Buns

koz2There are times a little detail, a small image, lodges itself in memory, a burr on the woolen sock of life. Last year San Dieguito alum Mike Koslowski, class of 1974, returned to campus to present the school with a “Golden Football,” an honor he earned by playing on the 1982 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl team.

Koz and I met ahead of the ceremony and his stories of San Dieguito in the 1970s were funny, heartfelt, and delivered with a smile. He’d grown up along the coast, played volleyball as well as football while a Mustang, and had a knack for spinning yarns of North County as it was when it still felt very much like a small town.

We filled the library with students on the day he came to officially present the ball, and alumni joined us to welcome Koz home.

photo-4As expected, he talked about his athletic pursuits while wearing a Mustang uniform, and the student athletes in the crowd enjoyed hearing about his passion for competition and listening to him describe his winding road to professional success.

Then, about halfway through his talk, Koz paused and asked: “Do they still have those cinnamon buns?” The kids looked at each other, puzzled. Someone offered: “I don’t think so…” Koz closed his eyes, bringing back a memory.

“You could smell them baking in the cafeteria from all over campus.” He smiled. “All through fourth period you could smell them, and mmmm.”

photo-1-6The kids laughed.

Koz went on to describe life on campus during the Nixon administration, a world filled with dress up days, school spirit, and even donkey basketball. Then he paused again and asked: “How about streakers?”

The now very curious crowd shook their collective head.

“I remember guys would run buck nake-”

“Koz,” I interjected from the wings. “Let’s go back to the other buns. I’d rather have cinnamon rolls on campus than streakers.”

Koz beamed.

His memories of San Dieguito in the 1970s are comprehensive and deep, and today, a year after his visit, I remember so clearly his laugh, his love for our school, and the little details of his youth that he was so generous to share.

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Much has changed at San Dieguito since Koz walked these breezeways, and much hasn’t. Students still play sports, make memories, and “horse around” in ways that would make Koz proud.

We’re a school that values our heritage and our alumni and celebrates the traditions that are part of our collective history. I love the school we are today and the energy and enthusiasm our students and staff bring to all they do, though I’d be fibbing if now, after spending some time with Koz, I didn’t admit that sometimes as I cross campus I wish that I could smell the scent of cinnamon.

Every ‘80s Movie Principal

The teachers and their spouses arrived to the 1980s themed fall fundraiser in a wave of vintage glory. From an authentic letterman’s jacket to an asymmetrical neon workout outfit, they showed that to teach one must be a performer of sorts, and that for this particular party they were just as gifted at costuming.

Spotting them walk in I asked to take a photo; the all black/all attitude look and popped collars were too good to pass up. They smiled, lined up, and one raised his Lloyd Dobler style boom box above his trench coated shoulders. Awesome.

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Kind as they are, they invited me into the picture. I demurred; I’d chosen a coat and tie, knowing I’d be giving a speech later in the evening. They insisted, and I was forced to publicly admit a lack of costume. Then, with what I imagine affection, a voice corrected me: “No. You’re every principal in every ‘80s movie.”

Before anyone could ask me to describe the ruckus I hopped into the photo.

As a child of the ‘80s, the notion that I’m the guy in the tie is still an odd one. I grew up knowing that as an adult I didn’t want a job where I bought anything, sold anything, or processed anything, I didn’t want to buy anything sold or processed, or sell anything… you get the idea. As an educator, I don’t.

Mine is a job of service, of working hard to try to make a difference, of looking forward, and working toward a future better than our present.

Those goals don’t exactly fit the stereotypes of a principal from my own high school years. Sometimes, however, the day to day duties do.

Just a couple of weeks ago some of our students took to social media to organize a walkout to express their frustration with the outcome of an election that only a few were old enough to vote in. It’s a challenge teenagers have been facing since long before the ‘80s, too young to vote, but old enough to have passionate and informed opinions.

I got an email heads up that morning, and spent the day working with my administrative team to ensure that we followed district protocol, informed parents and teachers, cooperated with partners in law enforcement and at another high school, and came up with a plan that honored our students’ rights while at the same time kept them safe.

Our students handled themselves well, with voices from all political stripes finding a polite and passionate audience. Signs and flags for both sides of the political spectrum dotted the lawn by the amphitheater, and students sat or stood respectfully as my admin team and I kept a perimeter to make sure no uninvited guests crashed the unsanctioned but peaceful protest. Thirty minutes later the bell rang for fourth period and the crowd thanked each other for coming out and headed off to class.

Did I just describe a ruckus?

