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McGrath surprised, honored by school's name

Posted: June 9, 2008 2:03 a.m.
Updated: August 10, 2008 5:03 a.m.
J. Michael McGrath stands in the playground of the Newhall elementary school that is named after him. J. Michael McGrath stands in the playground of the Newhall elementary school that is named after him.
J. Michael McGrath stands in the playground of the Newhall elementary school that is named after him.
The closely guarded secret was revealed at Superintendent J. Michael McGrath's retirement dinner, taking even his secretary by surprise:

The next school built in the Newhall School District would be named in McGrath's honor.

It took a while - McGrath retired in 1996 and J. Michael McGrath Elementary opened in 2004 - but the school's opening was a lasting tribute to the man who spent 25 years at the helm of the Newhall School District.

"I was always opposed to naming schools after people, so I was very surprised when they told me the news, but it was a nice thing to do," said McGrath, 71, who lives in Valencia and is semi-retired. "It's a nice school and it has the best view in the entire valley."

After retiring, McGrath did some consulting, taught some classes at the University of LaVerne and still supervises substitute teachers from the University of La Verne and National University.

"I like to keep my hands in - I'm too type A to just play golf or sit around and read," he said.

Being involved in education runs in the McGrath family. McGrath's mother was a kindergarten teacher in Newhall for 20 years, his wife taught in the Newhall School District and then later at Placerita Junior High, and now his son is on the governing board for the Newhall School District and his daughter is a school psychologist at Hart High School.

"We're all involved in education in one way or another," he said.

McGrath said his biggest challenge as superintendent was keeping up with the growth of the district, and one of his biggest accomplishments was being instrumental in starting the SCV Food Services Agency.

"The average tenure of a superintendent is five years, so to have that position for 25 years is a huge record," said Superintendent Marc Winger, who took over when McGrath retired. "His son sits on our board now, so it's a long family tradition."

McGrath said he has visited his namesake school several times since it opened.

"I've been there at least a dozen times," he said. "Last year I was invited to their graduation, and I also go there when I'm working with student teachers."

Not only is McGrath Elementary named for someone special, but the street the campus was built on in Newhall, Deputy Jake Drive, is named for another local hero.

Sheriff's Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian was killed in August 2001 while assisting federal agents who were serving a warrant to a Stevenson Ranch man. The man, James Allen Beck, opened fire on the agents with a semi-automatic gun, killing Kuredjian.

The Newhall resident was a popular motorcycle deputy and, at his funeral, he was remembered by many as a man who always kept people smiling.


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