He strides across campus with pierced ears and a buzz cut, looking like the new kid in town. But he’s not a kid — he’s Jason Kurtenbach, the new S-House principal.
Kurtenbach arrived on campus Jan. 31 from the Torrance Unified School District, where he was assistant principal at Madrona Middle School.
“I am very motivated and excited to work with the staff at Samo to increase our students’ success both in and out of the classroom,” Kurtenbach said. “There are so many wonderful things occurring here every day and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of them.”
After former S-House principal Greg Runyon retired at the end of the first semester, Samo principal Dr. Hugo Pedroza led an extensive search for a suitable replacement.
Kurtenbach was among several candidates chosen to interview before a panel of Samo teachers and administrators.
“Jason Kurtenbach was, without a doubt, a standout candidate from the beginning,” panel member and S-House teacher Tisha Marie Reichle said. “He’s one of those people who is very knowledgeable and the knowledge informs his actions.”
Pedroza shared Reichle’s enthusiasm.
“Every question we asked he answered very intelligently and thoroughly. His demeanor came across as friendly, smart and easy to get along with during the interview process,” he said. “It turns out that all of that is true.”
According to Pedroza, Kurtenbach has experiences that will help solve Samo’s current problems.
“Mr. Kurtenbach brings an extensive knowledge of technology to Samo,” he said, adding, “and a winning attitude.”
Kurtenbach grew up in the rural Midwest, and while there were no palm trees or seagulls in Lindsay, Nebraska, the atmosphere of Samo’s tight-knit community reminds him of home.
“Everyone at Samo is great about being helpful and open,” Kurtenbach said. “The house principals are all extremely welcoming. It’s like a small town.”
However, even with the support of his colleagues at Samo, the transition is challenging.
“The Samo house system is a very different setup from what I’m used to,” Kurtenbach said. “It can be intimidating, but everyone is walking me through it.”
Kurtenbach’s own high school experience couldn’t have been more different than that of Samo students. He attended Holy Family High School in Nebraska, a private school with only 70 students. Kurtenbach went on to study at the University of Nebraska where he got a degree in journalism. He is currently earning a doctorate at Pepperdine University in Malibu.
Kurtenbach began his career in education as a substitute at Lennox High School in South Central Los Angeles teaching nearly every subject except math. He hadn’t intended to make it a permanent profession, but at Lennox, he fell in love with teaching. He became an eigth grade Language Arts, Social Studies, Algebra and P.E. teacher at Lassalette School, and later he became the principal of the Special Education Summer School at Calle Mayor Middle School.
At Samo, Kurtenbach won’t be in a classroom – but he’s enthusiastic about the possibility of helping students in other ways.
“I wanted to come to Samo because I thought the position as house principal would provide leadership opportunities,” Kurtenbach said.
When not working at school or working on his Ph. D., Kurtenbach likes to play basketball, read and spend time with his family. He has lived in Redondo Beach for the last 10 years with his wife Beth, his 22-year-old stepson David and his son Sage, 10, along with two dogs, Husker and Sydney.
Because Kurtenbach is a classroom teacher turned administrator, he is extremely passionate about supporting teachers. One of his goals is to provide them access to better technology.
“My job is to find the time and resources for teachers so they can do what they do best,” he said.
So far at Samo, Kurtenbach has been roaming the campus and visiting classrooms to get to know everyone. He is extremely optimistic about his new job, and the faculty members and students he gets to work with.
“Samo students seem very independent, motivated, respectful, kind and creative,” he said. “I have, in the short time I have been here, met students who exemplify in many ways what it means to live a positive and purposeful life. This excites me as an educator and motivates me to do whatever I can to meet the needs of the students I serve.”