Giddy-up!

photo (2)I like the blue horse with the big nostrils that we call “vintage” because “creepy” is not an adjective you want associated in any way with your school mascot.

We’re the Mustangs at San Dieguito, a symbol of our school that has outlasted three name changes and nearly eighty years.

In the 1930s and 40s the horse bucked and snorted across the cover of our yearbook, The Hoofprint.

Over time it appeared on two legs and four, pacing on the sidelines at games, unicycling across campus, and even hanging out at the beach with a collection of folks who look like they might have been auditioning for a Monty Python skit.

photo (1)Today Manny the Mustang tweets.

It should come as no surprise that the face of San Dieguito is equine and online. Keeping up with the times, and looking toward a bright future is something our students do here. Technology is a tool that helps the teaching and learning that take place every day, and it’s only natural that it also provides a way for students to connect and share their stories with the world.

photo 5It’s also very much in keeping with who we are that Manny the Mustang honors his friends and values our school’s rich tradition, facts you can see by the company he keeps: blue, bold, and …vintage.

Whether in tie-dye or a jersey, promoting athletics, our business program, the arts, or the school as a whole, it’s nice to see our San Dieguito Mustang in all its variations.

I’d just love to see that four legged version with the “M” on its side trot across campus!

Go Mustangs!

The Principal Wears a Suit

5 months ago…

“No tie?”

She was nice enough, but curious, and I sensed disappointment behind her kind eyes. Around us the Winter Formal filled the Air and Space Museum with bright lights, tuxedoed teens, and a string of songs that sounded to me like a series of ring tones. This senior and her date had met me at the front door and posed the question.

“No tie,” I answered, adding “it’s your Winter Formal; I’m just security.”

She looked at me quizzically. “You’re the principal.”

My heart sunk. I hate disappointing nice people.

“Tonight I’m just making sure things go well,” I tried. She wasn’t buying it.

“This is formal, Mr. Paige.”

I looked to my assistant principals for support, two elegantly dressed women who’d been kind enough not to comment on my fleece jacket. They knew, as did the seventeen year old I was talking to, that such things as Winter Formal matter.

For students they matter a lot.

Being an adult means caring about car payments, dental work, and cholesterol. None of these things are as important to the students at my school as strobe lights, pounding bass, or a chocolate fountain.

And yet that impractical chocolate fountain, perhaps because of its impracticability, means much to the young people who are the lifeblood of the school. As their principal it’s important that I invest in the things that matter to them.

I feel paternal to almost two thousand kids; I can at least try to be a good school dad.

This isn’t to say that I don’t listen to Sinatra on my drive down to the dance, but when I get there I should at least be able to tap my feet to the more contemporary tunes.

…and I ought to wear a tie.

 

Saturday…

My assistant principals and I carpooled in to the House of Blues, and as we got to the door the bouncer took one look at us and said (not asked) “Prom.”

One of the best parts of working in education is the possibility of second chances. On Saturday I left informality at home, put on a suit, and enjoyed prom along with a few hundred well dressed juniors and seniors.

I have the pleasure of being their principal, and thanks to the wisdom, kindness, and pluck of an amazing senior I was able to learn that I was wrong. This isn’t just their prom, but our prom, our whole school’s, and I’m fortunate enough to get to be a part of it.

That’s worth wearing a tie.

photo 1 (1)

Window Boxes

photoWhen the structural steel went up, so high it peeked over the wing of classrooms built in 1936, everyone on campus paused and exhaled a collective “oh.”

The newest classroom building, an inch less high than the city will allow, will bring state of the art science labs to a school whose chem room was built when Einstein was still alive. Knowing the decades of labs students will perform in the years ahead is enough to make anyone excited about the idea of the new building, but it was seeing that enormous metal skeleton rise up in the center of campus that shook all of us past the idea and held the reality of the thing up for us to marvel at.

New construction brings with it a mix of anticipation, annoyance, and awe. Our new building, so impressive now, spent months in the dirt. Before any resemblance to an actual building came planning, digging, and the construction of retaining walls. To see it rise from that dirt now, as loud as some of the steel work may be, is inspiring. Helping our school community admire that progress is one of the best decisions I’ve seen around a high school construction site: windows.

photo 4Knowing the curiosity of students (and teachers too), we asked our construction team if, when they put up the extensive plywood fencing around the big dig, they’d add a couple of plexiglass windows so we could see what was going on. Better than “a couple,” they cut a row of windows along two sides of the project and the result has been nothing less than amazing.

Windows in a wooden wall invite spectators, and those views of our school’s future provide our students and staff with a clear understanding of progress, an unimpeded glimpse of scale, and a total lack of mystery in what can sometimes feel like a less than transparent process.

photo 5They also provide an opportunity for creativity.

