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San Elijo Middle School Promotes Academics and Integrity for San Marcos Students

A Shared Vision


Education is a team effort at San Elijo Middle School. Founded in 2004, the school has grown from 850 to 1,950 students, keeping up with advancements in technology and educational standards along the way. Students, teachers, staff, and volunteers all work together to achieve the school’s mission of complexity, collaboration, and character. The comprehensive approach to learning has earned the school recognition as a California Distinguished School in 2009 and a Blue Ribbon School in 2014. 92078 Magazine sat down with Principal Gary DeBora to learn more.

Q&A with Dr. Gary DeBora,
San Elijo Middle School Principal

cover_sanelijo_9What is your role at San Elijo Middle School?
I have had the absolute pleasure of being the principal here at San Elijo Middle School (SEMS) for the past two years. Before that, I was an assistant principal here for 10 years.

What is your responsibility to the students on campus?
As principal, I oversee all of the systems, programs, and instruction at the school. My main focus is providing support to teachers as we continue to find new methods to improve the teaching and learning that is occurring in each classroom.

What does SEMS’s mission mean to you?
We have a shared vision that academic ability must be combined with character and integrity to nurture and grow the whole child. Our hardworking and dedicated staff is committed to helping students bridge childhood with early adulthood. As each month passes, students grow more independent. Friends may take on an increasing importance in their lives. However, a positive adult role model is still the most vital part of development during this time of maturity.

Our highly qualified teachers are committed to guiding our eager learners towards collaborative discovery. Our dynamic support staff is primed to assist with bettering the school experience for all, and our administrative team is here to ensure all students are safe and free from outside distractions as they experience the advanced culture of teaching and learning.

We incorporate our mission into all facets of life on campus: complexity, collaboration, and character.

“We incorporate our mission into all facets of life on campus:
Complexity, Collaboration, and Character.”
The instructional component. Complex thinking is at the heart of what we want for every child. Complexity starts with inquiry, discovery, metacognition, numeracy, and literacy, and deepens understanding and problem-solving that is needed to be successful in life.

The interpersonal component. Collaboration is about relationships. We collaborate at dinner, in class, and in the workplace. It is how we function in society. Working together to solve problems, discover new ideas, and build positive relationships through inquisitive interactions also encompasses a skill set that includes how students gain access to and exit from those collaborative conversations.
The glue. Character is how we take care of each other. Doing the correct thing when nobody’s watching, doing the right thing instead of the easy thing, and treating people with respect and empathy are fundamentals. We have multiple programs and interventions to help with the social and emotional growth and development that students experience during these formative years, and we provide a connection to school for students who may need a hook other than the academics to give them a sense of belonging.

Can you tell us a little about the history of SEMS?
SEMS is a relatively new school (12 years old) in the San Marcos School District. We started with 850 students as a K-8 school, transitioned to a middle school during our second year, and have grown every year until this year. With our current enrollment of 1,950 students, we face different challenges than we did 12 years ago, but our focus of providing the best educational experience possible still remains.

How has SEMS changed since its founding?
I started here 11 years ago as an assistant principal, and changes at the school site parallel the changes that education has experienced across the state and nation. We have shifted our focus to be more aligned with the new California State Standards, and standards and instructional materials are changing in most content areas. Technology has become more of a valuable tool to enhance the learning experience, and it is exciting to see how students are engaging with the content in new ways with the support of Chromebooks and other technology teachers use in their classrooms.


How does SEMS prepare students for their future academically?
The dynamic teaching staff and supportive classified staff help prepare students for high school by providing strong foundational skills, collaborative techniques, and social-emotional support and development through these often tumultuous years as tweens and teenagers. Our systems of support ensure that students are prepare to handle both the rigor and the independence of high school and beyond.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role at SEMS? The most challenging?
The most rewarding aspect of my role is to see the growth in our students due to both the academic guidance from teachers and the emotional support from our counselors and classified staff.
The most challenging role is ensuring that every one of the 1,950 students has a connection to school that allows them to feel supported and appreciated for who they are as human beings.

Have there been any changes or improvements made to the SEMS campus in the last few years?
Our school district does an amazing job supporting our schools to keep them technologically relevant while managing our environmental footprint. This year, we will see an upgrade to our classrooms’ instructional delivery technology. Our site will also become independent of traditional electricity as we install solar panels capable of producing over a kilowatt of electricity, which is enough to run an average high school on a daily basis.

