If you ask Dan Sutton what he wants Pacheco High to accomplish, he will tell you he wants a place that produces well-rounded students ready to take on the 21st century.
Aside from figuring out the best way to educate students, Sutton has big shoes to fill.
Last month, Sutton was named Pacheco High School’s principal. He is the second person to have the job in the school’s four-year existence. His predecessor, Brett Lee, died of cancer in November. Lee was an integral part of the school’s start, assisting in choosing the school’s colors and mascot after being named principal in 2009. After Lee announced in January of 2013 that he was ill, the phrases Panther Strong and Brett Strong became commonplace on the Pacheco campus. They were repeated often at the dedication ceremony of the Brett L. Lee gym shortly before the former principal’s death.
Sutton said he is not going to try to replace Lee. He said he’s aware of what his friend and colleague meant to the campus.
“There’s going to be natural challenges. I knew Mr. Lee personally, he was a friend of mine. He was a very, very wonderful man who was excited about doing what was best for kids,” Sutton said. “He was such a wonderful guy that his passing hurt a lot of people deeply. I’m not Mr. Lee, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that things were established to do something special here and I want to continue that.”
Sutton, 48, has been with the Los Banos Unified School District for 15 years. He began as a teacher at Los Banos High School, then served as a learning director and vice principal at Los Banos Junior High before returning to Los Banos High as a vice principal. Sutton was made interim principal in 2012 after the reassignment of Dan Martin, Los Banos High’s former principal.
Sutton spent his first few days on the job familiarizing himself with what he calls Pacheco High’s culture. He said he has no intention of trying to make his new school reflect his former one.
“Coming over here from LB or the junior high prior to that it was the same thing, you just have to get used to that culture at the new school. I’m just going to have to get used to the way they do things here,” Sutton said. “You have to deal with the system you’re in. You can’t come in and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do everything like we did at LB. We’re gonna be awesome.’ ”
Pacheco High was at capacity last year, and the student population is not expected to decrease in the near future. Sutton said the district understands the overcrowding problem.
“We’re hoping that at some point we have some kind of system that balances things out.”
Sutton said he likes the approach his staff takes to put students first.
I’ve been around here for a long time, and so most of the people on this staff I already knew,” Sutton said.
“The school is student-centered, from the landscapers right on up to the principal. Everybody is (focused on) how is this going to affect the kids.”
Sutton, a father of four, was born in Lake Tahoe and has commuted from his home in Fresno for many years. Sutton likes to collect coins. His most treasured piece in his collection is a mint-condition 1857 Flying Eagle passed down to him by his grandfather. Sutton also likes to read Christian fiction and collect DVDs. Sutton keeps everything in alphabetical order. He calls it having a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder.
He wasn’t always in education.
Sutton joined the Navy in the early 1980s and later worked for the Internal Revenue Service. He said being a self-taught computer network administrator at the IRS is where he fell in love with teaching.
“That’s how it turned into teaching,” he said. “I got so good at what I was doing that they asked me to train others. I got this spark; I liked what I was doing.”
Sutton said he does have additional career aspirations, but he’s planning on a long stint at Pacheco High.
“I’m not coming here to stay two years and move up somewhere,” he said. “I’m invested in Los Banos and I have been for 15 years.”