
I have so many. The first thing I remember is I could tell right off that the students were academically inclined. You saw all these backpacks and people rushing off to class, and that was a very good sign. I remember Mr. Meister coming and telling me that we would not win any football games. There were only around 1200 students at DPHS at the time, but we won a game. They were so excited but I was impressed by the students as well as the large amount of parental support.
Q: What have you been up to since retiring as principal?
A little bit of everything: some travel but interestingly enough there has been some parent-care involved. My parents and my wife’s parents have all lived to be a ripe old age. But that’s actually been very rewarding–helping them. There’s just lots to do. I found you’re just as busy when you retire as when you work. The big difference is that you’re your own boss. You can decide what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.
Q: What makes you keep coming back to help out at DP?
I worked for the school district for 37 years and I enjoyed all my experiences. I’m the type of person who likes to do different things all the time. I found all my experiences rewarding, so it is a little bit of payback. It keeps you young. It definitely keeps me young to have my hand in the fire a little bit.
Q: What are some jobs that you have to do while filling in as principal?
Well, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. there is just a constant flow of people [coming into my office]. Everybody has a problem or wants help with something. After about 3:00 p.m. then you have to do the paperwork that goes on endlessly. When I came here, I felt a little like Marlon Brando from the Godfather: everybody came to pay their respects. They would tell me what was wrong with the school, and the good thing was, nobody would ever complain about the academics. It just turned out that the year I started working as principal at DPHS (even though I can’t take any credit for it), our scores came in on everything and were the highest in the county, so that was great. The school started growing like mad. That’s been very rewarding to see what a great place it is. The students are doing well, the teachers are doing well, and the community supports the school. It’s obviously a fantastic place to be.
Q: Are there any major differences between SBHS and DPHS?
The biggest difference at that time was the population: SBHS was about twice as big. In a way, what I learned is if you’re going to be principal, it’s better to start with a small school than a big one. I enjoyed all my years at SBHS. I was a teacher for 22 years of those 25. In a way, that’s the most fun of anything because you’re dealing with students. I always ended up with good students; I had a lot of fun. That’s rewarding because you can see immediately how students are learning and the effect that you might have.
Q: What made you want to teach American Government?
My degree was in political science, so that’s what I was trained for. By default I became an economics teacher. Some students wanted to take an economics class and we had two teachers on the staff who had an economics degree, but they wouldn’t teach. We used to have an old rule that if 30 students wanted to have a class, you would offer it. I was the department chair and I said they could have it, so I ended up teaching it. Didn’t know anything about it, but turned out actually to be another rewarding experience just because the students and I created the class together. It was just so much fun, and the students, I think, had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I learned a lot about a subject I didn’t know anything about.
Q: What made you want to become principal at DPHS?
Well, previously I had been at SBHS for 25 years. I thought I would always be at SBHS, but when there was an opening for a principal position, they said that they weren’t going to allow me to become principal there [at SBHS] because I was too close to the teachers. People over here were saying, “Come over here, come over here,” so I applied and got it, which turned out to be a good move. I really have enjoyed all my time at DPHS.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being principal?
I think seeing the teachers and the students. It’s just such a good school. I like just walking around and looking at the young people in classes and seeing what’s taking place–things are running smoothly.
Q: Is there anything that you would want to see DPHS improve upon in the following years?
Well, there are two things that I asked for that haven’t gotten done yet. One was that we wanted a new structure with 24 classrooms to fit the growth that we anticipated. The other one that I wanted was that all the science classrooms be brought up to the highest standards. The reason for that is that at SBHS they have done that; they have these beautiful science labs, and our students deserve that type of thing.