CUSD profiles: new CHS Principal James Mitchell
by Andrew Alonzo | email@example.com
James Mitchell has been readying for the first day of school for a long time.
The first-year Claremont High School principal has for the past eight years served as assistant to Brett O’Connor, who retired in June after 16 years at the helm.
“I have big shoes to fill, no doubt,” Mitchell told the Courier. “The impact that Brett — Dr. O’Connor — had on the school is fantastic. Culturally, he was here a very long time.”
As Mitchell set up in his former mentor’s office, he praised O’Connor for the guidance he shared.
“Even though obviously we have different personalities, I think he and I share a lot of the same values,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s been very helpful for me, coming in and seeing where we are as a school and how we can move forward.”
Despite being O’Connor’s second in command for almost a decade, Mitchell’s decision to become CHS’s next principal was not taken lightly.
“It’s something that is not an easy decision to make,” he said. “I worked here eight years and I saw what Dr. O’Connor’s job was. There were a lot of times when I might’ve thought, ‘I don’t think I want to do that. I’m really happy doing what I’m doing.’
“I think that recognizing the challenges and how important it is to serve the community and serve our students and being part of that over the years really for me clicked I’d say in the last year or so.
“If you’d asked me three years ago, I might’ve said, ‘I’m not going to think about that. It’s not on my mind.’ I’ve never had a very linear idea of ‘This is where I’m going to be in a year or two.’ I’ve never thought that way.”
It’s an honor and privilege to serve as CHS principal, Mitchell said, especially since by now CHS is like a second home.
“I think more than anything we’re a people business,” he said. “And I think a lot of people — and myself included at some point — we go into working in a high school or teaching in some capacity because we love the subject, which is true. But then once you start you realize it’s far more than that … it’s the relationships; it’s the sort of impact you can feel over time, and appreciating that and just appreciating the trust, the awesome trust that you have as an educator.”
Mitchell and his wife Elisa Mitchell have two sons, sixth grader William and Samuel, in fifth, both at Sumner Danbury Elementary. He comes from a family of educators. His father was a middle and high school teacher and administrator, and his mother a preschool paraeducator. Two of his three siblings also went on to become teachers.
“I think that’s something that we really gravitated towards within our family dynamic, just wanting to learn, to understand how things worked in the world and also to help other people learn as well,” he said. “And so, I became a teacher.”
His first classroom experience came in 1994 during undergraduate studies at University of California, Riverside. He was an advancement via individual determination tutor at his 1991 alma mater, Norte Vista High.
The Norte Vista job was a testing ground of sorts; he wanted to see if teaching was for him.
“And it was fantastic,” Mitchell said. “For me, I think at that point it clicked, ‘This is something that’s fascinating that I want to do. I want to work with students and I want to keep doing that and see where it goes.’”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from UCR in 1995, then a single subject teaching credential in California for English. His first full time teaching job at Riverside’s La Sierra High School followed shortly thereafter.
After three years in the classroom, he attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, where he earned both a master’s (2000) and Ph.D. (2007) in English. He taught at Glendora High School from 2004 to 2015, when he took the job as CHS’s assistant principal.
The CHS veteran said he is excited to greet students when the fall session opens Wednesday, August 30.
“I’m looking forward to a great school year,” Mitchell said. “It’s so exciting. It’s thrilling. And as I said before, I’m very mindful of coming into a position of having followed many very eminent people, just continuing that tradition of excellence that they established and just serving the members of our community, our students and families as well as I can.”