Late February

photo-2Rain falling outside
students tucked into classes
the clock assuring me
that we still have another hour
before lunch and
the attendant chaos,
a rehearsal for spring,
that comes with the ringing of the bell

My jacket drips from a hook
on my office door
victim of the rain
and a long walk
out to the hinterlands of campus
rooms so far away
from my office
and yet the center of the world
for all the students learning there
of Euclid
Virginia Woolf
all these names on today’s agenda
in the classes I visited
on my wet walk.

There is a certain calm
to February
on a high school campus
as students, now so much at home,
scribble and jot, type, draw, and discuss
subjects not altogether unfamiliar.

Nothing really seems unfamiliar in February
we’ve spent so long together
and yet
have miles yet to go
before the sunshine of June.

Today we listen to the rain
warm up
and peek out windows
looking for spring.



photo-3-2The most fabulous first impression from San Dieguito’s 2002 Hoofprint is the yearbook’s maroon velvet cover. A shower of stars spill across the cover along with the silver words “I’d Like To Thank The Academy…”

Just wow.

Inside the pages of the yearbook a picture of life at San Dieguito emerges, a world of interesting haircuts, scooters, and school spirit.

Looking out from the pages of the Hoofprint are faces familiar to today’s current students. Mr. Davidson was teaching Chemistry in 2002, sometimes in costume. Mr. Hrzina sported a groovy bit of facial hair, Ms. Koda and Mr. Keillor looked exactly like they do now, and Mr. West proved that mohawk haircuts aren’t just for kids.


In 2002 students had lots of opportunities to share their creative spirit. The Battle of the Bands, theater events from Zombie Prom to Pygmalion, and painting murals are all represented in the yearbook, along with examples of students volunteering, working on cars, and making movies. Pages celebrating Comedy Sportz, Speech and Debate, and the Academic Team sit alongside images of student created fine art and more clubs than pack of neanderthals.

photo-1-3As the Hoofprint editors noted: “After a troubled day surrounded by cement walls and tedious assignments, there wasn’t anything more gratifying than coming together with various students who shared the same interest.”

Athletics also mattered to the Mustangs of fifteen years ago, and from Track and Field to “Mustang Fùtbol,” San Dieguito students demonstrated spirit and sportsmanship on the field, in water, and on the court.

photoSkaters, scholars, artists, and anarchists, San Dieguito students lived life in 2002 with passion and purpose. …and they had fun.

Over the past few months, as I’ve had an opportunity to peek inside the pages of yearbooks from San Dieguito’s eighty year history I’ve continued to be delighted by the familiarity of the expressions on the faces of students and staff; these are people inspired by hope, enjoying each other’s company, and eager to take on the world.

The class of 2002, in their thirties now, are well into their own adult lives, and it’s fun to see their youthful faces, looking forward toward a future that is now the present.

No Clue

I remember the professor as a bespectacled man with a mustache and the colonel as someone pushing well past middle age. Frumpiness was something Mrs. Peacock aspired to, and Miss Scarlet, well…

These memories, so firm in my mind, were the reason that this weekend, when my kids and I removed the cellophane from the new Clue game, I took one look at the cast of characters on the cards and wondered (almost aloud) Who in heaven’s name are they?

newclueIt was an overcast day, my son complained of feeling sick, and with my wife at a conference out of town I knew that the day would be spent mostly indoors. We were about to leave the store, our emergency run for bar soap and cat food complete, when we passed the toy aisle and saw a row of board games marked down 50%. A quick mental inventory told me that we didn’t have a copy of Clue at home. It had been one of my favorites from a childhood of rainy winters, so I scooped up the box and we headed home.

There, sitting at the dining room table with my curious daughter and son, I did my best to keep disgust from my face as I saw that the people on the suspect cards looked like the bratty grandchildren of the group I remembered. Almost at terms with that, I saw they’d changed the layout of the mansion.

Ye gads. It was like comparing Sinatra and Taylor Swift.

But then again, I stopped myself, people like Taylor Swift. Who am I to be a hater gonna hate?

So I took it as a good lesson for me as a principal, specifically as the principal of a school celebrating its 80th anniversary. The feeling I got when I opened that box and found the …modern surprise inside isn’t unlike the emotion that some alumni feel when they visit campus and see that things have changed.


