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Back home in Sparks, NV, John accepted the principal position at Washoe High School. At the time, Washoe was an alternative school to teens and adults who struggled to meet the demands of regular high school. A maverick at heart, John understood these students and had a “second chance” motto. With 38 classroom sites throughout Reno, John and his staff created a dynamic and successful program to meet student’s needs. He was proud of his students from the Reno Indian Colony where a record number of students graduated during his tenure. John always felt that his teachers and staff were extended family. With his insight, he supported their creativity and passion for education and students. While at Washoe, John received a Danforth Fellowship (1981-1982).


After 10 years with Washoe High School, he became the principal at Proctor Hug High School. Working with staff and parent groups, Hug earned the 1986 Ronald Regan Excellence in Education Award (US Department of Education). Representing a proud community, John attended the award ceremony on the White House lawn where he met the president. In that same year, John worked with Ron Jeffreys and Lynn Atcheson to develop Harrah’s Adopt-a-School program. Funds were so meager at Hug that fundraising became a priority in order to establish the programs and sports needed for students to excel. For example, one of the local high schools had spent more money for just basketballs than Hug had for its entire athletic program. John loved working with marginalized students and was determined to provide ample opportunities for them at Hug. With help from Harrah’s and the community (Debbie Smith, Dana Wiggins, Jane Tores, and so many more), he was able to get Hug some of the funding it needed, except for the stadium lights.

UNR’s head football coach Christ Ault had generously donated UNR’s old scoreboard to Hug. Rick Borba and others helped him obtain the funds to put in the snack bar and build the ticket booth, but they were still short on the stadium lights. Being a “get ‘er done” guy, John took out a second on his house to obtain the remaining funds needed for the stadium lights. “We got those lights in by four o’clock one afternoon and played under them that night—a sold-out game against McQueen! We were told that it couldn’t be done and we would never get funding for stadium lights, but we did it! It’s just one example of what can be done through student, parent, and community involvement.” Within just a few years, Luther Mack and Grove Holcomb helped him pay back that loan.

John also founded the Northern Nevada Weightlifting Championship, which is now annually held annually at Reno High School.

During his time at Hug, John was awarded Outstanding Principal (’87 Burger King), Humanitarian of the Year (’87 RGJ), Public Administrator of the Year (’87 Reno Magazine), Outstanding Nevada Secondary Principal (’87 State of Nevada) and, in 1988, he and five others were the first educators in the state of Nevada to win a Milken Educator Award, an initiative of the Milken Family Foundation.


In order to “slow down” so that he could attend Kerby’s theater productions and Andy and Joe’s college football games, John accepted the principal position at Sparks Middle School. Here he created the Best Kid Award to recognize academically talented and community-involved students—those who were unrecognized because they were not active in school-based activities such as sports, music, and/or theater. Recognizing these students was a way to involve and show appreciation for their efforts. Always ahead of his time (and sometimes controversial), John changed the school mascot from the rebels to the golden bears.

He also started the Academic Olympics where students competed against other schools in a fun-filled and challenging event.

During his time at Sparks, John was awarded Outstanding Educator (’91 Nevada Governor Proclamation), Citizen of the Year (’91 Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce), and Hall of Fame (’96 RGJ).

WCSD: Plan Your Visit
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