Tomales High School hires new principal


A former language development teacher for English learners at Tomales High is returning to the school as its principal. On July 1, John McGurke, the vice principal at Piner High School in Santa Rosa, will replace Adam Jennings, who was promoted to the district’s superintendent position. “Having been part of the community as a teacher, I really feel like I’m going back home,” Mr. McGurke, 52, said. Born and raised in Dallas, Mr. McGurke is the son of a cattle rancher and a school nurse. He holds a degree in post-secondary education from the University of San Francisco, and has spent 25 years in the education field, the last 14 of which have been at public comprehensive schools. He was a teacher, an athletic director and a soccer coach at Tomales High from 2013 to 2016, before moving to Piner. He also taught at Bishop High School in the eastern Sierras for six years. He said one of his priorities in the Shoreline Unified School District will be making sure that the school’s English learners are able to access the full curriculum. Almost a quarter of the school’s students were English learners in the last academic year, according to the state’s School Accountability Report Card. About 68 percent were Hispanic or Latino. Mr. McGurke is not bilingual, though he said he has simple conversations with students and families in Spanish “on a daily basis.” At last week’s school board meeting, board member Jill Manning Sartori called the decision to hire Mr. McGurke the culmination of a “very robust process of interviewing many qualified candidates.” “We’re delighted to welcome him back,” she said. Mr. McGurke is in the midst of overseeing a return to partial in-person learning at Piner this week. Tomales High transitioned to a hybrid model last month, though only about 35 percent of students returned. Students on campus are still learning over Zoom, while the district is planning for a return to in-person classes before the school year is over. The principal does almost all of the administrative tasks at Tomales, and the job is more hands-on than at larger schools, Mr. Jennings said. “You’re like the small-town doctor,” he said. “I think it’s helpful that he knows that.” Mr. McGurke hopes to grow the student body at Tomales High, which is home to about 140 students, fewer than some teachers at Piner have on their class rosters. But the school’s size has its benefits. “There’s something magical about working at a small school,” he said. “I will know every single kid there.” Mr. McGurke’s total salary came to about $122,000 in 2019 as vice principal at Piner. Shoreline will pay him a salary of $131,525. He lives in Graton with his wife Mary, an English teacher at San Marin High School in Novato. “We don’t have kids, but we feel like we have thousands of kids,” he said. “Both of our lives are fully dedicated to working at the schools we work at.”