I love old schools. When I graduated from high school, mine was the 75th graduating class. One of my favorite classrooms was heated by a radiator from the 1920s. I love the odd corners and cobwebby attics. I once worked in a school with a “vault” in the basement, an enormous room filled with shelves of antiquities that was literally carved into the ground; two walls were bare earth.
Old schools have history and traditions, stories and surprises. Working at a school that has been around for while means honoring that past and (as all work with students inspires us to do) looking toward the future at the same time.
At their best, long established schools can help students feel a part of something greater than themselves. If not fussy in its own sense of self, a school that has been around for close to a century, or even more, can provide a reassuring stability that allows current students the confidence to experiment, explore, and know they belong. Great old schools are like good parents.
…and great schools don’t happen by accident.
I type this post from a principal’s office that has held stern looking administrators in ties and starched collars since 1937. (Well, actually, they look like pretty nice folks.) It’s a room with stories of its own, and a place where good and bad decisions have been made for since Roosevelt was in office. In my first month on the job, I’m only beginning to hear some of the stories.
One topic of conversation that I have heard a lot about, however, is what we call our school.
When it began, it was known as San Dieguito Union High School. It served students from 6th to 12th grade, and welcomed pupils from up and down the coast who previously had to travel as far as Oceanside and Escondido to go to school.
In 1954 things changed.
With the opening of Earl Warren Junior High School, SDUHS saw itself transform into a true high school. Changing the name, however, proved a slower process than changing what happened on campus. It took a decade before the yearbook reflected that the school was called San Dieguito High School, and another decade before the word “union” disappeared from diplomas. There was some angst about changing the name, we were “San Dieguito Union” in the eyes of the alums, but change happened, and things settled in during the 1980s with students becoming comfortable with the name SDHS.
In 1996 things changed.
Four years before the new century, San Dieguito Academy began as a school of choice with an emphasis on academics and the arts. The rechristened name of our existing school frustrated some and confused others unfamiliar with the district.
For graduates from 1997 to today, however, their high school experience was spent at “SDA,” the three letter moniker synonymous with a culture of open minded exuberance and creative expression. Contemporary t-shirts and modern signs say SDA; it’s the name we see in the newspaper and in Tweets and Facebook posts from recent grads.
Our life as an academy is just a part of a rich tradition that extends much farther back than the mid 1990s. Our school, and graduates from 1940 as much as 2014, share something more than geography. We are all members of the greater Mustang family, and each make up a part of the tradition that is our school.
So… What to call our school?
I’d be foolish to imagine that I could change the spoken nomenclature and replace “SDA” with anything longer and more descriptive, and truth be told, I don’t want to. I’m also committed to purposefully honoring the graduates from the first six decades. It’s why you’ll see that in the written correspondence that comes from our school, I strive to refer to us as San Dieguito High School Academy, SDHSA.
I keep a framed image in my office of the design for the staff shirt from 1996. It has a traditional Mustang and the full name of our school on it. I see myself, as a steward of this great school, in that image. It is my job to honor our past, energize our present, and look toward our collective future.
Sure, when crowds are cheering at a basketball game, they’ll shout “SDA!” and for our current students, that’s more than okay. For our past graduates, it’s just as appropriate that they can look at our website, Twitter feeds, and Facebook page and see their school reflected there too.
After all, we’re all family.
I’m not so naive as to think that this is the final word on how we refer to San Dieguito High School Academy, but after a great Twitter conversation with a recent grad and a delightful talk with some supportive folks in our Foundation office about the importance of history to our institution I felt like I ought to say up front why I’ve adopted SDHSA as my way of talking in social media about our magical Mustang family.