It wasn’t really much of one; the angriest voices I heard were from community members who phoned me to offer chastisement for “allowing students to believe they had a voice,” “letting kids think that when they graduate they will be able to protest,” and, as one angry gentleman scolded me, “educating a generation of wusses.”

But not all of being a principal, in this decade or any other, is responding to situations. At its best the job is about maintaining a vision for the future and working toward that picture of your school’s best self. It’s not chasing Ferris or telling the kids they can’t dance, but being a good steward to an institution that puts students in positions where they can succeed.

If some of those students dress all in black or like to wear buttons on their jackets, if they want to sport neon legwarmers or Guns ‘n Roses t-shirts, then more power to them. It’s the principal’s job to welcome them all, help them all see the value of listening to each other’s voices, and maybe even see that students, and principals too, transcend the stereotypes people have of them.

The world often looks at educators and students with suspicion and writes them off as agitators or cardboard cutouts. Put more eloquently: “You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain …and an athlete …and a basket case …a princess …and a criminal.”

Am I every principal from every 1980s movie? Trust me, I’ve been called worse.

The Light Gets In

It had been a long couple of weeks. October was in the rear view mirror, a month without holidays, and with it the exhaustion of Homecoming, the stress of hosting a slew of after hours meetings, and the craziness of Halloween. We’d just dealt with an unexpected fire alarm and evacuation of the student body to the field. When we tracked down the cause, it was, and I’m not exaggerating here, a heaping plate of sausage in the lunchroom of the adjoining transportation department. Early November hadn’t brought the piece of mind many expected. Everyone was a little grimmer than usual and Thanksgiving was still a week away.

And then, in one of those moments that provide inspiration, a student knocked on my office door. I smiled and she came in. Without a word she handed me a flower.

I thanked her as she left, a bundle of roses under her arm, and she smiled back before exiting, presumably bound for more deliveries.

Looking down, I read the note attached to the stem. On one side, printed neatly it said:

This world has forgotten what it’s like to be kind to one another. So what are YOU doing to change that? I challenge you to go out of your way this week to make someone smile.”

I hoped I was up to the challenge.

On the other side of the card, handwritten, it read: “Thank you for not giving up on your students.”

photo-3No, I thought. Thank you.

Leonard Cohen, another November loss, sang to the world the wise words that a friend once put before me when I was facing hard times. “There is a crack, a crack, in everything. That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in.”

That flower, and that student who brought it to my office, is the light that Leonard Cohen was singing about. She is hope, and grace, and the challenge to be better than we are. She is, put simply, the reason an educator like me remains more optimistic than some I know who don’t have the great good fortune to work with students.

A little asking told me that during a recent heat wave this same student used her own money to buy Gatorade for the construction workers building our new science and math classrooms. The rose in my office, and given to souls all across campus, was not an anomaly, but a way of life.

For any who doubt that the future is in good hands or who believe that “kids today” lack the empathy or initiative to make a lasting difference, I offer this example of what is right in our world. This care and act of kindness was exactly what I needed that November morning to know that the light gets in.

11

img_5958Late November
just in time
with a few days away from campus,
a wet rain
after the drought of October
and before the flood
of the holidays
(lower case now)
engulfs us all
with waves of
time
enough to reflect
on the busy winter
and spring to come.

But now it is November
and in this time
between high school sports seasons
we breathe
as much as we’re able
and give thanks.

 

“The Mustang” 1974-1975

As chronicles of student life, yearbooks get all the respect. Students long since graduated can go to trunks and attics and recover bound volumes, one for each year, that remind them in one or two page increments what Homecoming was like, who was in the Key Club, and what the band uniforms looked like when they were in high school. For a reminder of classmates’ hairstyles lined up in rows, yearbooks can’t be beat, and for durability they’re about the best record of years gone by.

1975-logoFor a month to month window in what life is like on a school’s campus, however, for a glimpse into students’ priorities and attitudes, the most reliable record is quite simply the school newspaper.

The trick, of course, is the transitory nature of a newspaper. Its strength is its immediacy; its Achilles heel is that same quality. Few save newspapers, particularly high school students, and before the digital age when websites archived student journalists, the articles and opinion pieces, letters to the editor and rebuttals, the grainy black and white photos and editorial cartoons were often lost to that great devourer, time.

1975-students-rightsWhat a treat then that here at San Dieguito some vintage issues of The Mustang still survive.

A quick visit to San Dieguito’s Alumni website leads to a link to a student newspaper archive. Three years of The Mustang live here, 1974-1975, 1994-1995, and 1995-1996. They are a delight.

