The executive director of says Gov. Jerry Brown’s needs voter approval to ensure that students have the best opportunity of achievement.
“Certainly, I feel that if the initiative doesn’t pass, it’s going to make it that much more difficult on all of our schools,” said Mike Lewis, the new chief educator at the University Avenue school.
“My own personal political view is not really important, but [in] my role as executive director of this school, I absolutely believe we need that measure to pass to be able to continue to have the kinds of programs we want to have.
“If it doesn’t pass, I don’t think it’s going to be a death knell, but it’s gonna make it that much more difficult.”
Lewis, a former assistant principal at Helix, was named successor to Rani Goyal three week ago. And in a 30-minute office, he said he knew the job would bring with it both excitement and challenges.
A 54-year-old resident of unincorporated La Mesa, Lewis said school administrators are in the process of developing an “extensive strategic plan for the school , involving all of the teachers and staff and community members, to really identify what we are doing well, what’s working well, and what areas we really need to focus on to move the school in a positive direction.”
Lewis said that when new API numbers are issued soon, Helix will have a good chance of meeting its goal of 800.
A longtime East County resident, and 1976 graduate of , Lewis brings decades of experience as an educator, having worked in various positions throughout the and beyond.
Out of college, Lewis worked in the logistics training department of General Dynamics, training the Navy and Air Force on the operation and maintenance of the first Tomahawk cruise missiles.
But after three years there, his desire to be a teacher and a coach never waned, and after getting his teaching credential, he began a stint as a student-teacher at Helix in 1984.
Over the next 20-plus years, he was a teacher at Orange Glen High School in Escondido and then a teacher and coach (track, football, wrestling) at West Hills High School in Santee for six years.
He earned a doctorate in education in 1999 from United States International University in San Diego.
He got his first full administrative job at Helix in 1995 as assistant principal, and served there for four years, before accepting a similar position at Valhalla High School, so he could be closer to his daughter, a student there.
He also was the principal at West Hills from 2003 to 2005.
Lewis has also served in roles for GUHSD, including as the vice president on special assignment, the director of summer schools, and the head of the Grossmont Athletics Conference.
From 2005 to 2011, he was the assistant superintendent for educational services, resigning for personal reasons.
As well-traveled as Lewis is, he said he has always had a passion for Helix. And when the opportunity to apply for the executive director position presented itself, he jumped at the chance.
“When this position opened up, I really feel like it was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I’ve always loved Helix and having been here twice before and knowing some of the great work that’s happened at this school, I feel very fortunate that I was selected,” he said.
Lewis spoke on a range of topics during a Monday interview with Patch.
On shrinking the achievement gap: “Our goal is for students from all backgrounds and ethnicities and socioeconomic levels, all have the same opportunity and can succeed academically. And this school has done that.
The last API that was done, we were a 7 in terms of our overall ranking, but we were a 10 in ‘similar schools ranking,’ which means if you take the 100 other schools that look most like us, we are in the top 10 percent of that. That’s certainly something to be proud about.
“The toughest thing is that those results come because you are able to work with those students and give them the additional support that they need. And in this environment of a bad economy, those are the first things to go typically. Our task is to maintain those programs to the level that we possibly can, because that’s how kids are able to get the help to succeed.”
On the biggest challenge(s) he faces:
“The number one challenge is to be able to allocate our resources in a way that allows us to still support student achievement. That’s gonna also take going out into the community to get more corporate sponsorships and grants and things of that nature. We know the pot of money is never going to be what it used to be, whether that [November tax] measure passes or not.”
On the recent problems of students being harassed (and in some cases possibly abducted) walking to and from school:
“I want to commend not only our security staff, but also the La Mesa PD. They’ve been very, very vigilant. But what we’ve tried to do is put the information on our website and make people aware. We want to make everyone in the Helix community aware of what’s happening, for students to be careful and not walk alone. Our teachers are giving that message to our students.”
On the school resource officer position:
“We actually have one officer who is here four days a week. She is assigned to Helix and another that is here on her off day. They’re not here—the old model of the SRO was that they were on-campus the entire school day—and that part was cut [last year], but the officers that we have are here lickity split if we need them. It’s more of a liaison setup.”
On the of former executive director Rani Goyal:
“I can tell you that I have absolutely no idea what the specifics are on her release. I have no idea whatsoever. I have some personal thoughts on what it could be, but I’m not going to speak to that because that’s all conjecture. I can only worry about myself. I can only be concerned with doing the job and working with the Helix community the best way possible to help students succeed. That’s my job, and if I do that, then I don’t think I need to be worried about what did or didn’t happen with the previous executive director. I really can’t worry about that.”
On the opportunity to return to Helix again:
“There is a sense of community at this school that resonates from the students, to the teachers, to the classified staff, to the board, to the community members. The thing that I love about it the most is it’s the whole idea of ‘we.’ It’s not about me or my group. This is a school that’s built on ‘we.’ Even in the interview I was asked ‘what are you going to do,’ and my answer was it’s not about what I’m going to do, it’s about what we’re going to do. And that’s been the mantra of this school for a long, long time.
“That’s what motivates me and invigorates me, because I know that the people in behind me and to the side and to the front are all moving in the same direction. And that’s unique. You have the opportunity in a charter school to make things happen a little more readily than in a larger district organization, where there are a more hoops to go through to get things accomplished."
Now that he’s back in his third stint at the school, Lewis is eager to continue the tradition of excellence that has existed throughout the years.
“This area, this school, this district is the place I love and the place I care about and I have a real passion for this opportunity. I’m gonna give it everything I have, and I think the community can be confident that whatever it is that I can give, I will do that.”