Mayor Dr. Mark Arapostathis

Political Theater

New La Mesa Mayor
Dr. Mark Arapostathis
Teaches Drama To Kids
But Avoids It With Voters.

By David Moyer

When Dr. Mark Arapostathis was a 10-year-old attending Lemon Avenue Elementary School in La Mesa, he was cast in the title role of “Li’l Abner,” a musical known for its blistering political commentary.

“The premise behind that play is that there are no good politicians,” Dr. Arapostathis said. “That message has played in the back of my head ever since.”

Ironically, that message didn’t stop him from serving as a La Mesa city councilman for two terms or being elected La Mesa’s mayor in the most recent election by a 60-40 margin.

Instead, politics and public service was a natural progression from Arapostathis’ other passion: teaching, a job he has done for 23 years at schools in his home town.

“As a kid, I was always volunteering. As I got older, I kept volunteering until someone said, ‘You should run for Council’,” he said. “Then people said, ‘You should run for mayor’ and it fell into place that way.”

The man known citywide as “Dr. A” hasn’t given up his day job. He teaches theatre five days a week at La Mesa Arts Academy, a school for grades 4-8 that uses art, music and theatre as tools for teaching math, science and history.

Arapostathis created the program with fellow teacher Jon Hayman, based in part, on lessons learned while working on his Doctorate in Education at San Diego State.

He hopes the school becomes a model for other schools in the county.

“We have data suggesting that children in the 4-8 grades can get along,” he said. “The 4th graders aren’t afraid of the 8th graders and the 8th graders benefit from leadership opportunities,” he said. “The bonus is, when the 4th 5th and 6th graders become middle schoolers, they’re prepared and not feeling like they have to sink or swim.”

Arapostathis admits people wonder how he divides his time between teaching and being mayor. He says it’s not as hard as it looks.

“Being mayor means being out in the community,” he said. “One thousand grandparents and parents go through this school each day so I am able to see these folks and they know other people who are able to get their messages to me.”

Plus, he says, teaching has been the best education for politics.

“I say this tongue-in-cheek, but it’s been an advantage working with second-graders,” he said. “Sometimes I say, ‘We need to act like adults.’”

The job has also taught Arapostathis another valuable lesson: Humility.

“After I was elected, I came to school the next day,” he said. “The kids were excited about my win for five minutes. Then they asked if the vocabulary test was going to be multiple-choice.” Ρ