What’s striking about the newspapers, particularly those from the 1970s, is how different the tone seems than the more genteel writers of 2016. These are journalists with opinions, students writing letters to the editor with things to say. In 1974-1975, The Mustang rings with the clear voice of dissent.

A sampling of articles from the Nixon era student newspaper reveals a student body concerned with justice. One student editorialist wrote about “Student Rights” in an educational system where not every student gets along with every teacher. On the same page, another student described “How to Fire the ASB” while a third fielded a letter to the editor demanding to know why an American Government class was being charged for covertly inserting flyers about environmental concerns into every issue of The Mustang.

Noticeable too is pride in San Dieguito and concerns that the school isn’t living up to its potential. In a June 1975 column titled “The Critic Speaks,” a student wrote: “We have a lot already here at this wonderful school of ours, but perhaps it needs something more. Four years now I have waited for some type of student action other than the usual, other than tossing water balloons at trash collectors and other school employees. I have waited for something better. Something that says out loud, ‘We don’t give a damn.’ As of yet, nothing.”

1975 May ad.jpgThe newspapers also provide a glimpse at the reality that until Torrey Pines High School opened its doors, a delay in construction had young Falcons sharing space with Mustangs on San Dieguito’s campus. Praising the advantages of San Dieguito, the student writer noted that “Torrey Pines staff expects to solve many problems when they move onto their own campus.”

In an example of the way news can feel dated soon, The Mustang celebrated the fact that the “60¢San Dieguito Special is here to stay” and described an innovative and “fool proof” way to take attendance that included color coded cards index cards and a “machine which immediately prints them on a print out sheet.” Ah, technology in 1975. It was “definitely more accurate than other systems used by high schools in the county.”

1975-may-attendanceFrom a photo of San Dieguito’s “Math geniuses” to a critique of dividing gym time between girls and boys PE (which included the line: “San Dieguito’s beautiful new gymnasium has gone to the birds, or more specifically, it has gone to the chicks.”), The Mustang captured student voices and given them inches of column space to speak out across the decades.

Some of those voices raise concern for issues such as the “Senior Squeeze” that asked 12th grade students to pay the crazy prices of $24 for senior pictures and $8 for a yearbook. Others rise satirically, and in the July issue you can find parody pages of newspapers called The Red Press and Socialist Review and The Patriot, “brought to you by The San Dieguito Red Neck Society.” If the current satire of The Mustang’s “Sentinel” section sometimes confuses folks, I can only imagine how the “Red Press Student Manifesto” would be received with its call to “Overthrow the Administration, Exile the leaders of the ASB Bourgeoisie, and Abolish all school newspapers.”

In addition to these opinion pieces are lots of great articles describing athletic events, dances, and student activities. We learn from The 1974-1975 Mustang that donkey basketball was a huge success and that final exams caused “tension to mount” among students on campus.

1975-may-math-geniusesThere is no replacement for a great yearbook, the mug shots from years gone by worth the price of admission, always, but as a compliment to the historical record of San Dieguito, I’d offer past issues of The Mustang. Where else will you find a photo of math geniuses?

 

A Peculiar Principal

Miss Peregrine resonated with me.

My daughter, an avid reader and creative soul, had just finished reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and over the weekend we tromped off to the movie theater to see Tim Burton’s take on the unusual story.

I hadn’t thought about what I might think of the show; every parent knows that taking your kids to the movies is for them, not for you, a lesson I learned when years ago I took my niece to see Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. Oops. But that’s a story for another post.

peregrineSo as we settled into the theater it surprised me that from her first appearance at the front door of her home for peculiar children, the fierce, droll, pipe smoking Miss Peregrine struck me as a kindred spirit.

For those as unfamiliar with Ransom Riggs’ book or the new movie as I was, Miss Peregrine is a person with special abilities, particularly around time, who looks after a collection of unique children held in a limbo of time in an effort to keep them safe from a malevolent force manifested in long limbed eyeless creatures invisible to all but a few. Oh, and she can turn into a falcon.

What struck me first, as a high school principal always trying to do his best, was just how deftly Miss Peregrine handled her complicated and high stakes duty. Things weren’t always smooth. How could they be while bending time, watching twins who could turn anyone to stone by removing their masks, or fending off invisible monsters? But she was able to toggle between little issues and big without losing her grin. Eye eating creature climbing up the cliff? Grab the crossbow. Kids squabbling about who gets to play with a teddy bear? Show the wisdom of Solomon.

bear-twinsMiss Peregrine knew that when working with those not yet adult the best approach involves patience, the ability to stay calm, and a certain smiling determination that I’ve seen in the best principals I know.

