“This School Was Not Built to Be Empty”: Q&A with Principal Sean Boulton

Newport Harbor High School’s principal, Sean Boulton, began his career in education as an English teacher, first in Los Angeles Unified School District and then at Ensign Intermediate School. From there he moved into administration, starting as an assistant principal at Estancia High School. He then moved to Laguna Hills High School, first as an assistant principal, then as the school’s principal for five years. He took over at NHHS in 2013, and in 2017 he earned his doctorate in education from Grand Canyon University. Boulton spoke with the Beacon‘s Will Green about the challenges involved in directing Newport Harbor during the pandemic.

How did you feel when you were hired as the principal of Newport Harbor High School?

When I found out I had received the job I was overwhelmed with excitement, mainly due to the fact that I live in the surrounding area. My kids also live in the surrounding area, so they will eventually get to go to the school. And Newport Harbor has so much history behind it. 

What inspired you to want this job?

I wanted this job because I live in the community that Newport Harbor is located in and I am an active member who serves in the community. I understand that community that the kids that go to this school live in, so I can further help kids get through and succeed here. 

How did you first feel about the school closing last March?

When it first happened, I believed it would only be for the two weeks to a month that was first told to everyone. When we all realized that wasn’t the case, it was sad to see all the programs that had a lot of momentum and were picking up traction just suddenly stop. 

What has been the hardest part of being a principal during a pandemic?

The hardest part [has been] trying to help the students who were seriously struggling due to outside circumstances like not having WiFi, not having private space to work, and helping kids that need food because otherwise they struggle to get it. 

What was the most memorable moment of being the principal this year?

The first day of having kids back at school, and reconnection with all the students and meeting the new incoming freshman. This school was not built to be empty, so it was nice to see it being occupied again. 

What advice would you give to seniors?

I would tell them to focus on the skills they have acquired already and take a step back and realize that you are surviving a pandemic. Through this, you have obtained many skills like self-reliance, grit, hope and many other skills. 

What advice would you give to students who are trying to play sports in college?

I think those kids need to realize that everybody is in the same boat. The whole “red states are playing sports and blues are not” — this doesn’t mean anything. If you are good enough, a coach will find you. 

Did you want to open the school again in October, or did you prefer online schooling?

I wanted to open the school, but I wanted to do it safely. We weren’t ready to open up on October 12th, but the extra month gave us better time to prepare. Being open this time is critical if you weigh in student isolation and student wellness, but making that decision was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. 

What is the most important thing students need to do during these times?

You have to wear your mask and follow the rules to keep yourself and others safe. Be honest, trust and be smart with the decisions you are making.

What advice would you give to students who are having trouble learning during these times?

Hyper-communicate with your teachers. Your teachers are fantastic. Your teachers aren’t failing you; they want to see you succeed. If you’re failing, you are failing yourself, and you can’t fail yourself, so always contact your teachers about any questions or concerns.