Torrey Pines High School physics teacher’s retirement leaves ‘a void’

After 33 years at Torrey Pines High School (TPHS), much-loved physics teacher William Harvie abruptly announced his retirement on Oct. 24, leaving behind many devastated and confused students.

Due to the nature of his leaving without any warning or even a goodbye, many students and parents were unconvinced that his retirement was voluntary. They flooded the school board with letters to ask for transparency on whether he had been “forced” or “swayed” into retirement by the administration. Some speculated that he had been too outspoken about class sizes and the physics class configuration.

“The Harvie we know would not give up without any explanation or any reason. The Harvie we know would endure fire and conflict….The Harvie we know would teach as long as he had a breath in him,” read one student’s letter.

Both students and parents requested that an item regarding Harvie’s departure be placed on the board’s Nov. 3 agenda.

“Mr. Harvie is an outstanding teacher with a well-deserved reputation for his commitment to students. We were also surprised by his unexpected retirement,” San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) Interim Superintendent Eric Dill said. “While resigning mid-year is not common, it does happen from time-to-time and, in each instance, we have honored the teacher’s request.”

“Mr. Harvie did, in fact, voluntarily submit a retirement notice. Many have asked us to provide explanations either by e-mail or at the school board meeting. Unfortunately, we cannot discuss personnel matters in open session out of respect for individual privacy,” Dill continued. “We will be having a discussion on our resignation policy, but not on the specific details of any particular employee.”

In a message to Falcon families, TPHS Principal Rob Coppo again reiterated that the announcement was a “sincere surprise” and assured students that a plan is in place to keep the class running effectively.

Coppo stated that he understood that the transition will be challenging and just how missed Harvie would be.

“I visited his classroom often over my years here at Torrey Pines and always enjoyed watching him teach,” Coppo wrote. “He is an exceptional educator and we were very lucky to have him a part of our school for so long.”

In the days following the shocking retirement, the campus was “rife with panic, rumors and overall confused sadness” one student wrote. No one could comprehend how a teacher who had so positively affected countless students would just leave when one of his regular mantras had been that he would be teaching their children in 20 years.

Students created and distributed t-shirts in Harvie’s honor and started an online petition to “Bring Harvie Back” that generated 576 signatures.

On the petition, both current and former students praised him as the best teacher they had ever had and the only person qualified to teach the physics curriculum — the class’ textbook was an original collection of hundreds of pages of Harvie’s own handwritten notes that had been utilized by universities such as UCLA and MIT.

“Harvie was no doubt the most influential teacher I had, even more so than my professors at USC,” wrote one former student. “I still tell stories of this guy to people at work. In fact, I wouldn’t be where I work if I hadn’t had Harvie. He opened my eyes to the beauty of physics, and now I myself have become a mechanical engineer working on airplanes. Before his class, I had never felt so passionate about a subject. But his unique teaching style was unlike anything I had ever seen.”

Harvie was known for more than just his curriculum but for his motivational speeches. Students recalled Harvie-isms like “The first time you settle for second place is the last time you will ever stand on the podium” or “The smartest people in the world are sitting in this room and to be clear, I’m standing.”

“Students often credit their success in the difficult course to Harvie’s unwavering belief in his students, often more than they believe in themselves,” one student wrote.

One student stated it simply: “There is no TP without Harvie.”

SDUHSD Board Vice President Joyce Dalessandro, whose daughter was a student of Harvie’s, said she, too, was broken-hearted over his retirement.

“Mr. Harvie decided to retire. No one asked him to do so. There is no hidden agenda here,” wrote Dalessandro in a response to students and parents. “For whatever personal reasons he may have, no matter that it defies everything any of us thought we knew about him — he simply retired.”

Mr. Harvie did not respond to requests for comment.