Del Norte High School’s Nighthawk Nation Endures
Five years ago there was an empty lot at the end of Nighthawk Lane, where the first skeleton of Del Norte High School (DNHS) was rising from the ground. Principal Greg Mizel was there and recalled how much anticipation and excitement there was for the new school. Now boasting a student body of over 1,900 and establishing themselves as an academic and athletic beacon in the school district, DNHS has grown much and will continue to grow. Read along as we chat about the growth at DNHS with Principal Mizel and a few faculty members who have been at DNHS since the school was just a blueprint on paper.
Q&A with Principal Greg Mizel
What is your role as principal at DNHS?
Honestly, I’m responsible for everything here. Everything. Del Norte is like a small city; it is a hub of activity. There are students and parents on this campus almost 24/7. Thankfully, I work with a very talented and committed team of professional people who are uncommonly dedicated. From grounds and facilities to food and nutrition, from classroom instruction to ASB and athletics, Del Norte is supported by people (classified and certificated) who genuinely care about the well being of each and every one of our students.
What is your responsibility to the students on campus?
It is my responsibility to ensure every student attending DNHS graduates prepared for his or her future – college and career ready. When we do our job well, our students graduate with a wide variety of exciting options to consider after high school.
What might surprise people most about you?
I graduated from high school with a 2.07 GPA. Aside from my interest in athletics (I played sports year-round) and seeing my friends, I didn’t really care that much about school. I wasn’t ever really challenged or directly encouraged, and I didn’t really see the relevance of learning. Thankfully, that all changed for me in college.
What does DNHS’ mission mean to you?
We have a responsibility to inspire passion in our students. High school is all about exploration. I encourage our students to extend themselves, taking courses that challenge and interest them. Some of our students find their niche in world languages; others find it in science, history, literature and writing, or math. Some discover joy in art, music, and in performance. Others still, find outlets for their creativity in clubs like Robotics, DECA, Science Olympiad, Speech and Debate, PLUS, Link Crew, Nighthawk Nation, or FCA, among others (we had over sixty clubs that met regularly on campus last year). Some students love to compete. We offer them an opportunity to play almost every sport imaginable – on the courts and fields and mats, and in the pool. Some students discover they love to lead. They participate in ASB, publish magazines and newspapers, and organize community events and volunteering opportunities. All of our students are gifted and talented – every single one of them. They simply need outlets to discover their genius.
How has DNHS changed since its founding?
In the last five years, we’ve grown from supporting 750 students to now serving almost 2,000. We’ve become a truly comprehensive high school offering our students lots of exciting opportunities to explore their interests as well as to develop their talents. Though much larger today, Del Norte still enjoys a small-school feeling. Students and staff enjoy strong connections with one another. Honestly, it is hard to remain anonymous on our campus for so long.
Who were the key players in building DNHS from the beginning?
Former Superintendent Dr. Don Phillips and his cabinet, and the original DNHS Leadership Team: Cara Jenkins, Juli Cheskaty, Jim Krenz, Michelle Lanzi-Sheaman, Cheri Kuptz, Neal Curry, Melva Musico, Mike Giaime, Barbara Chiment, Joe Ruggieri, Jocbethem Tahapary, Kelly Burke, and Christine Biggs.
Who were the key players who established the PTSA and Foundation?
Debbie Ludwin has been our PTSA president four of the last five years. Recognized as a volunteer-of-the-year, she has been simply fabulous. Teresa Maltese was our first Foundation president. Since 2012, Jeff Erwin has served in that capacity. The PTSA provides volunteers who gift hundreds of service hours to Del Norte annually while the Foundation provides additional funding to our school – gifting almost $200,000 YTD to DNHS.
How does DNHS prepare students for their future academically?
The trimester system allows our students maximum flexibility. A student can take as many as fifteen courses in a school year versus only twelve on the traditional semester system. Students can accelerate or remediate as needed. They also have the option to go fast or slow (taking an off-roll class at the beginning or end of the day). One cool story I love to share: in the graduating class of 2014, we had over fifty students who came to us as freshmen enrolled in Algebra 1 who left us as seniors having successfully completed one or more advanced placement math classes (Calculus and/or Statistics). That kind of outcome (completing five to six years of math in four years) is only possible in an environment that embraces open access and accommodates flexible scheduling.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being principal at DNHS?
