Cambrian: Slice of Life

There’s nothing ‘small-time’ about little Coast Union High. The success stories are endless

Before we moved to Cambria, I fretted about what such a drastic change in educational opportunities would do to and for my kids. They’d go from a large, progressive, private metropolitan campus — which, for instance, taught the boys Spanish AND French in kindergarten — to a rural public-school system with an annual, district-wide student count in the low hundreds, rather than thousands.

In retrospect and for many reasons, I’m so glad we made the move.

The boys joined Cambria Grammar in first and second grade, respectively, and stayed in Coast Unified School District schools until they’d graduated from Coast Union High.

It was a good fit for them, as it has been for many students who’ve gone on to make their peers and families, their teachers, principals and neighbors very, exceptionally proud.

Surprise, surprise! Occasionally, some of those Cambria grads crop up in my day job.

Imagine me — in all my unsuspecting reportorial innocence — interviewing a new school-district superintendent or new commander of the Sheriff’s Office Coastal Division and discovering in mid-discussion each time that I was talking to a distinguished Coast Union alumnus.

Yup, Scott Smith, superintendent of both the Coast Unified and Cayucos Elementary school districts, is a 1983 Coast grad.

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Current Cayocus Elementary School District Superintendent will now serve as the same at Coast Unified School District. Cayocus Elementary School District

And Justin Nelson graduated in 1996 after attending Coast schools from kindergarten through grade 12. He’s a 20-year veteran of the county’s Sheriff’s Office and recently assigned commander of the division that covers the coast from the Monterey County line to Avila Beach.

So, what breeds notable success on such a small campus?

Smith said that he remembers getting consistent, personalized attention from teachers who knew each student individually and cared deeply about all of them. “Students get to know each other very well, too,” he added, “which improves their ability later to communicate well” in the adult work-a-day world.

And isn’t that what school is really all about?

It’s not the length of the Amazon or the date when Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown. School ultimately teaches kids to recognize who and what they want to be when they grow up, what success feels like and how to communicate with and work well with bosses, customers and coworkers.

According to various sources, many Coast Unified students have succeeded in entertainment, education, government or business, or they’ve made waves in their other chosen fields, either on the North Coast or away from their shared hometown.

What about SJ “Summer” Main Munoz, an award-winning director who’s just been selected to direct an episode of NBC’s “Chicago Med”?

Or Chris Castillo, who graduated in the same class with Smith, then got his MBA from Cal Poly and has already retired? He was a partner in a chemical-industry company that sold five years ago for $1.3 billion. Castillo’s mom Barbara Castillo taught at Coast and his dad Joe Castillo at Cayucos Elementary — which, by the way, is the school district in which Chris is currently a trustee.

Siblings Chris and Julie Galloway have carried on the traditions and business successes established by their parents Norm and Gail Galloway at their SLO Roasted Coffee. Now a third generation, Chris’ son Eric, works for the company. “It’s an amazing opportunity we were given,” Julie said. “Not a lot of people can still afford to live here.”

Aaron Linn, a 1992 Coast grad, also carries on family tradition as GM of his family’s eponymous Cambria restaurant, farm and shops. His sister Aimee Linn (Kaplan), another Coast grad, was a bigwig at Credite Suisse Bank, 5 World Trade Center who was within minutes of being in that ill-fated New York tower when the plane hit on Sept. 11, 2001.

Acclaimed singer/songwriter Van William of “Revolution” fame is a Coast grad (memory hint: In Cambria, he’s still Van Pierzalowski), as is actress/singer/director Kerry DiMaggio, education director at the SLO Rep theater.

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Acclaimed singer/songwriter Van William of “Revolution” fame is a Coast Union High School graduate.

Cambria native and Coast grad Mario Mendoza, a professional runner and five-time USA Trail National Champion, returns home occasionally for fundraiser runs, as he did with his 100-mile event in 2018.

Mario Mendoza is cooled off with water at the Forest Hill aid station (mile 62) during the “Western States 100” endurance race that ran from Squaw Valley, California, to Auburn, Oregon, on June 24, 2018. He finished 16th out of 299 runners. Paul Nelson Courtesy photo

Tara Covell’s Clydesdale trail rides on the 2,000-acre Covell Ranch have hit national media recently. She graduated from Leffingwell High School, another Coast Unified campus.

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Tara Covell of the Covell’s Clydesdale Ranch in Cambria. Courtesy photo

Coast grads Ryan and Kaitlyn Eller followed in the educational footsteps of their dad, Cal Poly prof Dan Eller (FYI: He will lecture in November on “Truth in Journalism” at an international conference at Oxford University). Dr. Ryan is in CSU administration at Monterey Bay, and Kaitlyn Eller Botelho, with her Cal Poly master’s degree, is a faculty member at Gavilan College.

Yes, I’m sure all school districts produce illustrious grads, but again … Coast is little! And we North Coasters are mighty proud of all our students and grads.

So, here’s a hint: Watch carefully the Coast classes of 2020 through 2032 and beyond. There’s sure to be greatness there, too.

Editor’s note: If you know of a CUSD success story, email it to