Q&A with Tina Tamura

April 26, 2015

Santee Education Complex, Los Angeles

The following article appears in the April/May 2015 issue of Athletic Management.

In today’s educational landscape, athletic administrators need to be ready for new challenges. Tina Tamura, CMAA, Athletic Director at Santee Education Complex in Los Angeles, welcomes them.

In 2003, she left her job as Athletic Director at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles to pursue a career change. In 2005, she started an athletic program from scratch at a school with an alternative educational system. She has served as commissioner of her league since 2007. And later this year, she will become President of the California State Athletic Directors Association (CSADA).

Tamura also sits on the board of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), representing the Los Angeles City Section, and is a member of the NIAAA Credentials Committee and the NFHS Citizenship/Equity Committee. She was named the L.A. City Section Girls’ Athletic Director of the Year in 2013 and has been honored with the CSADA’s Jim Echols Award for service to high school athletics.

In this interview, Tamura talks about her career path, serving in leadership roles, and the challenges facing high school athletics. She also explains why she left high school athletics—and what brought her back.


AM: How did your career path lead you to Santee?

Tamura: I had been coaching cross country, girls’ basketball, soccer, and track and field at Palisades Charter High School for almost 10 years, and then became its athletic director. I enjoyed it a lot and so decided to go back to school full-time to get a master’s degree in sports management and move to the college level. At that point, I figured I was done with high school athletics.

But as I completed some internships and explored my job options, I realized I liked the high school level better than college. I missed the close interactions with the athletes, and I felt I could make more of an impact in the secondary setting. Fortunately, Santee was getting ready to open at that time and needed an athletic director.

What was it like building the athletic program from scratch when Santee opened in 2005?

Helping to start a new school was something I had always wanted to do, and it’s something I never want do again. I was hired in April and we opened our doors in July. In that time, I had to hire coaches, order all the equipment, and schedule a full slate of games.

We didn’t get shoulder pads until the day of our first football practice. At our opening football game, the PA announcer asked what he should call us, and I had to tell him I didn’t know because we were still choosing a name. I don’t think I slept at all that first year. But it was a great learning experience, and being able to hire my own coaching staff was wonderful. It went so well that the district has used us as a blueprint for the schools they’ve opened since.

Why is Santee called an education complex?

When we opened, the school consisted of five separate learning communities. Each had its own needs and philosophy, and I had to report to five different principals. We closed the learning centers after a couple of years, and we’re now structured like a typical, traditional high school.

It gave me a taste of the challenges my colleagues at schools with multiple units face. In addition to differing philosophies, they sometimes have to deal with multiple bell schedules, which can be a logistical nightmare.

How did you become involved in the CSADA and CIF?

I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I feel professional development is the key to growth. The Los Angeles City Section Athletic Directors Association started up about the same time I became Athletic Director at Palisades, and I was asked be our league representative. Eventually, I became President of the Association and its representative to the CSADA. I also served on the Section’s Board of Managers, which led to a spot on the CIF Federated Board.

How do you find the time to work with these organizations on top of your duties at Santee?

I’m fortunate to have an administration that’s very supportive of me pursuing professional leadership opportunities—they know how much it means to me. Each of the outside groups has its own responsibilities and commitments, and I make sure I carve away the time I need. The demands are spread throughout the year, so it’s not overwhelming at any one point.

What do you do to make sure the athletic program runs smoothly when you’re away at meetings?

I work very hard to have everything prepared for my staff well ahead of time. I’ll make sure all the busses are scheduled and checks are ready, and the coaches know I’m just a phone call or e-mail away. For the most part, our coaches don’t need very much hand-holding.

Sometimes I do feel like I’m shortchanging the student-athletes at Santee because the meetings take me away from campus. Routine is important for kids—when someone is absent, it throws them off. To make up for that, I attend every activity I can when I’m here. But ultimately, I believe my outside work benefits the athletes because it helps make me a better athletic director.

In what ways has it made you a better athletic director?

Being part of these professional organizations shows me how other people do things. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I feel like I learn something every time I talk with peers. It may come from an athletic director in our league or one across the country, but there’s always something I can bring back.

For example, we’ve started a Commissioner’s Cup based on the academic performance of the teams in our league, and we name an academic all-league team made up of athletes who have a GPA of 3.5 or better. At Santee, we’ve started academic competitions within our department—the team having the highest GPA each season gets an award. I don’t remember who I took those ideas from, but I know I didn’t come up with them myself.

In your work with the CIF Board, how do you vote on a new rule that you feel works well for most schools, but may not be best for Santee?

I always put the greater good above what’s best for either my high school, our league, or the section. If it’s going to help the largest number of athletes or schools, then it’s something I’m going to vote for. And if that’s not what’s best for Santee, I just have to accept it.

Is it hard for people at Santee to understand that?

Sometimes yes. The students especially will ask why I can’t get a rule changed. But once I explain how it’s best for everyone involved, they usually come around.

What are the biggest challenges you face at Santee?

I am always trying to increase parental involvement in our program. Many of our parents work two or three jobs, so it’s hard to draw them in. It can be difficult to even get them to come out for Senior Night. At one point, we made it mandatory for parents to be at a preseason meeting, but attendance was poor, and I didn’t want to hold kids out if their parents couldn’t come. Complaints about playing time are minimal, but part of me wishes I would hear those complaints because that would mean the parents are involved.

There are also some cultural challenges. We have a large Hispanic population, and I don’t speak Spanish very well. Plus, when there is a problem, some of the parents go over my head right to the principal, especially the fathers, because they’re not used to seeing a female in my position.

In earning your master’s degree, what did you find most relevant?

I worked a lot of professional and college games, and even rock concerts, so I learned a ton about putting on events. It made me think of things I hadn’t considered before, especially from a security standpoint. For example, every building has its security flaws and areas that need supervision, and I’m always concentrating on those. I look at where the ushers are standing and how we might compensate. I also think about how to get people in and out of our venue quickly.

Another aspect I concentrate more on now is the fans’ experience. Is customer service good? If there’s a spill or something is broken, does it get fixed right away? Are the bathrooms clean? Is the staff welcoming?

What do you feel are the largest roadblocks facing high school athletics today?

Having enough time to do our jobs the right way is one hurdle. I teach three classes a day, and if I could perform my duties as an athletic director full-time, I could do a lot more. It would also make me feel like I was being treated as a true professional—that the athletic director job is not a tag on. We need to get superintendents and principals to understand what we do and the value that sports bring to a school.

What are some solutions?

I think it’s really important for athletic directors to pursue professional development and work together. At the CSADA, for example, we run a series of workshops led by athletic directors at our annual meeting. When I was a novice athletic director, attending these seminars gave me great ideas and allowed me to network. Meeting other people who faced the same challenges showed me that I wasn’t alone, and there were people I could turn to for help. I still find the conference incredibly valuable.

Athletic directors have to be willing to take that next step—to work hard to get better. For me, it comes down to having pride in being a professional. Being an athletic director is my identity. It’s how I introduce myself. But I know in too many cases, someone is thrown the keys and told, “You’re now the athletic director.” I’d like to see all athletic directors strive to take the position to the next level.

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