The best part of launching Del Norte has been establishing the school culture and all the early traditions. It’s been a heavy responsibility to carry, at times, but it has also been a tremendous honor. Del Norte is an ambitious and hard working place. It likes to win, and it does often. It is inclusive, it is relational, it is everything I had imagined it might be and so much more! I love this place!
The most challenging aspect?
Opening in 2009, in the midst of a significant financial crisis, was very difficult. We had to open DNHS quickly, and we had to work efficiently. We had one year (2008-2009) to develop a distinctive vision, establish a community presence, and communicate with our stakeholders. There was very little margin for error. Out-of-the-gate we had to navigate a controversy – fighting to retain a smaller-than-expected sophomore class. We had a bare-bones staff. None of my teacher-leaders were released from their teaching assignments during the 2008-2009 school year. They all taught during the day and worked with me in the evenings. I was saddened to lose support (as a direct result of the fiscal situation facing our District) for initiatives like the 1:1 Laptop Program and the International Baccalaureate program. Still, those early challenges and disappointments helped to forge team Del Norte together.
What is your favorite aspect of DNHS and the campus so far?
I love watching our students grow and mature. They come to us as freshmen – many young and still immature. They leave us as seniors greatly changed – highly regarded and widely admired. A lot happens in 2,000,000 minutes!
What traditions have the student body established during the past five years?
Global Awareness Week is one tradition that comes to mind that is distinctively Del Norte. It’s a week devoted to living beyond ourselves. Students and staff spend the week learning about local, national, and global issues and concerns. We hear from speakers, raise money for worthy causes, and volunteer. Night-at-the-Museum is another DNHS highlight. Each trimester electives students showcase their art work in creative and thoughtful displays. Hundreds of people walk through the exhibits, interact with our student artists, and enjoy student performances. Our monthly Character Recognition Program is also quite unique. Jointly supported by the PTSA and Foundation, this effort has recognized hundreds of students over the years for who they are vs. for what they do. Nighthawk Nation, an ASB club devoted to increasing school spirit, has also had a huge impact on our campus in recent years. Blue and Green Fridays are awesome, and attendance at football, basketball, and volleyball games is way up.
What’s the teacher/student relationship like at DNHS? How has it changed?
If you ask ten students, randomly, to name their favorite teacher on campus, you’ll hear six to eight different teachers named – everytime. Every teacher on this campus is somebody’s favorite teacher! I’ve never worked at a school like Del Norte in this regard. Our teachers are highly skilled, highly relational, and highly successful supporting our students and their success.
What sports are offered at DNHS? How have they evolved since the beginning?
We opened only offering the traditional sports and only competing at the freshmen and JV levels. Today, we offer students almost every athletic option imaginable. Students attending Del Norte can play football, soccer, field hockey, or rugby. They can compete in baseball and softball, roller hockey, gymnastics, water polo, or lacrosse. We have cross country, track and field, basketball, boys and girls volleyball, swimming and diving, wrestling, golf, tennis, and more. In just our first four years competing at the varsity level, the Nighthawks have won thirty-six league titles and five CIF championships!
What clubs or afterschool activities are offered? How have they changed since the beginning?
Students have over sixty clubs to explore. Almost every interest and/or hobby imaginable is represented among the choices available to our students.
How has the school mascot evolved?
It hasn’t. We have strict logo standards. Our plan is to keep it simple. Think Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, and Apple computers.
How can students become more involved on campus moving forward?
Join a club – or charter one! Play a sport, audition for the choir, act in a play, write for the school newspaper, help create the Yearbook, adopt a cause, volunteer, tutor, form a study group, attend school functions, cheer for your friends, build a float, build a robot, earn a medal in the Science Olympiad, Academic League, or Mock Trial, join the band or orchestra, donate blood, donate food, donate clothing, even CrossFit! In short… get after it! Fleas jump. Elephants roam. Nighthawks soar!
Is there any exciting news or updates about DNHS for this upcoming school year?
We have two new assistant principals, one new counselor, a new ASB director, and lots of new teachers joining our staff this next school year. As amazing as these first five years have been here at Del Norte, I’m absolutely certain that this next school year will be our very best yet!
