New Canyon Crest Academy principal eager to tackle new role at Carmel Valley school


By Karen Billing

What’s 13th grade? It’s different for everyone but as a school leader, Karl Mueller is determined to help his students find it.

“I’ve always really enjoyed working with the high school age group because I love helping them explore their options for 13th grade, what it will look like,” said Mueller, the new principal at Canyon Crest Academy. “I’m really driven by making connections with and for students to start thinking about their next steps as they transition off the high school campus.”

Mueller is making a transition of his own, coming to CCA from Coronado High School this summer and starting his first year as principal on Tuesday, Aug. 27. He describes his leadership style as not being an untouchable administrator but focusing on building engaging connections with his students and his staff.

“Working closely with teachers has always been a passion of mine, supporting the work they do within the classroom. My responsibility is to ensure that they do what they do best and that’s inspiring young learners in their classroom,” Mueller said.

He is ready for the energy on campus to return with the school year.

“I’m anxious,” Mueller said, a big grin breaking out on his face.

Mueller won’t be the only one in his family starting a new school this fall. His son Finnegan will start kindergarten this week, joining his 8-year-old brother William at Explorer Elementary School in Point Loma. His wife, Lia, is also in education, a science teacher at High Tech High.

Born in Indiana, Mueller moved to San Diego with his family at age 2, when his father was accepted to University of San Diego School of Law. After Mueller graduated with a history degree from Sonoma State University he briefly considered going into law himself like his father and brother, both criminal defense attorneys.

As fate would have it, he took a job as an instructional assistant at a high school for at-risk students and never looked back.

“I fell in love with education,” Mueller said of being in the classroom helping struggling students find success.

He went through his credential program and started teaching at a charter school in the San Carlos area. While Lia was getting her master’s degree at Cal Poly University, Mueller worked at the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education in the juvenile court and community school system, teaching history, math and PE.

When the couple moved back to San Diego, he returned to the charter school system and was encouraged to take on a leadership role, serving as the director for Audeo Charter School.

He received his administrative services credential from Point Loma Nazarene and was fortunate to be selected as an assistant principal at Coronado High School in 2005. During his first year, his principal left the school to pursue another opportunity and Mueller was tapped to take his place, a role he held for the past seven years.

“I was very proud of the work that we accomplished in Coronado,” Mueller said. “But I was at a stage in my career where I wanted to become a part of a team. Coronado is a one school district and I valued the support I received, but coming to a district with the reputation of San Dieguito, to me was an opportunity to develop as a professional.”

He was very much also drawn to Canyon Crest.

“CCA is such a unique school, community and culture, and the experience offered here really addresses the development of the whole child,” Mueller said. “I believe strongly that students need to pursue opportunities aligned with their passions and CCA has all three legs of the stool with academics, art and athletics.”

He understands the importance of balancing all three, coming from Coronado where CCA’s departing principal Brian Kohn helped design and build its Conservatory program before bringing it to Canyon Crest. Like CCA, Coronado also has a rich educational program and successful athletics.

“I acknowledge and respect the contribution each plays in the development of the students,” Mueller said.

CCA will make the transition to the Common Core State Standards in the upcoming 2014-15 school year, along with all public schools in California. Mueller will oversee this transition, but he sees it as not as a challenge but a step the school and the district are more than ready to make.

“With the ideas I’ve heard in conversations I’ve already had with the faculty, this is a group of dynamic and progressive educators that will embrace this transition,” Mueller said.

He said making that transition will be one of his main goals at CCA, but he will also continue to ensure that they are meeting the individual needs of all students and helping the district through a budget recovery process. He said the district has done a great job in sustaining programs and opportunities for students despite budget crunches and is especially grateful for the strong CCA Foundation, which he said does an amazing job filling the gaps with their efforts, “enriching every child on campus every day.”

In getting familiarized with CCA, Mueller said he’s very appreciative of the invaluable help he’s received from Assistant Principals Jeff Copeland and Elise Davies, and he’s become well educated on Prop AA — he’s been able to watch the progress of proposition-funded improvements to the field over the summer.

He has taken the time to digest a Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation self study the faculty has prepared over the last few years and is looking forward to helping celebrate CCA’s 10-year anniversary this year.

“I have a pretty good understanding of this unique school culture and I’m excited to become a part of what they’ve created,” Mueller said.