Over the years, Principal Wynne Satterwhite was a high school four-sport athlete, college volleyball player, science teacher, school counselor, sports coach, assistant principal and ASB advisor before becoming principal of Los Altos High School.
Satterwhite’s roots are rural: she grew up on a 120 acre farm in Idaho and spent her early summer vacations helping her family out in the corn, beet and potato fields. At a young age, Satterwhite played volleyball, basketball and tennis, and ran track in high school.
Satterwhite comes from a family of educators, but she initially had no interest in pursuing a career in education.
“Growing up I planned on doing anything except for becoming a teacher,” Satterwhite said. “My mom was a teacher and my dad was a principal…I saw all of the hours that my parents put in and saw the ups and downs of education.Education was funded by people voting to give money to the school so we never really knew where the funding was coming from and it was a hard time. I wanted something that was more stable.”
After graduating high school, Satterwhite attended Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where she went pre-med—majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. She also continued her involvement in sports. However, her athletic career came to a close when she suffered a major ankle injury in the fall of her freshman year.
“Willamette was looking for volleyball players and I had played in high school so I went out for the team,” Satterwhite said. “I hurt my ankle really badly and never got to play basketball. It was a heartbreak for me because I was good at basketball and it was my main sport.”
As Satterwhite followed the pre-med path, she realized that she didn’t want to be a medical professional.
“At the end of my junior year, I started preparing for the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test] and I realized I didn’t want to go to medical school,” Satterwhite said.
Fortunately she had completed her major early and was able to take classes in a different area for her senior year. Even though growing up Satterwhite never planned on studying education, she decided to complete the requirements she needed to become a teacher in her final year of college.
“I had taught swimming lessons and had been around kids my whole life,” Satterwhite said. “When I was in high school I also used to help my mom in the classroom, so I knew what the [education] system was like.”
Having enjoyed teaching those classes, Satterwhite ultimately became a teacher for her first job after graduation. She taught science at a small high school in a rural town in Oregon; in addition, she coached three sports: volleyball, basketball and tennis.
“I initially wanted to do something different, but teaching was something I knew I was good at and I kind of just fell into it,” Satterwhite said.
Satterwhite soon got married. After two years of teaching in Oregon, she moved to California when her husband was offered a job as a software programmer in the Bay Area.
“I didn’t have a job when I arrived,” Satterwhite said. “I was wandering around, trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I found out they needed a substitute at Los Altos High School. I threw my hat in the ring and [got the job].”
Satterwhite’s first year at the school was not easy because there was a small age gap between her and her students, and because her students were not highly motivated.
“We threw out the book and just did stuff that I thought would engage the students and ended up making it through the year,” Satterwhite said.
Following her first year at Los Altos, Satterwhite almost didn’t return as a teacher at the school. Unaware that the teacher she had been filling in for was not coming back, she had been looking for other job opportunities outside of the school. Satterwhite was taken by surprise when the head of the science department came into her room on the final day of school and asked her why she hadn’t applied for the position opening.
“I went ‘what position?’” Satterwhite said. “So they walk me into the principal’s office and the principal asked if we could do an interview right there. I said ‘okay’ and I ended up getting hired.”
Satterwhite taught biology and life science full time, and soon got further involved with the school when she became a volleyball coach. She coached volleyball for five years before becoming a counselor for the school.
“I started to work in counseling a little bit because I had enjoyed doing peer assistance at this other high school,” Satterwhite said. “For one year, I actually counseled and taught and coached all at the same time. It was too disruptive because I wasn’t [in the office] when kids needed me so I stopped coaching.”
After eight years of teaching, Satterwhite was offered an assistant principal position after an assistant principal left the school. At first, she didn’t want to give up directly working with kids and having her own class of students. However, she ultimately moved up so she could make a bigger impact in the school.
“I didn’t go into education wanting to be in administration…I really wanted to be directly helping kids,” Satterwhite said. “I had to make that choice whether to have a direct impact on a group of kids, or move up and see how I could influence the school overall…and I wanted to have more of an influence.”
As an assistant principal, Satterwhite was in charge of custodians, facilities, the master schedule and standardized testing for her first year. She enjoyed being in an administration leadership position, but she missed teaching students.
“I have to say I still really miss being in the classroom,” Satterwhite said. “I miss those 29 kids who you get to be with every day and that you go through the joys and the sorrows [with]…That is the one drawback I would say about being in administration.”
Satterwhite went back into the classroom again the following year when she became the advisor of ASB. For the next ten years, she was both an assistant principal and advisor of ASB. In 2004, Satterwhite was offered the principal position of the school.
“We had had a bunch of different principals come in over a very short period of time, and none of them really had stuck, so the superintendent came to me and said that they wanted some stability at Los Altos and that they thought I would be a good candidate,” Satterwhite said.
At first, she wasn’t interested in becoming the principal.
“It was funny because they sent Mr. Rosenberg to come talk with me and a couple other people came and talked with me and we decided in the long run it would be a good deal, so I took the job,” Satterwhite said.
Satterwhite has now been the principal of the school for the past nine years. To this day, she still misses teaching kids but couldn’t be happier with being at the head of the school.
“The energy and the passions that the kids and the teachers in this school have keeps you motivated and you just want to keep promoting it,” Satterwhite said. “That energy is amazing to me, and I think when you are in a place like this where you’re surrounded by people who care, students who want to learn and that passion, it can’t be anything but just fun.”
Reflecting on the path she’s taken to being the principal of the school, Satterwhite is quite happy with how her life has progressed.
“It’s been fun; I have enjoyed my life,” Satterwhite said. “I’ve had lots of different opportunities—I look back now and see choices and think about how my life would have changed if I had decided to do something else, but no regrets…The path I chose was a good one and I’m real happy with where I’m at.”