Greg Mizel At-A-Glance
Education: BA in English; MS in Education with an emphasis in Educational Leadership
Hobbies/Interests: Trail running, coaching my kids’ baseball teams, hanging out with my family
Community of Residence: 92025
Family: Wife – Shannon Mizel; Seven children ages 5-22 (my youngest will be starting kindergarten this year and my oldest just graduated from college in May)
Favorite Things about DNHS: The people – this is the greatest team I’ve ever had the privilege of leading! I work with great teachers, great coaches, great support staff, great kids, and I’m fortunate to partner with a great community.
Favorite Local Spot: Black Mountain (I enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets from the top!)
Meet Jim Krenz, Math Department Chair
How has DNHS differed from other schools you’ve taught at?
The most important feature of DNHS that I think is unique is our focus, among the staff, on a concept called Home Court Advantage. At it’s most basic level Home Court Advantage is about recognizing that when pushed to do great things conflict will naturally arise and that this conflict should be resolved at the lowest level through trust, open communication, and an understanding that we are all committed to each other’s success at all times. By continuing to spend time on fostering the qualities of Home Court Advantage the moral among our staff and teachers is extremely high… high moral fosters collaboration which in turn improves instruction – with our students being the ultimate benefactors of our focus on Home Court Advantage.
What is your most memorable moment from DNHS?
Speaking at DNHS first graduation ceremony in our third year (I was representing our teachers as Teacher of the Year). It was an absolute honor to address the students and their parents.
Jim Krenz At-A-Glance
Community of Residence: Rancho Peñasquitos since 2007
Year You Started Working at DNHS: 2008
Position: Math Department Chair
Hobbies/Interests: Body surfing, family, and modeling
Favorite Local Spots: Flippin Pizza and the greek place in the shopping center off RB road.
Meet Cara Jenkins, English Teacher
What was your motivation for joining the DNHS team?
Before DNHS, I was teaching at Poway High, and I really loved it there. However, I remember moving to 4S Ranch and seeing the “Site of Future High School” sign that stood in what was then just a field of trees and bushes. I thought it would be really great to teach in the same community that I lived. Some teachers don’t like seeing students outside the classroom, but I love running into students at Panera, Ralphs, and down at the 4S Ranch Sports Park. It makes me feel like a bigger part of the community. When it’s my neighbors’ children sitting in my classroom, kids I’ve known since moving to 4S Ranch, it makes my work feel more meaningful, more personal. Also, knowing that my own kids are future Nighthawks makes me even more committed to the school. My investment in DNHS runs deep.
What do you love most about teaching at DNHS?
Hands down, I love working with our remarkable students. They are so inspiring. They have such passion and dedication. They are interested in the world around them and committed to their own betterment. Plus, they are funny, witty, and creative. They sincerely want a great education. Knowing this puts the pressure on me! If a student comes to my class wanting to learn, I would never want to disappoint them.
Cara Jenkins At-A-Glance
Community of Residence: 4S Ranch since 2003
Year You Started Working at DNHS: Opening Year
Position: English teacher
Hobbies/Interests: Reading (of course!), watching my daughters play soccer for Arsenal, shopping, running, going to the gym
Favorite Local Spots: Panera, Sweet Things, Sushi on the Rock, the 4S Ranch Sports Park
Meet Juli Cheskaty, Life Science Teacher
Students describe you as very energetic. What do you like most about interacting with the students?
They energize me. I open the first day usually singing Pat Benetar’s “All Fired Up.” Maybe that gets them hooked. I got into this profession because I wanted to make an impact on my students like my teachers made on me. My main goal is to teach kids to be positive members of society, have self-respect and high expectations. I think I communicate this well to students and let them know I will be there to support them 100%. I really enjoy hearing about their accomplishments and celebrating each little win they have.
What subject do you teach? What advice do you have for incoming students to DNHS?
I teach biology and AP biology. My advice would be to have an open mind, trust the process and know that your teachers have the best intentions to make sure you are prepared for anything you want to do in life. We are here to be your support so make sure you communicate with each of us. Take initiative and be proactive. This is your education. Don’t be a bystander.
Juli Cheskaty At-A-Glance
Community of Residence: La Mesa
Position: Life Science Teacher
Hobbies/Interests: Reading biology non-fiction, exercising when I can and playing with my 18-month-old twin daughters
Favorite Local Spot: DNHS workout room
Meet Marika Murch, DNHS Volunteer
What role did you hold at DNHS?