Around the windows, teams of student artists have painted murals that include the windows as focal points and show that whimsy and heavy machinery can coexist as long as both wear a smile.

…and then our ASB students added window boxes.

We have another twelve months before classes begin in the labs and classrooms of our new building, but as we watch the steel grow, the feeling on campus is one of excitement. You can see it through the windows.

box

This is not an awards ceremony…

We didn’t read names. No one waited for their kid to be called up to the stage, or shifted uncomfortably, longing for the program to be over. Instead, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five played quietly in the background as teachers and students and parents ate pizza, leaned in, and talked.

2awardAt San Dieguito we have a long tradition of doing things differently (our forum, an artistic approach to almost everything, and our kids’ status as future alumni are all a part of who we are). We’re also willing to try new ideas, and this week’s award un-ceremony was just that.

In lieu of a typical acknowledgment of great grades or subject specific prowess, we invited teachers to each nominate a student for an end of the year award. We didn’t put restrictions on the selection, opting to call our awards “a celebration recognizing awesomeness.” It was.

owenSo everyone could feel a part of the process and to keep things transparent, we created a shared Google presentation and invited teachers to put together a slide with their student’s name, a photo, and some words to describe why the student was so special. The results were as wildly diverse as our teachers and students.

One Math teacher created an animated extravaganza, with pop up highlights of his student’s “very cool briefcase” and status as a “mathematical genius.”

An English teacher celebrated one of her students for “his great wonder about the world, his kind heart, and the joy he brings to his learning. He is a positive addition to SDA and makes our school a great place for dreamers and thinkers.”

And for our AP Psychology teacher, a reference to Sigmund Freud was too tempting to pass up.zack

The photographs of the students and teachers, often laughing together, were an inspiring mélange of wit and sincerity. Slide by slide, this celebration of kids summed up who we are as a school.

And the slide show wasn’t the best part of the afternoon, that came after I had the privilege of welcoming more than forty kids, teachers, and families and explaining the idea behind our event.

1awardThis was, I told them, a chance not simply to politely applaud, but to connect. It’s part of our school’s DNA that we see each other as people first and students and teachers second. What that meant in this situation was a chance for us not to be separated by a podium or a stage, but to sit together, look each other in the eyes, and talk.

Teachers sat next to their students and not only handed them a certificate with the words they’d written on it, but also had time to talk with, not at, the kids and their families.

We hadn’t tried something exactly like this before, and to a certain extent we were working without a net; if conversation stalled, we didn’t have a filler. The concept of our event was predicated on the belief that everyone would show up and everyone would want to connect.

They did.

And as people talked, and ate, and laughed together, we ran the slideshow on a big screen at the front of the room. Occasionally folks cheered or clapped, and the humorous slides got their due guffaws, but what I noticed as I walked around the room was just how much eye contact was going on. Teachers, students, and parents were really listening to each other.

A parent told me afterward that she loved that she had an opportunity to get to know her son’s teacher. “At high school it’s easy to feel pushed away,” she said. “This was being welcomed in.”

kateWe ran the slideshow twice, so parents could snap a photo of their student’s slide for Facebook, and I noticed that people kept talking until a bell rang to tell us it was time to start afternoon classes.

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I don’t always leave award ceremonies as inspired as I was by this. It’s always neat to hear the accolades earned by gifted and hardworking students, but I’m still shaking my head at the astounding feeling of community I saw in media center during our un-ceremony.

I’m convinced that healthy relationships between the adults who help raise and educate students are the bedrock of a strong school. In those quiet conversations that filled our media center I saw those connections first hand, an inspiring reminder of what can happen when we create the opportunity to talk.

May

The seniors are thinking
about graduation
The juniors about prom
Sophomores, struggling
with their first AP test
or broken heart
or both
aren’t sure what to think
when everyone they know tells them
“Your junior year is the hardest.”
Freshmen and teachers
and principals too
are just looking forward
to summer
and next year
and an opportunity to get everything right
a little better, anyhow,
as they move another year
closer to being seniors.

Croquet in the Rain

photoTowering oaks helped diffuse the rain, though the grass was soaked and our mallets stayed slick and wet. A run of record heat had ended the day before and this Saturday a storm blew into Forest Grove with enough moisture to remind those of us flying up from California what a typical spring day in Oregon was all about.

We’d met in Dave’s empty office, eight of us there to wish him well as he finished his final week as a philosophy professor at Pacific University, thirty one years of showing undergraduates as we had been the way around a logical fallacy and appreciation of Quine’s argument for the beauty of a desert landscape.

