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End of a dynasty
Rindone family has spent 70 years at the Sweetwater school district

By Chris Moran
STAFF WRITER

June 23, 2007

CHULA VISTA – It’s the end of the line for Sweetwater Union High School District’s First Family.

When Hilltop High School Principal Jerry Rindone retires this month, there won’t be a Rindone on South County’s high school district payroll for the first time since the Great Depression.

NANCEE E. LEWIS / Union-Tribune
Hilltop High School Principal Jerry Rindone took a phone call in his office before heading to graduation rehearsal last week. The Rindone family has been part of the Sweetwater district for decades.

Rindone’s father, Joseph, started working at Southwest Junior High School in the early 1930s.

“I think the Rindone family legacy, that there has always been one of them in the district, has helped us maintain that sense of family in the district,” said Mar Vista High School Principal Louise Phipps, a family friend.

Jerry Rindone’s 38-year career is the bridge from a school system so small that his father personally hired teachers and knew all their names to what is now the largest high school district in the nation with 42,000 students in seventh through 12th grades.

The Rindone family patriarch, known as “Papa Joe,” served as superintendent from 1956 to 1976. He is said to have personally flown over the area in a helicopter looking for land for the 10 schools he opened.

Joe Rindone served as president of Southwestern College for its first six years even as he continued as Sweetwater superintendent – an almost inconceivable double duty today.

His son John held the top Sweetwater post from 1991 to 1995 and helped defeat ballot initiatives that would have broken off National City and Imperial Beach from the district. Another son, Howard, was an assistant principal at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista.

Jerry Rindone, now 60 and a Chula Vista city councilman, rose to director and then assistant superintendent for adult education in the district from 1986 to 1997.

“I don’t see ever again a family coming in and being that influential,” said Tom Teagle, principal of Montgomery Adult School and one of the emcees at Rindone’s June 9 retirement party.

Jerry Rindone became principal of Hilltop High 10 years ago as a result of what Phipps called “that political thing that happened.”

John Rindone, Jerry’s brother, was fired by the Sweetwater school board in 1995 after a contract dispute. He later supported a failed recall attempt on the three board members who had voted to fire him.

Jerry Rindone said he wasn’t involved but feels that being related to John led to his demotion from assistant superintendent to Hilltop principal two years after his brother was fired.

Greg Sandoval, who survived the recall and is still a Sweetwater board member, said that’s not the case. Sandoval said he wanted to reduce what he considered a top-heavy administration. To this day there is no assistant superintendent for adult education.

Jerry Rindone entered politics in 1990 with his election to the Chula Vista City Council. It gained him a seat on the Metropolitan Transit System board, which put him in a position to create perhaps his greatest legacy.

He helped secure $6 million from the school district and National City to build National City Adult School in 1997, and he got the transit system to kick in a $1-a-year lease for the land.

Rindone also oversaw construction of the $3.5 million San Ysidro Adult School in 1989.

Rindone has never lost in four elections, and his rhetorical style employs sweeping statements and superlatives. By his recollection, “We were recognized as the top adult education program in the United States.”

In a wide-ranging interview in his Hilltop High office recently, he also said, “I could have run for mayor and would have been mayor of this city, and chose not do do that,” and “I’m probably the principal with the best typing skills.”

Rindone said he didn’t run for mayor because he didn’t want to leave the school district for full-time politics. As for the typing, well, he was up to 85 words per minute in his heyday as a typing teacher.

When asked about Papa Joe, though, he is humble and reverent.

“I believe that if I could represent 10 percent of what he stood for, I will have been totally successful in my endeavor,” he said.

Rindone runs a modern American high school with a popular foreign language academy, a powerhouse academic decathlon team, a well-established exchange program with China and high academic achievement scores.

He also runs Hilltop High with some vestiges of old-school style suggestive of Papa Joe’s era. Rindone’s hairstyle hasn’t changed in years – it’s just become silver. He has model trains in his office.

He says quaint things like, “This school is running like a Swiss clock.” He proudly presents a pin every day to the student who is “Lancer of the Day.”

Term limits will force Rindone off the City Council next year. He said he plans to do some work with a local diabetes organization – his daughter is diabetic – but that it’s time for him to take a break.

“I want to smell the roses above the ground, not under the ground,” he said.

 


 Chris Moran: (619) 498-6637; chris.moran@uniontrib.com