John Denno


Picture of principal John Denno from the staff directory on the official NHS website.

Geoffrey Gracia, staff writer, website editor, layout editor

John Denno is the active principal of Nipomo High School as of the 2020-2021 school year, and was an early member of the NHS staff.



Q  What is it like to be the principal of a school during a pandemic? What is the workload like of trying to manage the lives of 900+ students from home?

A It can be exhausting, not necessarily physically, but emotionally and mentally. This is a new year for everyone. Everything is practically brand new. It’s difficult without the affirmations and feedback of others in person. Yet there is pride in what we do accomplish, when we overcome and persevere despite the circumstances. It can be truly amazing, and it puts a smile on my face everyday. 


Q What is it like to be the father of a child in elementary school during the pandemic? What is it like to parent, teach, and work all from home?

A It’s probably one of the biggest challenges that I face. My wife and I both work on-campus, so finding a way to create a “daycare” can be pretty hard. At first, I didn’t think much of it and thought, “oh it won’t be too bad I can handle this,” and I just figured I could bring my son to work with me. I underestimated the challenge. In-person classes do so much to help out besides education, they help to provide a form of daycare that is practically a necessity for parents like my wife and me. It’s difficult. It is for all parents. But I think we will have a greater appreciation for it when we come back.

Q What was the process for you when leading up to becoming a principal? What was the level of difficulty to get a job as the principal? {listen to Mr Denno’s response in full at the bottom}

A I was fortunate to be part of the staff of a brand new high school. I started as a teacher and a head football coach. I felt lots of excitement to be part of something new, and just by looking around and seeing the campus, schedule creation, etc. I found a passion for being at the school. I then became an athletic director and had dreams of becoming a principal in the future. With me being caught up in all of the swell, I thought it would be easier than it was in reality. I eventually was given an opportunity to become a principal elsewhere at a continuation school. It surprised me. I always figured I could progress my way as an athletic director to the principal at a large school. But I am still incredibly thankful for the opportunity I was given at the other school. I was principal there for five years and it gave me an ability to gain awareness of the students’ lives around me and how my position could help others and how it can affect students or a community. My time there gave me a better understanding of equity and how I could fix the system, it instilled in me a passion to ensure that the issue of the system failing the students could be fixed before it became an issue. There’s a common conception that students that have ended up in continuation schools, failed, and that it was them that failed; rather, I think it is actually the system that failed them. Although I enjoyed my time as a principal there, I knew I wanted to be the principal of a large school. This eventually led to a principal’s position opportunity at Nipomo High School. I thought that everything down to the size of the school and number of students, was a perfect fit for me. 


Q What are your hopes for NHS and its students as we attempt to return to physical learning or for future students that will have not experienced this or students that will be in physical education after this year? {listen to Mr Denno’s response in full at the bottom}

A I just want to have hope. As soon as it is safe we can attempt to go back in person. As humans, we NEED human interaction. We need that physical presence of an educator teaching in a physical learning environment. By nature we require that social interaction and frankly it’s amazing what we have done without it. I think we can all come back as better people as well: more strengthened and unified than we could ever have been before. I am not sure exactly what it will look like when or if we do come back soon. I think that really no student has had a truly easy time adjusting to the circumstances. It’s awful for students of all grade levels and their educational progress, from kindergarten to the college levels. For those who are just starting out at a new grade or school (elementary, secondary, university), it is an unfortunate and unhealthy way to start off an educational career. For all types of students, this is not what school is supposed to look like. However, moving forward, I think we will see all things in a greater light and have a greater appreciation for our world when normalcy returns. I think we will take less for granted and see the world in a new light when we return to our lives. I try to keep optimism that all of us will see this change in the future. I think students are going to take a greater ownership in their own education and try to see its value while being independent. When faced with adversity like these times, we can look at it and stay the same as we were, or we can grow and change. I think that public education as a whole is going to change. In ways like the furthering of technology. These technological advancements we have had to make during these times won’t go away, and it is going to help us progress. I have a lot of optimism, I know a lot may not, but I certainly do. 