Construction has been a constant at San Dieguito since FDR was in office, and the addition of our latest building is one of the largest. Opening this fall, our two story math and science building will bring our labs into the twenty-first century, a dramatic shift from a science wing built when Einstein was still alive.

New tennis courts sit beside an updated athletic field. The campus has wireless throughout. In a year we’ll break ground on another classroom building that will replace the portables dropped decades ago in the old agriculture corner of campus. They’re all changes that make sense for our students and by 2020 our school will be a beautiful blend of old and new, ready to serve students for the next 80 years and beyond.


Earlier this fall I heard an alum who had come on campus for a reunion look up at the new building rising from the ground between the historic 70s wing and the Mosaic Cafe, turn to me, shake his head, and say “the hell?”

We talked a bit about what was old and what was new, his memories and our construction, and finally arrived at an understanding that while many things had changed, not everything was different. And maybe that was okay.

Every generation of Mustangs has their own campus at San Dieguito, with some constants (the principal’s office, the central quad, the bell tower -after 1960) and some differences. Like me looking at the Clue board and wondering where the conservatory went, or when they added a garage, graduates are sometimes thrown by the additions or subtractions to the school. That’s natural, and…

clue-oldPlaying the game with my kids, I realized after a couple of rounds that while Clue isn’t exactly the same, it was just as fun as I remembered, particularly when I looked around the table at the company I got to enjoy.

Mrs. White wasn’t wearing a maid’s uniform, but she was just as capable of wielding a lead pipe in the dining room. Recognizing that our world, and our schools, are dynamic helps me keep perspective. The memories I have are no less sweet, even if Mr. Green can no longer visit the study. Likewise the memories of our alumni are as rich and wonderful as they ever were, and they’re no less meaningful than the memories our current students are creating. Those grandchildren of the original Clue gang, as young as they are, have a place beside my own mutton chopped Colonel Mustard.


His sixth day of high school was September 11th. He woke up early, turned on the news as he usually did, and saw the chaos of reports from New York that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. A split screen reported a plane hitting the pentagon. He watched, a rapt ninth grader, as the second plane hit.

Like students across the country, Gage went to school that day. His teachers, who he’d met less than a week before, welcomed him, reassured him and all his peers, and showed a “real, tangible concern” for all their kids.

photo 2 (4)Gage is now an energetic and affable adult, just past his tenth class reunion and filled with more positive stories about San Dieguito than I could put in a post, and yet, as we sat down to talk about life at San Dieguito in the early 2000s, he led with this story of 9/11. “Everybody cared so much,” he explained to me. “Teachers were willing to make honest emotional connections to their students,” and help make the horrible morning into a moving “introduction to the culture of San Dieguito.”

That San Dieguito spirit, defined in part by the connections between teachers and students, loomed large behind all our conversation. “When I got to college,” Gage told me, “I was surrounded by people who didn’t like their high school experiences. I loved mine.”

“We were all in it together,” he went on. “There were no nerds at San Dieguito because everybody was passionate about something. In middle school it wasn’t always popular to love something, or show you loved something, but at San Dieguito it was cool to like stuff.”

That attitude didn’t happen by accident. Gage looked back on his high school years and credited the teachers at the school who “shepherded students” and encouraged them to try new things. In Gage’s freshman year that meant Comedy Sportz. He was “terrible.” That didn’t stop him.

After summer Comedy Sportz camp, Gage returned to San Dieguito and struggled in practice not to be nervous. “By September I was lousy. By October just not good. By November I was okay, and then something clicked. I was in a game. People laughed. It was great.” He didn’t look back.

“I never felt pushed into anything I wasn’t comfortable with at San Dieguito, but I felt safe. I knew from watching my teachers and my peers that it was okay to open up and be vulnerable.”

That vulnerability translated into true connections between students as well, and Gage remembered a time when he was performing in a Chekov play in the San Dieguito Theater program. “I was friends with lots of guys from the baseball team, and one night they all came to see the show. Imagine that, the baseball team sitting there watching The Cherry Orchard. At the end of the night, when we were doing the curtain call, the whole team stood up and pulled open their shirts; they had painted the letters of my name across their chests.” He laughed at the memory. “A silly fusion of fun.”