Efficiently, and maybe a little wild eyed, Miss Peregrine took her job seriously and her self a little less so.

She knew her kids. She knew their quirks and their abilities, their foibles and their aspirations, and not only maintained a clear vision of each as her or his own best self, but she encouraged them to be true to her they were on the inside. What this meant over the course of the story was that what appeared peculiar early on proved to be vital to the success of all by the end of the story. We as an audience might not be able to predict how a curse could be a blessing, but Miss Peregrine, who chose to see the strengths in her students, could.

This didn’t mean that she wasn’t fiercely protective of them, but even as she held aloft a pocket watch to keep them accountable for timeliness, she was willing to let them explore, have adventures beyond the bounds of the home, and push against the boundaries of their world.

missperegrineMiss Peregrine was a problem solver and a guiding hand. She was there for those in her charge not as a friend, the responsibilities of the world are too much for any leader really to be, but as a benevolent and constant force for good puffing on a bent briar.

Protection and encouragement are two issues always on my professional mind, and to see a character, particularly a flawed character, balance both with such grace couldn’t help but inspire.

Literal monsters aren’t storming the gates of my school, but Miss Peregrine’s sense of duty and role as leader of youth feels very real to me. Now if I could just figure out how to turn into a bird.  

1969

photo-5As a snapshot in history, yearbooks are a great way to see what was happening on campus in any particular year. Celebrating the 80th anniversary I’ve been choosing a yearbook from each decade of San Dieguito’s history and sharing a few of the highlights, photos, and memories, to do my imperfect best to remind our 21st century audience what life at San Dieguito was like in years gone by.

I’ve played “Donkey Basketball” so I can tell you how nutty things must have been at San Dieguito in the late 1960s.

No one had yet walked on the moon when students arrived on campus in the fall of 1968, though space was a topic on many folks’ minds. Conflict was alive worldwide and at home, as was love, and as hair got longer and attitudes got freer, the times they were a’changin’.

photo-2-1These changing times show up in the San Dieguito Hoofprint, where a quick tour of the 1969 yearbook shows a glimpse into a world of high fashion, rock and roll, and campus hijinks, including wagon races, climbing the bell tower, and laughing with the four legged mascot.

By the 1960s some color photographs made their way into the yearbook, and in 1969 those included curiously posed tableaus of athletics, Mustang royalty on the beach, and a delightfully unexpected picture of four foreign exchange students riding horses. Giddy up.

photo-3-2For those interested in San Dieguito history, the dedication to the Hoofprint is a treasure trove of Mustang lore. Smiling out from the pages, a mallet in his hand, is Mr. David Davidson, former San Dieguito superintendent and current (in 1969) San Dieguito printmaking teacher. Many who leave the classroom for administration stay out, especially after rising to the rank of top official in a district, but as the prose beside this photograph explains, after serving as superintendent for nine years, Mr. Davidson went back to the classroom in 1961 where he supervised the literary magazine and the yearbook. He looks happy as a teacher.

Happy too are the students caught just before a wagon race at the Powder Puff Football game. Anticipation, youthful exuberance, and an unfettered joy seen more in teens than adults shines out from this snapshot. This is youth in 1969, free, hopeful, and prone to fun.

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photo-5-1On the other side of the coin of youth is studying, and one great photograph from an English class shows Mr. Jordan teaching literature, his pose and deportment begging for a caption. What were they talking about that day? Had they read Hamlet or Hardy? Is the paper he is holding up an essay worth quoting or a quiz that didn’t meet his standards. In the frozen black and white of time, this is simply a scene captured for posterity from half a century ago.

And then there are the donkeys.

photo-1The Hoofprint records that seniors beat the faculty 30-26 in a hard fought contest that saw students and teachers clutching a basketball while trained donkeys in rubber horseshoes trotted up and down the court. A few action shots capture the abject fear of the players, and even a tumble or two, and a group photo at the end of the game shows exhaustion and relief on the faces of the victorious seniors.

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Those same seniors, and students from all four grades, appear in more than 200 pages of photographs, some celebrating the robust music program, others showing clubs from the Future Farmers to the Motorcycle Club. The Hoofprint shows Mr. Liggett preparing students for a production of Molière’s The Miser and Coach Wiley preparing the wrestling team, affectionately called “The Mustang Matmen,” for competition.

The world that these thespians, musicians, athletes, and agriculturalists stepped into after graduation was one of flux and friction, but looking at the faces of the Mustangs in the 1969 yearbook, one can imagine that their years at San Dieguito prepared them to face their future with purpose, passion, and a smile.

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