Dave taught us about Kant and Husserl, epistemology and Eco, Foucault and the finer points of semiotics. We’d smoked cigars, wrestled with Sartre (and each other), and listened to our fair share of the exotic sounds of Martin Denny.

Dave was the heart of the philosophy department we knew twenty five years ago, and as we gathered on a campus some of us hadn’t visited since the 1990s, it was with an emotional ripple that I thought to myself: we will never all be together here again.

Maybe mine were silly thoughts; I haven’t attended a reunion before, either high school or college. I’m untempted to ask what’s become of a classmate I knew when I was a teenager, and uninterested in explaining the sundry victories and defeats of my own life. But this wasn’t that.

This gathering was for Dave. It was our chance to say thank you before he hopped on a plane to Colorado and left our alma mater without an anchor for any of our tiny craft.

We arrived singly and in pairs. Some brought gifts, a record, a box of cigars. We passed around a handful of photos and copies of an underground newspaper we’d foisted on an unsuspecting public back during the first Bush administration. We told stories and remembered others we were too polite to speak aloud. Then, tucking our chins to our chests and assuring each other that it was not too wet to play, we slipped out into the rain and walked to a grassy spot behind Marsh Hall to set up the croquet pitch.

The reality that it had been a quarter of a century since we’d all been together evaporated before our socks soaked through with rainwater. Familiar banter filled the field, familiar personalities animated faces only somewhat altered by time and experience, and the biggest thrill of the afternoon came when one of us had the opportunity to send another’s ball flying with a satisfying THWACK!

Being philosophy majors, we of course discussed the appropriate word to describe that magnificent sound of mallet on ball. THWACK!

photo 3Onomatopoetic.

I work in education now and see the connections students at my school make every day through the offhand remark, shared experience, or common language that rises up in small circles. These seemingly insignificant moments, so important as they build the structure of memory, brick by brick, will collectively last a lifetime.

Being a part of that small group of philosophy majors shivering delightedly in the rain on Saturday reminded me that the strongest ties are developed through laughter and argument. We don’t know what our lives will become, but being put in a place to look backward this weekend, I know that the person I am was built not only by what I did, but by who I did those things with.

I wish for my own students memorable experiences with interesting people, which is not necessarily the same as pleasant experiences with polite people. I wish them laughter, and argument, kindness, strife, and the opportunity for the occasional satisfying THWACK!

And sometime in the mid 2040s, I hope the students I see forming shared memories today are able to enjoy their own equivalent of gathering beneath the oak trees of their alma mater and playing croquet in the rain.

photo 5

The Kid Business

photoSome of us coach. Some of us teach. Some of us are parents. All of us are in the business of helping kids.

I’ve been a teacher since I was twenty-three and a parent since I was twenty-seven. Both are defining roles in my life, and while I’m a principal now, both are how I see who I am and think about what I do. I know I’m not alone.

That I see so many adults who have dedicated so much of their lives to helping kids succeed isn’t surprising; we all find circles of like minded folks to surround ourselves by. Most of my friends are teachers, and even those who aren’t parents themselves care deeply about making a positive difference in the lives of young people.

That reality is the ether in which I live, not thinking about it very often, simply treating it as a camel treats sand.

Then, this weekend, as I was helping my daughter’s softball coach carry some gear up to the field and listening to him talk about how he and the other coaches had dragged the fields the night before and come in early to chalk the diamonds, it hit me just how much of this kid business we all do for free.

That’s not a complaint, not at all, but a celebration. That so many give so much for no compensation beyond the (occasional) appreciation of the kids and the sense of having made a difference is a reminder of the goodness of human nature, something which I’ll confess to be guilty of overlooking more often than I should.

What this looks like is teachers going out of their way to help students at lunch, before school, and after the last bell has rung. It’s secretaries listening as students open up about the struggles in their lives, counselors going the extra mile to help students find that internship, and coaches making that extra phone call to help a student athlete find a place to play in college. It’s moms driving kids to the pool, aunts and uncles volunteering to help judge speech and debate, and grandparents coming to school to speak to business classes.

And yet the “kid business” is a misnomer; the students aren’t a commodity, but the future of our world. What we do for them, and even more importantly what we do with them, helps to define what our world will become. As we show them kindness and how they can show that kindness to others, the world we share becomes a better place.

Whether we coach, or teach, or parent, whether we cheer on our granddaughters at the field hockey game or coo to our newborn grandsons (as we give our own kids a break from parenting), whether we volunteer, contribute, or say “thank you” and mean it when a youngster gives us a drawing, we all have the opportunity to make a difference in the kid business.

The business of life.