I had an ADHOC volunteer role at DNHS that was not associated with PTSA.
What did your role entail?
My role as a volunteer was unique in that I was part of the initial planning community prior to the opening of the school. The initial team of DNHS personnel was very small and they need basic administration help. My dear friend, Janet Drew, and I assisted with a variety of office duties during the construction phase, helping out with data entry of student information to coordinating volunteers for the “Save our Sophomores” campaign. We were also a part of every registration day and athletic health night since 2009.
During the first year, I volunteered at the reception desk, designed, and coordinated spirit wear, and implemented student store protocols.
In 2010, I started running the football concession stand, with a team of dedicated parents. Most of them are my friends who had been volunteering together since elementary school. We call ourselves “The Mighty Mamas” and are proud to have raised close to $15,000 during last year’s football season.
Although my daughter is no longer a student at DNHS, I have a lot of fond memories of great times spent in the early stages working with a great team of bright and passionate teachers and staff. It took more than a village to create this dynamic learning environment. The success of DNHS can be attributed to the team effort of staff, parents, and students alike.
Marika Murch At-A-Glance
Community of Residence: Rancho Bernardo since 1989
Year you Started Volunteering with DNHS: 2009
Favorite Local Spot: Brother’s Provisions
Meet Mike Giaime, Athletic Director
How have DNHS sports evolved over the past five years?
Our student-athletes have taken personal responsibility for the success of our teams. We are highly competitive winning thirty-six league titles and five CIF Championships in nineteen different sports. The Nighthawks accomplished this in four Varsity seasons. This speaks volumes for our coaches and student-athletes and their commitment to our motto, “Earned Never Given.” The amount of hard work that each student-athlete and coach puts in is astonishing.
What sport(s) would you like to add, if any?
The sports we offer are student-athlete driven. Since we opened we have added gymnastics and rugby, there have been discussions about adding sand volleyball – we are happy to support new programs if our student-athletes want to participate and compete. The major obstacle is funding. The athletic programs must fundraise about 95% of the overall cost to run programs. A comprehensive program like Del Norte’s Athletic Department is expensive; the budget we are provided by PUSD is about 5% of the overall cost.
Do you have any advice for students interested in school sports?
The best advice I can give kids that are interested in high school athletics:
- Make a commitment to your schoolwork. Study hard, manage your time, and take personal responsibility for your actions.
- Prepare your body and mind for the rigors of daily practices, competition, and late nights.
- Lift weights, condition your body, and adopt healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to your diet.
- Accept the fact you are not a “normal” high school student. You will be faced with choices and at times you will have to give up or sacrifice “social time” to follow your passion to be the best.
- You can’t worry about things you can’t control, you can control your effort and attitude.
- The choices you make today are the results you reap tomorrow. You will have support from your teachers, coaches, and administrators – you just have to ask for help.
- Believe in yourself, commit to yourself, and ask yourself every day, “did my efforts today allow me to ‘win’”?
- Focus on the positives and reflect on the negatives.
- Student-athletes are leaders on campus that accept the responsibility and make positive choices for the future inside and outside of school.
- Embrace your four years at Del Norte, how will you be remembered when you graduate? Where will you leave your “mark”?
Michael Giaime At-A-Glance
Community of Residence: Rancho Bernardo since 2002
Year You Started Working at DNHS: 2008
Position: Athletic Director
Hobbies/Interests: Fitness and spending time with my two daughters Emma (10) and Brooklyn (6) and my wife Jennifer, a Del Sur elementary school teacher, and coaching my kids in softball.
Favorite Local Spot: Del Norte (I practically live there)
Name of School: Del Norte High School
Principal: Greg Mizel (2008-present)
Vice Principals: Marie Galaz (2011-present); Michele Loza (2014-new this year);
Jesse Schuveiller (2014-new this year)
Year Founded: 2009
Achievements: Achieved Distinguished School status in the first year of eligibility – 2013; Earned a six-year clear accreditation (the highest rating possible) from WASC (the Western Association of Schools and Colleges) in 2014
Mission Statement: Inspiring passion and preparing all students to be college ready, future focused, and globally aware
Total # of Students: 1,930 (and growing every year!)
Total # of Staff: 160+/-
Grades Served: 9-12