Q Is there anyone in particular on the NHS staff that you admire most and look up to when making decisions, or emulating their work ethic?

A Every one of our teachers and all that they do is inspirational. They have dealt with the sudden shift to teaching entirely distance learning since all the way back in March of this year when we thought COVID was only supposed to put us out a week (early spring break). They have had amazing willingness and execution when it comes to adapting to apps, technology, etc. It’s so creative and impressive when it comes to how the teachers deal with lesson plans and how they structure their criteria and classroom activities. 

Q If you could take any 3 essential items onto a deserted island, what would you take and why?
A I would take my family just because they’re my family and are absolutely essential to my life; I would take a fan for cooling and staying temperate not to overheat, overwork, etc. ; I would take my phone, not for social media or the “typical usage of it”, but for things like my photos. I can take pictures and make new memories while also being able to look back at older ones. 


Q What 3 NON-essential items would you take and why?
A Gardening tools since I love to garden as sort of hobby; Whiteboard and markers to be able to write things, which is a big thing for me when keeping organized; I would bring cookware like pots, pans, spatula, etc. to be able to make a diverse type of food. 


Q What is your ideal place for a vacation, or dream vacation?

A Banff, Canada. I have always wanted to see Lake Louise and its crystal clear, glacial fed water. The picturesqueness has just always been intriguing to me. 


Q Would you rather listen to one book or one song for the rest of your life? What song/book would it be and why?

A I am not quite sure. But I don’t think I would be able to stomach the same song all of the time, so I would have to say book. I don’t have one in mind necessarily, but it would definitely be one that is long. I just feel like a long and deep read like that would be able to pass the time better. 


Q If you could have breakfast with any historical figure(s) who would it/they be and why?

A George S. Patton. I have a fascination with him being a general in several major wars. I would just like to hear his perspectives on leadership. I don’t think I would necessarily implement any of his ideas, but it would be interesting just to hear his thoughts. 


Q If you had the opportunity to meet anyone, alive or dead, and have a conversation with them, who would it be, what would the conversation be about, and why?

A I would say probably Vince Lombardi (late head coach of the Green Bay Packers in the first two Super Bowls), or current New England Patriots head coach Bill Bellicheck. While I may not be a fan of either team, I think that the leadership that comes from being a coach of a team can correlate to leadership of any type of team. 


Q If you could go back to any point in time in your life, WHEN would you go?

A I would probably go back to when I was teaching and coaching. I think I got into administration a little too early. I taught for around seven years but I just really enjoyed the close cooperation with students and student-athletes. I enjoyed the more immediate impact that I could have when teaching AP government and those engaging conversations with students when addressing certain topics. 


Q What is the “soundtrack to your life”?

A Although I think taste in music can change over time and different points of life can be defined by different types of music, I think it would have to be country. However, I am not the greatest fan of country, and it wouldn’t necessarily be the traditional version of it. 


Q If you were making a movie about your life what would you title it and why?

A “Continuous Improvement.” As a reason, change comes to mind but, I think that I’m always looking to improve and I am never really satisfied with being content. Growing up with environment that I did, and through coaching, you’re always looking to improve upon something. 


Q Who do you look up to most in life?

A My wife and my parents. They are the people I look to when I seek approval or affirmation. They are the people I seek to appease. They inspire me. I think that’s also true for a lot of people with their parents or significant other(s) as well. Some may not agree with that way of thinking, but I always want to perfect things, whether it be for better or worse. 


Q Who is your hero?

A My dad. I think about his generation, and the ones prior, have experienced certain things in their lives that can open doors for us because of the struggles that they endured or opportunities they seized that made life better for the coming generation. My dad’s first language was French, my dad graduated college after twenty six years in the Air Force, and I was the first and youngest of four boys to graduate from college. I see the perseverance and work ethic that he had to overcome. As I grow older I begin to see the sacrifices that he made for my life and to get me to where I am today, and I thank him for it.