With more than 30 years of administrative experience, new assistant principal says ‘aloha’ to Sunny Hills


Image used with permission from John Oldenburg.

New assistant principal John Oldenburg holds a sign as part of a video clip for students at La Vista and La Sierra continuation schools to encourage them after the coronavirus pandemic closed down classrooms in March. Oldenburg previously worked at La Vista and La Sierra in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District before he was transferred to Sunny Hills this school year.

Kristima Aryal, Web Editor-in-Chief

This is the second of a series of feature profiles of new, full-time teachers or administrators at Sunny Hills High School for 2020-2021.

Having grown up on the island of white sand beaches and palm trees, John Oldenburg says “aloha” to Sunny Hills this school year.

The newest member to join the administrative team, Oldenburg replaces former assistant principal Mason Morris, who decided at the end of the 2019-2020 school year to return to the classroom as a social science instructor at Fullerton Union High School. 

“I wasn’t looking for a change, but the [Fullerton Joint Union High School] District asked me to move to Sunny Hills, and now I’m here, and I’m excited,” he said.

Born in Taiwan, Oldenburg said he moved to Seoul, South Korea, when he was 8 and relocated to Hawaii with his family three years later.

“My dad left the military as a military attorney, and Hawaii was a great place for him as an attorney who specialized in immigration from the Far East,” he said. “It was definitely hard leaving our family in Taiwan, [but] it was important to our parents that we went to school in the United States rather than being overseas.” 

At the main island in Hawaii, Oldenburg said he graduated from Kalani High School in Honolulu in 1981 and was scouted to play basketball for California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, where he majored in medical technology. He then received his master’s degree in biochemistry in 1989 at California State University, Long Beach.

“Coming out of high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, [but] I was fortunate that people wanted me to join their team, and I came to the mainland,” he said. “As a typical Hawaii boy, the weather was a huge culture shock to me, [but] I adjusted.”

Although he also served as a teaching assistant for the anatomy and physiology classes at Cal Lutheran and various chemistry labs at Cal State Long Beach, Oldenburg said his interest in teaching sparked after graduation when he received the opportunity to become the assistant coach for the boys basketball team at Whitney High School in Cerritos in his last year of graduate school in 1998.

“When I started coaching, I decided that teaching was more interesting than staying in a chemistry laboratory,” he said. 

After finishing his master’s degree in 1989, Oldenburg said he went on to teach biology, Advanced Placement Biology, physics and chemistry at a private school, Rolling Hills Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles, while simultaneously completing his teaching credential at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. 

“It definitely kept me busy and really forced me to better manage my limited time,” the new assistant principal said. “But, it was absolutely worth the work as it allowed me to pursue a career in education.”

His educational journey led him to Ralston Intermediate School in Garden Grove, where he taught eighth-grade science while also serving as the activities director until 1997.

“I wanted to have a different experience than the typical private school and began looking around,” Oldenburg said. “I was fortunate enough that the Garden Grove School District gave me the opportunity to join one of their schools.” 

After the former assistant principal of Ralston Intermediate School fell ill from cancer and died, Oldenburg took up the position, delving into his administrative duties in 1998. 

It was definitely bittersweet leaving the classroom and a big loss in our community,” he said. “However, the opportunity to work with and support students and families in the capacity of an administrator presented new challenges, responsibilities and personal and professional growth; I absolutely do miss the science classroom though.”

Before joining the district here, he had taught at two schools, public and private, along with working as an administrator at La Quinta High School for three years and Santiago High School for five years before being hired as an assistant principal at La Habra High School from 2006-2010. Oldenburg then got transferred to Sonora High School as the principal from 2010-2013.  

Before coming to Sunny Hills, he served as the assistant principal for the La Sierra and La Vista continuation schools for over six years. 

“[As] you can see from my history here, as an administrator you know that you will never be at one place forever, and change may happen,” Oldenburg said. “Change is always a good thing.” 

It was during his time at La Habra that Oldenburg met his fellow SH administrative team members who were working there as well: assistant principals Hilda Arredondo and Melissa Stinson and principal Allen Whitten.

“I was happy to see familiar faces from La Habra,” he said.

Stinson, who worked as an English teacher at La Habra when Oldenburg was the assistant principal there, commended Oldenburg’s positive demeanor and actions.

“We are lucky to have Mr. Oldenburg; I have always found him to be thoughtful and genuine in every action and decision he makes,” Stinson said. “Despite not having our students on campus, Mr. Oldenburg has been able to connect with many of our students and families by reaching out through phone calls.”

Whitten, who worked as an assistant principal at La Habra before coming here, also looks forward to seeing Oldenburg interact with students and faculty once Sunny Hills is allowed to re-open for hybrid learning. 

“Mr. Oldenburg has a very chill, Hawaii vibe, and the SH community is going to love him,” Whitten said. “I know he will do all he can to support the Lancer students, staff and community.”

Oldenburg will oversee the attendance office operations and students who have a 504 Plan  along with those who are designated as English learners. 

“I oversaw the 504 Plan students at La Sierra and La Vista high schools, and I had experience in these fields when I worked at La Quinta and Santiago high schools, too,” he said.

Outside of his educational duties, Oldenburg said he is passionate about cycling and photography but not so much about surfing, a common misconception about those growing up or living in Hawaii. 

“Right now, I am working and training toward participating in my first cycling century,” said Oldenburg, referring to the 100-mile ride that’s considered a milestone for avid bike riders. 

One of the main things he’s looking forward to is discovering more about the SH community. 

“Each school has its own unique culture, and for me, the most important thing is to learn about the school, its history and culture,” Oldenburg said. “I would like to let our students know that we are all here to support them, and we are looking forward to seeing them in the near future.”

Through his years as an administrator, Oldenburg has come to prioritize communication and service to the school community. 

“I am very hardworking and dedicated, and I think most people would say that I am pretty laid back,” he said. “Something that has really stuck with me is the importance of building relationships with those that you serve; service is really important to me, and that’s an essential role to what we do in school.”

Although the assistant principal has lived in California for more than 30 years with his wife of 27 years along with his son who graduated high school in 2020, Oldenburg said he still considers the tropical paradise of Hawaii his home.

“We happen to live here, but our home is always Hawaii,” he said. “With the coronavirus situation, we haven’t gone to visit [but] hopefully when I retire, my wife and I will be able to split time between California and Hawaii.”