And a not atypical San Dieguito story.

photo 3 (3)

Gage talked about the influence that “distinct culture” had on him and how it carries on with his friends today. “I hear about a lot of kids whose high school friendships were defined by proximity, but at San Dieguito it was deeper than that.”

San Dieguito’s distinct culture, strong in times of adversity and always ready for a silly fusion of fun, continues today, and I asked Gage what advice he’d give one of our current students. His smile broadened. “These four years are perfectly suited to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks,” he said. “The best thing you can do is try everything. Everything. And do the things you love as hard as you can. Don’t be afraid to try things because you are bad at them. Be bad at them and one day you’ll be good at them.” He paused. “And don’t be afraid to talk with people about what you love.”

Gage sure did when we sat down together, and he left me inspired.


Art, Angelic

At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise”
John Donne

I sat in the darkened theater listening to the orchestra’s introductory suite, anticipating the actors preparing to step on stage. I’d been over to the theater earlier in the week, returning a wig and glasses those artistic souls had loaned me for my own performance at an assembly, and had seen the opulence of the set: a tree winding its way to the sky, arched windows in a wall of stone, and a throne resembling something out of Henry V.

addamsI’d watched a preview of the musical number that started the show, a witty tune complete with snapping, a light bulb, and a tango interlude. These were outrageously talented students and the evening was young.

Art has a way of elevating our human experience, and working at a school with a thriving artistic heart never ceases to inspire me.

I know that the intellectual underpinnings of what we do at school matter much, and watching a student lead her peers through a difficult math problem, or seeing a young scientist collaborate with others to learn how to do bone repair in a science class brings its own sense of hope for our world. Math, science, history, these all help to form our future; art transforms us.

photo-4-3I see this magical transformation when I walk into the student art gallery on campus and take the time to really look at the paintings and sculpture of our student curated shows. It’s there in the sounds of students playing guitars on the lawn as they make music together, some of it their own. I see the transformative nature of art in every senior tile on campus, a legacy of ceramic squares that reaches back for decades and reinforces to students that each of them contribute to this school and its history.

Just this week a new mural went up on the outside wall of our screen printing shop (itself a realm of wild creativity). Not only is this new piece of student work transformative, but it also transforms. The student artist incorporated living moss along with the painted image; it is a mural that will literally grow over time. How wonderful to know that there are places in this rational world where dreams can become reality, where flights of fancy take to the air, raising our collective spirit with them.


Four centuries ago the British poet John Donne noticed (in verse) that while the globe was round, our human imaginations can transfigure “imagined corners” into something angelic. I see it every day on our campus, and felt it profoundly that night in the theater as trumpets not unlike those described by Donne finished the orchestral introduction, the curtains opened, and the winter musical began.

Great actors can elevate comedy into emotional resonance, and these students did. Songs soared, laughter burst from the audience, and for a couple of hours every soul in the theater was allowed to be a visitor to a world of artistic inspiration.

Our education system values facts and formulas and figuring things out, and it should. But just as we want our students to be able to navigate the globe, so too how important it is that they can find their way through art to the earth’s imagined corners.

Time Capsule

334It smelled older than 2000.

Major construction unearthed a two foot by two foot metal cube in a spot on campus that had long been rumored to contain a time capsule. No one knew when it had been put into the ground, but the rust and grit encrusting it suggested age.

We pulled it from the ground and a forklift brought it to the library, where we put it on display through the winter with hopes it might generate some discussion and prompt some of our alumni to remember days gone by. Then we found out that nobody remembered burying the thing.

So we asked everyone we could find. Some alumni remembered burying a time capsule in the mid 1970s. Others suggested the 80s. Someone thought early 90s. No one knew for sure.

At our annual faculty and staff reunion former teachers and past graduates looked at the box and made guesses. None could actually remember the metal cube going underground, but they all agreed that it looked old.

723The day we finally opened it up the school gathered with expectation and a crowbar. Our metals teacher and some intrepid students loosened the bolts and pried open the top. It took some work, but finally the top opened and inside…

…smelled horrible.

Inside we found newspapers, magazines, letters, and a reminder that if one is to put together a time capsule waterproofing is really important.

