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New Los Al Principal and the Hug that Changed Everything

Los Alamitos High School's new top administrator, Josh Arnold, has the degrees and Ivy League education, but it was an unexpected embrace that led him into education.

When it comes to teaching, Josh Arnold doesn’t have a choice.

The new principal at Los Alamitos High School says the profession grabbed a hold of him 12 years earlier and has been his passion ever since.

It all started with a hug. 

Arnold, now 32, was taking English classes at UCLA and tutoring students studying for the SAT.

His father, a TV writer, wanted him to be a lawyer, and Arnold planned to go into law.

However, after an SAT study session one fall day, Arnold recalls one student asking, “Can I give you a hug? You’re the best teacher I’ve ever had.”

A dozen years later, he still remembers that moment.

“When I drove home that day, I thought ‘being a lawyer is never going to feel like this,’” Arnold said.

He changed his profession, trading the bar exam for the blackboard.

After graduating, Arnold won a full scholarship to Harvard, where he completed an administrative internship at Boston Latin Academy.

With his UCLA bachelor’s degree in English, it’s no surprise he’s a reader -- he follows the Harvard Business Review, loves Time magazine (which he follows on his phone) and reads food sites like Chowhound and Yelp.

His current “impossible goal” is to get through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which he says is difficult because he tears up while reading it … but not for the reason you think.

“I read chapter one, (and) I was just crying,” Arnold said. “Every time I read a page, I am reminded what a horrible writer I am.”

He holds a master's degree in school leadership from Harvard and is finishing his doctorate at USC’s Rossier School of Education, accomplishments that belie his claim to terrible writing.

Before joining the Los Alamitos Unified District, Arnold served as assistant principal at Fountain Valley High School, principal of Crenshaw Arts/Tech Charter High in Los Angeles and an English teacher in Santa Monica.

, Arnold says he has some programs he wants to roll out but wants to make sure he get input from teachers and parents before he reveals them.

Despite his Harvard background, Arnold is in many ways a typical guy in his early 30s. He loves the smell of barbecue, likes movies such as The Matrix and Memento, would want to meet President Abraham Lincoln and has computer wallpaper of his daughter making silly faces.

He lives in Huntington Beach with his wife, Claire, and their 14-week-old daughter, Isabella.

Arnold takes the position formerly held by

“I don’t think it’s about stepping into somebody elses shoes,” Arnold said. “I think it’s really about honoring all the success and history here at Los Al (High… and honoring) all the principals that have ever led.”

Arnold played football in high school, hasn't played ice hockey in about a year, and considers himself a "wannabe surfer." 

And, if he couldn’t be an educator, Arnold says he’d like to be a screenwriter. He and a friend get together each summer to work on screenplays.

Of course, Arnold wouldn’t give up teaching. Or rather, he says, he can’t.

“For me, it’s really not a choice,” he added. “To me, education is a calling.” 

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