Favorite Memories at SEMS:

cover_sanelijo_10“Mini Marathon, ASB, and Tacky Tourist Day!”
– Sara Pustinger

“My favorite memory would be winning the mini-marathon when I was in seventh grade, and receiving second when I was in sixth. I’m looking forward to more memories with this awesome school!”
– Kayla Fortenberry

“One of my fondest memories at SEMS was my first day ever at middle school. I was so nervous and all of the staff was so supportive to all of the sixth graders. Whether it was finding a class or even just nerves, everyone was there for them.”
– Tabitha Smith

“I really enjoy being part of ASB because it helps strengthen my ability to be a leader. I also like that I represent the rest of the SEMS student body and have a voice in the important decisions made here at SEMS.”
– Kellen Bynes

What is the teacher and student relationship like at SEMS?
Our staff focus this year was “Making Connections with Kids.” Our teachers spent the first couple of weeks building trust and relationships in their classrooms, and our positive culture and decreased need for disciplinary action is a direct result of those efforts.

What are some highlights of students’ time at this school?
Students begin to find their sense of self during their time at SEMS. Whether it is playing an instrument, finding a sport, joining a club, or strengthening your passion for a particular content area, students are encouraged to explore their curiosity, and we make every attempt to support their passion as they develop their voice and direction related to their passion.

Does SEMS have any traditions or activities that students look forward to throughout the year?
Students look forward to Halloween and dressing up, playing intramurals and winning a championship t-shirt, performing a band concert at an outdoor amphitheater, running in our Rock-n-Roll Mini-Marathon, and participating in our sports and clubs.

What clubs or afterschool activities are offered? Are there any new programs or clubs that have recently emerged?
Under the guidance of Assistant Principal Mr. Livingston, we have developed seven sports under our middle school sports program, which includes a San Marcos Middle School League. We have been fortunate to find success in many of the sports throughout the three years since sports have come back to our district after being cut in 2007 due to budget funding.

Under the guidance of Assistant Principal Ms. Kurylo, we have created or helped promote nine clubs, including a surf club, a theater program, Math Counts, Science Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind, Math, SEMS TV, and other clubs where students can explore their passions.

San Elijo Middle School By The Numbers

Founded: 2004
Students: 1,950
Teachers: 92
Staff Members: 78
Volunteers: 55
Classrooms: 64
Campus Size: 23 acres; 20 usable acres

How can community members become more involved with the school?
Our community involvement begins with our first-class, ultra-responsive, proactive Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO). They communicate, organize, and lead many activities that all support our school efforts throughout the year. Community members have helped support the sports and clubs, and continue to be a powerful force in our band and theater programs. Our programs, especially our award-winning band, could not maintain their levels of excellence with this valuable support.

Parents or community members looking to become more involved with our school are encouraged to contact our PTO at We always are looking for people to share their time and expertise supporting our vision.


Is there any exciting news or updates about SEMS that you’d like to share?
SEMS is eternally grateful to our district and community for supporting the advancements in technology at our site. Through the Prop K funds, our school will experience a technology upgrade in our classrooms this year. Through the financial support of our district, the fundraising of our PTO, and the focus on technology from the admin team, we continue to increase the number of Chromebook carts in classrooms, with a goal of providing every teacher with access to Chromebooks by the end of the 2018-2019 school year.

At-A-Glance | Principal

Name: Gary R. DeBora
Education: Ed.D. in Educational Administration and Social Justice
Hobbies & Interests: Reading, watching our two boys play sports with my beautiful wife
Community: Vista
Family: Wife – LeAnne; children – Jake (12) and Jeffrey (10)
Favorite Thing About SEMS: I am amazed at what our students can accomplish on a daily basis.
Favorite Local Spot: Cocina del Charro

At-A-Glance | San Elijo Middle School

Name of School: San Elijo Middle School
Principal: Gary R. DeBora
Assistant Principals: Patricia Kurylo, John Livingston, and Gary Pope
Awards: 2009 California Distinguished School, 2014 Blue Ribbon School
Mission Statement: San Elijo Middle School is dedicated to promote student growth and development through complexity, collaboration, and character.
Mascot: Golden Eagle

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