In Southern Marin, Tom Utic seems to have found his own version of paradise, complete with plenty of open space, a vibrant entertainment scene … and a new job he's already enjoying.
Utic took over the role of principal at Hall Middle School in Larkspur this summer. The students' first day in class will be August 22, but he's already hard at work.
"I'm new to the school, new to the (Larkspur Corte Madera School District) and new to Marin. … It's a very welcoming community. The people are very friendly and it's been a pretty easy transition for me because of that," Utic said.
"(My wife and I) were looking for someplace to relocate, someplace we might want to stay and possibly retire," he continued. "In Marin, it's all here. We have dogs and we like to walk our dogs. In Marin you have a lot of open space where you can walk them. Both of us also like cycling ... and this is the place where mountain biking was born. ... I've seen a lot of dogs here and a lot of cyclists."
Utic, 54, comes to Larkspur after working at Branham High School in San Jose for the past 10 years, including eight as principal. He worked as a middle school vice-principal in the Soquel School District before that and has been an educator for nearly 30 years.
The news of his arrival posted on the school district's Website read: "He is uniquely qualified to step into the leadership role at Hall and continue its tradition of excellence in the community and in propelling the school in our quest to implement the finest 21st Century middle school learning program in the county."
"This is a very high-functioning district as I'm sure people know. It's in good shape," Utic said. "I bring in a different perspective and experience not so much to change things or turn things around as to complement what the school's been doing and bring in some fresh ideas. We need to balance where we need to move forward and what kind of programs and practices are already in place."
Utic continued, "I want to get a good assessment of where we're at. Of course we have access to all the data, but I want to get to know the people, the staff, the students, the parents and get an idea from them what we need to work on beyond the numbers. Sometimes that would include community building. There might be parts of school culture we want to work on. … That comes from the personal connections I think."
Growing up in Green Bay, Wisc., Utic describes a "good school experience" at Washington Junior High School.
"One of the reasons I am an education professional is because I did feel supported in school, I was able to learn what I wanted to learn and I was able to do the fun stuff as well," he said.
Utic said he wants to develop the school culture at Hall, going "beyond the numbers and the scores" to make sure his students also have a good school experience.
"School should be seen as more than a place to learn academics," Utic said. "In middle school, it's important for students to learn their place in the world. In school, I want them to feel comfortable and that this is a safe place to do that. Academics are No. 1, we want all kids to reach their full academic potential. But the kids have a chance to explore other areas and personal pursuits like drama, athletics, or music. This is an important age. The kids can start feeling comfortable in their skin but they have to feel this is a safe where they won't be ridiculed or laughed at the first time they stumble."