SH community anticipate new principal who embodies Whitten’s core characteristics

News+Whitten+departure+reaction

Kristel Laceste

Former principal Allen Whitten commences the annual 9/11 ceremony on Sept. 10, 2021, in the quad to honor the lives lost 20 years ago. Whitten was appointed as director of Student Services at the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, Dec. 14. Since January, the district has started a search to hire a new principal for Sunny Hills.

Irene Sheen

Following the December email announcement bearing news of former principal Allen Whitten’s departure, SH community members experience conflicting emotions, encompassing both disappointment as well as delight for his newest position.

Whitten notified the administration team just a few days prior to his email statement, and as a close colleague, assistant principal Sarah Murrietta recalls talking with him directly about his promotion and feeling excited for his new journey.

“Of course I also had mixed emotions because I’ve worked with him for five years, and I really enjoyed working on his team,” Murrietta said. “Having him depart Sunny Hills was something that was bittersweet, but I’m also excited for this opportunity for him as well and what he would provide to not only Sunny Hills but the entire district.” 

Reflecting on Whitten’s influence on SH families, students and faculty, Murrietta said that his passion to guide students will inevitably end up leading him to great heights throughout his career. 

“He’s been a cornerstone of the school for so long, so I think it will be an impact for sure as the semester goes on,” she said. “We’ll miss his jokes, his positive presence on campus and in the office and that positive leadership that he provided.”

We’ll miss his jokes, his positive presence on campus and in the office and that positive leadership that he provided.”

— assistant principal Sarah Murrietta

Associated Student Body [ASB] co-adviser Mike Paris said he was surprised Whitten did not accept opportunities for promotion earlier in his tenure as principal given his early success in improving school spirit.

“I think all of us kind of change once a while; you take on new roles and new jobs, and I kind of expected that [would happen for Whitten],” Paris said. “Transition is a normal thing, and it’s just how it goes.” 

The former principal’s departure left an even greater impression on the many ASB members who remained in constant contact with Whitten throughout the year regarding various school events.

“Mr. Whitten’s outgoing attitude and school spirit were what made Sunny Hills so welcoming — though it still is — and just the thought of not having him around was something so shocking,” said the ASB pep commissioner, junior Katey Tran, who coordinated a farewell video and scrapbook during the winter assembly for the former principal. “As far as inspiration for the video dedicated to Mr. Whitten, our committees decided that because it was Mr. Whitten’s last assembly, we wanted to add a video thanking him for all that he has done.”

The ASB social commissioner, senior Micah Desai, celebrates Whitten’s leadership qualities and his efforts to make the past four years of her high school career memorable. 

“He always pays attention to what students want and the needs of the school at hand,” Desai said. “He has really good communication skills with his weekly newsletters, and he put a lot of effort into making the school nicer, so I think that’ll really reflect in his new position as director of Student Services.” 

ASB secretary senior Louis Lee, who has been working with Whitten since his freshman year, shares similar sentiments. 

“It’s kind of sad, but I’m glad that he was able to move up to a position that he deserved,” Lee said. “When I see him trying to help other people, what often happens is that he’ll step back, working without trying to get any recognition and would try to push everyone ahead; that’s the most valiant part about him.” 

Conservatory of the Fine Arts [COFA] director Brian Wall, who has been employed at Sunny Hills for over 20 years longer than Whitten, notes the positive changes he brought to the campus.

“I think those who have been here throughout his whole tenure really notice the difference in so many ways that he brought to our school,” Wall said. “Whether it’s the physical campus [or] the whole school spirit to really building up programs, he came here with a vision of what he saw Sunny Hills could be.”

Wall attributes much of the program’s success toward Whitten’s continuous support and presence at annual COFA events.

“It was implicit that we were going to be supported any way we needed to make our events happen, whether that’s monetary support or materials or getting all the campus people to be out there and supporting us [at] events,” Wall said. 

Junior Lyla Agarwala, a member of the COFA’s publicity committee, thanks Whitten for his approachable attitude toward the program as well as for the physical changes that allowed for refined performances. 

“Mr. Whitten has supported COFA by allowing us to hold various events at the school and allowing the remodeling of the PAC [Performing Arts Center],” Agarwala said. “I’m a bit sad, but I’m excited to see how our new principal can support COFA.” 

With a vacant role in the administration team, the SH community envisions a new school head that embodies similar leadership qualities as Whitten. 

“For the prospective principal, I’m hoping that it’s someone who would be very similar to Mr. Whitten — very approachable, someone who’s down to earth and willing to be there with the students,” Lee said. 

For the prospective principal, I’m hoping that it’s someone who would be very similar to Mr. Whitten — very approachable, someone who’s down to earth and willing to be there with the students.”

— senior Louis Lee

With former principal Whitten in mind, Murrietta stresses the importance of a driven leader.

“Just like how Mr. Whitten was so passionate about what he did, passionate about our programs and supportive of our teachers, I know the next one will just fall right in line with that because that’s not only one of our school priorities but a district priority as well,” Murrietta said. 

While yet undecided, the FJUHSD’s Human Resources department is handling the hiring process and will be conducting interviews this spring. 

In the meanwhile, with interim principal Cathy Gach — a retired administrator who served as the SH replacement principal eight years ago — in place of Whitten for the remainder of the spring semester, Paris puts his faith in the rest of the administration team and believes the school is still in good hands.

“We’re anticipating what’s next, so, luckily, the assistant principals here are really good at what they do, so it’s going to keep going,” the ASB co-adviser said.

Despite his absence and persisting responsibilities, Murrietta wishes to uphold Whitten’s legacy with the help of the prospective principal and the remainder of the school faculty.

“To provide excellent care and service to our community [and] to be responsive to the needs of the students, staff and parents are some real cornerstones of [Whitten’s] vision for the school,” Murrietta said. “I’m confident that our interim and our principal will just fit right in line with what Mr. Whitten has done and has created during his time as the principal.”