Longtime San Rafael school board member resigns – Marin Independent Journal | #Education

Natu Tuatagaloa, of the San Rafael City School board, photographed in San Rafael, Calif. on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

Natu Tuatagaloa, who served on the San Rafael Board of Education for the past 20 years, has resigned his post, effective Monday.

“I was told at the start of this that the fundamental thing to use in making decisions is to look at what’s best for all kids,” Tuatagaloa, 55, said in his farewell address to the district.

“That’s been a great thing to hold onto, and it’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years,” he added. “Not just for some kids here and there, but for all kids.”

Tuatagaloa said he is leaving to mark the 20-year anniversary of his start of service on the board in January 2002. He also said he wanted to give San Rafael schools an early lead on finding his replacement.

“I wanted to give a chance for the current governing team to have an opportunity to appoint someone from the community to help provide continuity,” he said.

Officials declined to say Monday if they would appoint someone to fill out the rest of Tuatagola’s term, which ends in November. District spokesperson Christina Perrino said a decision on that was expected at the board’s next public meeting on Jan. 24.

Tuatagaloa said his time on the board, though demanding, was a chance to give back to the community that had shaped and supported him and allowed him to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing in the National Football League.

His six-year NFL career as a defensive end included a stint with the 1995 Houston Oilers, and in the preseason that year for the New Orleans Saints. He also played for the Seattle Seahawks from 1992 to 1993, and for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1989 to 1991. He returned to San Rafael in 1996 to start a business career and a family.

“I had to have faith in the process,” he said of accepting the school board post in 2001 at the urging of then-board member Jenny Callaway.

“During the last 20 years, the district has gone from 5,000 kids when I started to 7,000 kids now,” he said.

“We modernized and rebuilt school facilities, we had a financial crisis in 2008, education funding changed in the state for the first time in 40 years, and a global pandemic now,” he added.

“I went from a pager, to a flip-phone, to a Blackberry to an iPhone,” he said. “You can find me anywhere — crazy.”

Callaway, now a district director for U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat from San Rafael, told Tuatagaloa she was glad he took her advice.

“You were the right person, at the right time, to do the right thing for our schools,”  Callaway said.

Tuatagaloa and his wife, Judy, a teacher in the district, and their three daughters — Tianna, Malia, and McKenna — have spent the past two decades helping him run for election and then re-election, attending endless board meetings and fielding chats with friends and neighbors at athletic games.

Also, they saw him fundraising and promoting one of his pet projects — a new athletic stadium for his alma mater, San Rafael High School. The stadium was built in the spring of 2018.

“Your team was your family,” San Rafael principal Glenn Dennis said Monday. “You shared photos of them. They were your pride and happiness.”

Dennis said he was moved to see Tuatagaloa hug his three daughters as each of them followed in their father’s footsteps as graduates of San Rafael High School.

“You are a good listener, a good advocate,”  Dennis said. “You will be deeply missed.”

Similar tributes poured in from current and former board colleagues and educators.

“I served with you on the board for seven years,” said Rachel Kertz, now a member of San Rafael City Council. “You were able to bring a calm and clarity to sometimes unimaginable situations.”

Ruth Reynolds, former principal at San Rafael High School, said Tuatagaloa “listens, cares and rolls up his sleeves to do what is necessary to get the job done.”

She cited his work to found the Coleman Father’s Group and other community-building projects.

“I’ve always thought of Natu as Mr. San Rafael,” Reynolds said.

Current Board of Education president Linda Jackson, who served with Tuatagaloa for 16 years, told him he had a great impact.

“I have emblazoned your mantra — to do what’s best for kids — on my heart,” she said.

“You have stayed true to this mantra, whether we’re talking equity, or classroom or the budget, or the fields,” Jackson added. “And, whether we’re talking a school meeting, a community meeting or a countywide meeting.”

Jackson added that “I’m telling myself not to be sad that you’re leaving, but to be grateful that I had a chance to serve with you.”

Tuatagaloa, who now has two grandchildren, was educated at San Rafael public schools his entire youth, graduating from San Rafael High School in 1984 as a four-sport letterman in football, basketball, boxing and track.

He accepted a full ride football scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a four-year letterman and three-year starter on the Golden Bears football team before joining the NFL.

After football, he became a successful businessman in the fields of telecommunications, facilities and technology.

In accepting the school board position in 2001, he said he vowed to carry on the civic devotion exhibited by his parents, Gage and Ria Tuatagaloa, both first-generation immigrants from Western Samoa and the Netherlands.

“I couldn’t have done this without the example that my parents set for me,” he said, choking back tears. “They really set the tone, by showing me what it’s like to be a community member.”

His parents “came from another country, they worked seven days a week, they volunteered their time and energy,” he said. “They made sure us kids — not just our family but all kids — had fields to play on, appropriate equipment.”

Tuatagaloa, awarded “Marin County Trustee of the Year” at the 2019 Golden Bell Awards ceremony, is the second of two San Rafael Board of Education members in transition.



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