Vicki Engbrecht, the superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District, is a longtime resident of the Santa Clarita Valley and a passionate champion of education and the quality of SCV schools.
A Southern California native
Her passport declares she was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but Engbrecht said it wasn’t by plan. “I came earlier than expected,” she said. Her father was in Tulsa for his job when Engbrecht made her unscheduled arrival.
“I call myself a native of Southern California because I’ve lived here all but maybe, 2 months of my life,” she said.
Engbrecht grew up in North Hollywood, attended Madison Junior High School and graduated from Grant High School in Van Nuys. She is a graduate of California State University, Northridge with a B.A. in English and a standard-life teaching credential. “It was known as Valley State when I attended,” she said.
She earned her master’s degree in education, an administrative services credential and a professional administrative credential from the University of La Verne.
A born teacher
Engbrecht always knew she wanted to become a teacher. “I really looked up to my teachers and respected my teachers,” she said. “From the time I was 8 or 9 years old, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”
As a child, Engbrecht even turned her backyard wooden playhouse into a little schoolhouse. She would round up the younger children in her neighborhood and bring them to her “schoolhouse.”
“I would be their teacher and we would play school,” she said.
Discovering the SCV
Engbrecht did her student teaching at Soledad Canyon Community School in the Sulphur Springs Union School District. The Canyon Country elementary school, opened in 1980 was closed in 1991, and the property leased in 1993 to a developer for a strip mall. Student teaching second and fourth grade at Soledad Canyon was Engbrecht’s introduction to the Santa Clarita Valley.
“I loved the area,” she said. Engbrecht, and her husband, George, bought a home in Canyon Country in 1974.
“We’ve only lived in two places the entire time we’ve lived in the SCV. Our first house in Canyon Country and now we live in Saugus,” she said. “We have lived in Santa Clarita for more than 40 years.”
The Engbrechts were married June 11, 1971, and recently celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary. They raised two sons, Chad and Rick; both are graduates of Canyon High School. “We have two grandchildren: a little girl, 9, and little boy, 5,” she said. “I love visiting the grandkids who live in San Diego.”
A career at Hart
In 1976, Engbrecht was hired to teach English at Sierra Vista Junior High School. It was her first paid teaching job.
“I ended up staying at Sierra Vista for 17 years. I loved it,” she said. During her time at Sierra Vista Junior High, she was recognized as a Hart District Teacher of the Year and Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year.
After a short stint teaching English at Saugus High School, Engbrecht moved into administration in the Hart District. In 1991, she became dean of students at Canyon High School. She was promoted to assistant principal at Canyon two years later, and was named principal of Canyon High School in 1997.
After 11 years at Canyon, Engbrecht moved to the Hart District office in 2002 as director of curriculum and assessment. In 2007, she was named assistant superintendent of education services, followed by a promotion to deputy superintendent.
Engbrecht was named to the top job of superintendent of the Hart District in 2014 upon the retirement of then-Superintendent Rob Challinor, which was effective Feb. 1, 2015.
“I started in the Hart District in 1976, and since then, the Hart district has been my only employer,” she said. Engbrecht’s current contract as Hart superintendent runs through June 2020.
Castaic High School
The long-awaited Castaic High School will open on Aug. 13 with its first class of ninth graders.
“I wanted to stay (as superintendent) and see the successful opening of Castaic High School,” Engbrecht said. “It’s going to be wonderous. I can’t be more pleased with the school we are going to open.” The school has already signed up approximately 320 students.
“We have staff hired, coaches, teachers, and a counselor and principal, so we are all set to open,” she said. “The school is magnificent: state of the art. It will have … classroom space, and athletic and art spaces. We’ve also put aside additional room for career technical education sources. It will have one of the most well-developed CTE programs of any of the schools in our district.”
Castaic High School will be the seventh comprehensive high school in the Hart District joining Hart, Canyon, Saugus, Valencia, Golden Valley and West Ranch.
The district, which serves more than 22,000 SCV students, also operates six junior high schools and several alternative school programs, including Academy of the Canyons, Bowman Continuation High School, Learning Post, Hart at Home and Sequoia School.
“We recognize that not all kids are going to go to college, and not all kids can learn best at one of our big high schools or big junior high schools,” she said. “Seeing how students, who may not have been successful if we didn’t have those programs, are flourishing is a very satisfying part of the job.”
The new iCAN program at Castaic High School, also opening on the new campus in August, will offer students the opportunity to take classes at College of the Canyons.
“It will be similar to AOC, where students can take community college classes concurrently within their high school program,” said Engbrecht.
The program has nearly 120 students enrolled for the upcoming year, she said.
An ‘exemplary district’
Engbrecht said the Hart District has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the state of California, in excess of 95%.
In addition, the Hart District was named a 2019 California Exemplary District, one of only 18 districts in the state named an Exemplary District by the California Department of Education.
“We were the only district named an Exemplary District in Los Angeles County,” she said. “The award was based on school climate, culture and student performance. We were surprised, but also very gratified. We have such good people on our staff. Our teachers, our counselors, our support staff are all so committed to our students. It’s because of our people that we’re able to do well as a school district.”
A rewarding career
“The most rewarding part of the job is spending time on our school campuses,” Engbrecht said. “I enjoy just seeing how wonderful the students are, how bright and energetic. This community is raising outstanding kids.”
Engbrecht said she celebrates the success of all Hart District students, but attending graduations at the alternative campuses has a special impact.
“You go to a graduation at Bowman or Sequoia and you leave feeling so good, like what you do really matters,” she said.