Dr. Jeffrey Felix, superintendent of the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) since 2008, has been named Superintendent of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators and the San Diego County School Boards Association. The award covers 42 school districts in San Diego County and an additional 16 districts in Imperial County.
Felix has spent 30 years in education and is no stranger to prestigious awards. In 2003 he was named Superintendent/Principal of the Year.
In his letter that nominated Felix for the award, CUSD Board Immediate Past President Bruce Shepherd said, “When we hired Jeff we knew we were getting an experienced leader. We valued in particular his experience in bringing technology effectively into the classroom and his appreciation for character education. But like all superintendent hiring decisions, we were rolling the dice to some extent – the crystal ball never is perfectly clear as to whether the candidate would develop into an effective leader in the context of the idiosyncrasies of your particular district. We are enormously pleased with our decision.”
Shepherd concluded his letter by saying, “Jeff has led our district on a remarkable evolution during his five years in the Superintendent’s seat. Through Jeff’s efforts, we now are fortunate to have a relatively healthy financial base, an enormously strong administrative team, outstanding facilities and equipment, robust community support, and engaged and collaborative employee groups. With Jeff’s leadership, the CUSD has moved aggressively into the 21st century, and we are well positioned to continue to develop and improve our programs for the benefit of all of our students.”
Originally from the Los Angeles area, Felix has spent most of his life in Escondido and is a graduate of Escondido High School, where he was an All-Avocado League offensive right tackle in football. “In 1969 we played in the first CIF championship game at Qualcomm Stadium (then Jack Murphy Stadium),” recounted Felix. “It was Escondido vs. San Diego, which is an old, old rivalry. I played against Lou Williams, who was the Defensive Player of the Year that season. I weighed 190 pounds and Lou weighed 290.
“We had a ground game that averaged eight yards a carry and we ran a play where we double teamed the defensive end. I would get under him and block him and then the tight end would hit him. Going up against Lou that night was like hitting a brick wall. It was a long night, but we tied San Diego 21-21. We were supposed to get killed and it was quite a victory for us. I was the starting tackle for three years and in four seasons we lost a total of six games and never lost an Avocado League championship.”
Felix started his road in higher education with a brief stint at Palomar College, which was followed by working at two 7-11l convenience store locations. “Then I went to Northern Arizona University and took 19 or 21 units a semester and did summer school. Not everyone is cut out for college right out of high school. When I got out of college, all of the Baby Boomers went into education. In 1974 I got a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and went to work for radio station KOWN 1450 in Escondido. I sold advertising time, but also did some of my own production work for commercials. I did some air time when I was in college, but it was also a pretty crappy job. I sold time and made more money in college and carried that job forward out of college.”
When he was in fourth grade, Felix discovered a rather unusual model for his future career in education. “At Lincoln Grade School in Escondido, my first male teacher was Mr. Grandstaff. He was a grumpy old guy and I just loved him. I just always wanted to be a teacher after that. I knew right then what I wanted to do.” Felix went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Computers and Education from National University in 1997, which was followed by a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from UCSD in 2008.
In 1985 Felix began his teaching career with a position at Light & Life Christian School, followed by a three-year run teaching in the Escondido Union Elementary School District. That was followed by a return to Light & Life for three years as an eighth grade teacher and four years as administrator and superintendent for the school.
From 1996-2000 Felix coached football at Escondido and he explained his role. “I was into videotape and we were the first school to use videotape. I taped for Denny Snyder, who was my line coach in 1968. I spent the next year as an assistant JV coach and then two years as JV head coach.”
Then his career really became challenging in 1997 when he was both district superintendent and principal for the San Pasqual Union School District. “Having both jobs isn’t that unusual for very small school districts,” Felix said. “It was a difficult job with all of the work and responsibility. We had 200 kids and that grew to 600. We didn’t have any buildings or anything else for those kids. We had to build a whole new school. I am very proud of that building, which is still in use. I was able to procure 26 acres of land from the city of San Diego and we had 17 acres of playground for the kids. The buildings were beautiful and all very appropriate for the school. The school was built and themed to look like a farm. We worked with the architect and found buildings in the area and themed the school to teach the story of the San Pasqual Valley to the kids. The multi-purpose building looked like a barn and the library was like a farmer’s home with a fire place in it. Having the fire place was an idea I got from Village Elementary School in Coronado.”
From 2006 to 2008 Felix served as superintendent of the Bonsall Union School District before coming to Coronado in 2008.
Interwoven among his teaching, coaching and administrative posts, Felix has been married to Debbie, his wife of 37 years. The couple has two daughters and four grandchildren. Felix currently serves on several education-related boards including: the county’s Achievement Gap Task Force Committee; the Executive Committee for the Classroom of the Future Foundation Board of Directors; Vice Chairman of the San Diego CIF Board of Managers; and president of Light & Life Christian School’s Governing Board.
During our interview, Felix described a sales meeting from his radio sales days that turned into excellent career advice. “I remember meeting with the general manager of Babbitt Brothers Supermarket (Flagstaff, Arizona) and I tried to pitch him on a new advertising idea. He said that there is nothing new and that success comes from watching what other people are doing and improving on it. That is advice that has helped me throughout my career. I don’t feel guilty taking ideas and moving them along. The worst problems in education come from reinventing the wheel all the time. We’re all trying to do the same thing. I tried to work during my career to network with people and work in collaboration with them.”
The Superintendent of the Year Award will be formally announced and Felix will be feted at the April 26th Evening of the Stars, “Honoring Our Own” Awards Dinner. The event will be held at the Sheraton San Diego Resort and Marina.