There may not be words that can fully capture John Witt’s larger than life
personality. He breaks out into song with little provocation. He wears tap shoes
to the office. He has a well-known fondness for eating, especially when the food
is complementary. But those foibles belie a kind, generous heart, a keen
intellect and passion for education, and an almost Forrest Gump-like record of
being there for some of the country’s most defining moments.
elected to the San Diego County Board of Education in 1996, Witt’s service is
now coming to an end. We sat down with him to learn more about
his fascinating history and the ups and downs of his board tenure.
John Witt’s take on…
Why he ran for the County Board of Education in
“I was hired by City Schools in 1968,” explains Witt. “Before that,
I was an engineer at Convair and General Atomic. I realized I enjoyed teaching
more than engineering, so I got a secondary credential and taught junior high at
Lewis and senior high at Lincoln. I applied for an opening at City College—at
the time, it was all one district—and when it broke off, I ran for the City
Witt served on that board for 13 years. “I’d been on the
City School board and we’d accomplished a lot, but I wanted to learn about the
County,” he says.
His favorite thing about serving on the board...
Witt’s favorite thing, he says, has been “Working with the schools and being
involved in public education. Public education gives you’re the opportunity to
help a lot more students than any other youth group.”
disaster movies relate to Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM)
There are a lot of “Hollywood movies about asteroids that could
hit earth and destroy the population. When I was at General Atomics, we
envisioned space vehicles that could steer asteroids.” Getting kids interested
in STEM, says Witt, might help save the population of the world from the
disasters shown in those movies should they actually happen.
young people will be inspired, go on to careers in science, to keep that from
happening down the road.”
His Korean War service...
“I spent three
years in the Naval Air Reserve. I was sent up, but because of an eye problem, I
wasn’t allowed to fly. I served as a gymnastics instructor.”
“I was sent
to the air base where, 14 years before, the Hindenberg went down. They still had
the area roped off. There, I studied meteorology and served on the Midway and
Coral Sea aircraft carriers.” As a ship’s meteorologist, Witt would “send up
balloons to take wind measurements so the Admiral would know to sail north or
“I own six cars. Well, actually three are
trucks,” he said. “One I only take out for parades. It’s a 1928 Model A ford
roadster. I’m also negotiating for a four-door 1936 Ford Convertible.”
Change is constant.
His passion for astronomy...
Witt purchased, with his own funds, a portable planetarium for use by local
schools. He has been working with San Diego Unified staff to set the planetarium
up at schools so children can experience the joys of astronomy.
of grew up at the planetarium. I was born in 1930, the same year Max Adler had
come back from Germany, where he saw a planetarium. He donated the money to
build the Adler one in Chicago. It was the first operating planetarium in the
United States, completed in 1934.”
“I’ve been very pleased with the
reception to the portable planetarium. When it gets more established, we will be
seeking donations and contributions to get a second one.”
way through college...
“I worked my way through college with gymnastics. I
did a ‘high show’ with the trapeze and sway pole at carnivals and state fairs in
the 1950s and 60s.”
“I’m still active in gymnastics,” he says, and
points out that he once appeared on the front page of the paper with Jack
The solution to the state’s underfunding of education...
“Schools are operating under a continuing decreasing budget every year. Even
though Prop. 30 passed, we’re looking at a severe budgetary condition.”
Noting that prison guards in California make three times more than those
in Texas, Witt says the solution is “for all of us teachers, administrators and
staff to do the best job we can nurturing our students and hopefully the public
will be more supportive and come around. We need to elect people who prioritize”
“My wife passed away 9 years and 10 months
ago. I was married for 49 years, 2 months and 2 days.”
“I have three
kids, 2 boys and a girl. My daughter and one son life in San Diego. My daughter
is a science teacher at Farb. One son works at the racetrack and my other son
lives in Virginia and is a retired Lt. Col. In the Air force. I have five
grandchildren, all in college.”
What he would like to tell staff, as his
Thank you for your support and your cooperation and your
friendship for a 16-year run.
Leaving the board...
“I don’t think of
myself as being all through. It’s always an option” that he’ll run again, says
Thank you, John Witt, for your service on behalf of San Diego