On the day I moved into my office at Diegueño, a hot morning in July when I had to put on a hard hat to step on campus and navigate demolition that made the space on the other side of my window look like a scene from Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Diegueño did not feel like my school. Not yet.
Two weeks later, as my office staff joined me in a building without reliable power or data, Diegueño was beginning to feel like a school again, but not quite my school. Not yet.
Teachers returning from summer vacation began to crack the ice, moving the experience from theoretical to real. As we began our year together with a pancake breakfast by Cougar Hall, their welcoming faces made me feel like this would be home. The kindness shown me by my amazing staff spoke to good things to come, but it still felt like their school -almost our school- not yet my school.
The staff shirts I’d ordered back in July hadn’t come in yet, and I couldn’t quite feel like I’d put my stamp on Diegueño. Not yet. I was new like the dozen or so teachers who hadn’t been at Diegueño the year before. We were all now members of a great school community, but I felt like I still had miles to go before it was my school.
Kids arriving made the biggest difference. Their ready smiles, high fives, and fist bumps turned the first weeks of school into a celebration. We all found our rhythm of learning together, with highlights like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Sidewalk CPR, and a fun Back to School Night.
The school I welcomed parents to on that evening in September was one that I was proud to be part of, but I still felt new, like a boy in his father’s suit, the collar a little loose, and the brim of the fedora over my eyes.
That “us” of October was real; I felt a part of Diegueño. The staff shirts still hadn’t arrived (the bureaucracy of billing can touch even the best places), but our sense of each other as a school family had. I felt it when I joined teachers for lunch or at gatherings like the Math department’s dessert party. I felt it when I walked into classrooms and was greeted by the students and teachers with smiles and invitations to join in. I felt it when I worked with my PTSA to discuss plans about the great things we could do together for our kids.
And then, as I was going along feeling like a real Diegueñian, I had something happen that hit me as the moment when Diegueño became my school.
I’d discussed adding some vinyl signs to the new security fences to soften the burnished metal look a bit. PTSA had been kind enough to order them, and I stood in front of the school with my ASB director, campus supervisor, plant manager, and a student deciding where to hang the signs. In addition to a sign with the traditional (and honestly kind of spooky) image of our mascot, one smaller sign welcoming folks to Diegueño carried a line drawing of what some of the students had called a “friendly cougar.” I liked that; my hope with this sign was to show a version of our mascot with a twinkle in its eye and a look of welcome. I’d sketched the face while I was sitting in a meeting and rolled the dice of hubris in deciding to put it on a banner. Seeing that friendly face get zip-tied to the fence I felt like I’d arrived.
My real legacy will be defined by the great teachers I’ve hired and the culture of community I strive every day to nurture and develop. The difference I make will come as a result of a dogged determination to help students succeed, and help teachers, parents, and kids all feel a part of something great. But still, as my student held the sign and my plant manager tied it to the fence I had the overwhelming feeling of being home wash over me.
And I realized that Diegueño isn’t just my school; I’m Diegueño’s.