Jon Tuin, who will take the reins at Tustin High as principal, leads an assembly at his current school, Larkin High in Elgin, Illinois. (Courtesy Jon Tuin)
New Tustin High principal Jon Tuin, left, and his family: wife Heather, son Ty, daughter-in-law Anelys, son Jordan and daughter Jens. (Courtesy Jon Tuin)
For Principal Jon Tuin, Tustin High is familiar territory on a couple of fronts.
First, he grew up nearby in Santa Ana. After graduating from Saddleback High, Tuin spent the next three decades in the Midwest – starting at Wheaton College.
Second, his current school in Elgin, Illinois, demographically mirrors his new place of employment.
Before applying, Tuin went on the Tiller website and studied the statistics, which show that 65 percent of the student population live beneath the poverty line.
“It’s so similar – that’s what got me excited,” he said. “If it were an affluent school, I wouldn’t have been interested. I feel it is my calling to work with students in poverty.”
Tuin, 55, will take the reins at Tustin this summer after tying up the school year at Larkin High – where he has served for eight years. He replaces Christine Matos, who will move to a district-level position.
“He is an experienced principal who has a proven record of leadership and commitment to the achievement of all students,” said Tustin Unified Superintendent Gregory Franklin.
Todd Duty, a division chair at Larkin High, agreed: “Tustin is getting a top-drawer leader. Jon wants nothing but the best for students.”
Tuin began his career as an elementary teacher, which led to his role as a K-5 principal and an assistant high school principal in the Elgin Area School District — 40 miles outside of Chicago.
In 2008, he received a call from the district’s new superintendent requesting a meeting.
“I thought he was going to fire me,” Tuin said.
After all, the district had just given notice to all 13 administrators at Larkin High, which was sorely lagging behind in performance.
But instead, Tuin was named the high school’s new principal.
“Over the previous 10 years, the demographics at Larkin had completely flipped, which caught everyone off guard,” Tuin said.
As an indication of increasing poverty and diversity, 70 percent of students qualified for free and reduced lunches in comparison to less than 20 percent a decade before, he said.
The school’s administrators became bogged down in a sense of hopelessness and negativity, recalled Duty, a fine arts teacher at the time.
“Those were dark days,” he said. “Morale was horrible.”
Tuin’s mission: “Bring back Royal pride.”
“The first two years were pretty tough, but we’re in a much better place now,” he said.
The new guy emphasized that all could find a path to college – adding AP classes and hanging university banners around campus. Every spring, he accompanied students on college trips – sometimes out of state.
“He truly believes that no matter what, all kids can learn,” said Donna Saurbaugh, Tuin’s secretary for 12 years.
Tuin rarely sits in his office but, rather, strolls around campus chatting with students, she said.
“I swear he probably knows the first name of each of our 2,000 students,” she said.
Tuin and his wife Heather, a sixth-grade teacher, started thinking about relocating when the oldest of their three children moved to Los Angeles. He still has family here and visits frequently.
“We love California,” he said.
What changes would he like to implement at Tustin High?
“Absolutely nothing,” Tuin said. “It is a high-functioning school with a lot of good things going on. I’m not coming in with any preconceived ideas. I’m just going to listen, learn and build relationships.”
His main goal as a principal is, he said, straightforward: “How do we reach even more kids? There’s always room to convince students that they can do more than they think they can.”
Tustin High’s gain is a big loss for Larkin, Saurbaugh promised, choking back tears.
“He is the most awesome person ever,” she said. “I know that sounds over-the-top. But there will never be another Dr. Tuin.”
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