Looking through the contents that survived sixteen years in the ground, I thought about the differences between 2000 and today.


After we opened it up a graduate brought in photos of students filling the time capsule in 2000

George Clooney looked younger.

Cassette tapes existed.

The students at San Dieguito at the turn of the millennium were still closer to their brethren of the 1980s than  students of today. Terms like “smart phones” and “instagram” weren’t part of their lives. Few knew of groups like al-Quaeda, the Department of Homeland Security, or Maroon 5. Charles Shultz was still writing Peanuts.

On San Dieguito’s campus students still listened to Blink-182, skated down the San Dieguito ten step, and learned physics from George Stimson. In addition to Mr. Stimson, fourteen other teachers here in 2017 were at SDA in the year 2000. Yet from boom boxes to break dancing, the world of 2000 feels farther away than seventeen years. Should it be strange then that the time capsule looked the part?

736Next month our current students will put their own time capsule into the earth not far from where the class of 2000 lowered theirs into the ground. What will the world look like years from now when students (perhaps not yet born) paw through the flotsam and jetsam of 2017? I assume George Clooney will still look good.

Time marches, here at San Dieguito with a bit of a skip in its step, and to try to freeze any moment in time is as foolish as it is tempting.

741The memories that our students are creating are real, just as were those of students from the year 2000, or the 1970s, or the 1950s, or the 1930s, and I’m sure that if a principal twenty years from now sets about chronicling San Dieguito for its hundredth anniversary the results will be moving and concrete remembrances of a school filled with creativity and caring.

A time capsule captures something different, merely facts and objects. That photograph we pulled from the rusty metal box isn’t as clear as the memories from any of the students in the picture. The world that emerged from that rusted metal box, mildewed as it was, is less vibrant that any story a graduate might tell.

As we reflect on San Dieguito’s eighty years as a school, I invite us all to gather not news clippings but people’s stories. I encourage anyone interested in the history of our school to find a graduate, a teacher or former teacher, and ask them what it was like when…

San Dieguito is more than a place; it is a collection of people, a collection of memories, and a collection of stories. These carry more weight than wet newsprint.


Helping Muscles

Tonight we’ll gather for our winter edition of the San Dieguito Book Club to talk about Michele Borba’s Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. It’s a book whose relevance feels more real every day and the ideas it presents strike me as a great starting point for meaningful conversation.

cover-unselfie-by-michele-borba-500x750Divided into three parts: Developing Empathy, Practicing Empathy, and Living Empathy, Unselfie provides parents, educators, and readers of any age and profession with real life examples, researched based opinions, and practical steps toward a kinder life.

Borba begins her third section of Unselfie with the compelling example of a Dateline episode that involved a “mini-bullying experiment.” Her description of a student with the “moral courage” to step in and stop an act of aggression illustrated clearly and well empathy in action.

It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with our basketball coach the week before, when he explained the sense of morals he tried to instill in his players. “It’s not ‘will you accept me’” he said, “for who I am, black, white, gay, straight, or whatever. It’s will you stand up for me when others don’t?” This is a man “living empathy” and making a difference in the lives of those around him.

Being “morally courageous” isn’t always easy, but Borba makes an argument that the benefits stretch beyond the person who is stood up for.

A bold child is more likely to withstand negative peer pressure, say no to temptations that counter your family’s values, and fight the good fight. But moral courage also plays a surprising role in predicting success and happiness and giving kids the Empathy Advantage. This essential habit boosts kids’ resilience, confidence, and willpower as well as their learning, performance, and school engagement.”

How then to help the students we work with (and parent) be bold in the face of adversity? Borba offers a series of suggestions from “set and example” to “offer heroes.” A more challenging suggestion for parents today comes in her call to “stop rescuing.” It’s a concept we talked a lot about at our last San Dieguito Book Club, with some wonderful conversations about the self-confidence that comes from figuring out the answers to challenges on our own.

Borba’s final chapter, Growing Changemakers and Altruistic Leaders, resonated particularly with me as a principal. I agree with Borba’s assertion that “our children are wired for goodness” and I believe that the opportunities and experiences we provide at school can make a difference with regard to their outlook on life and their place in society. I see in our complex role as educators a benefit of putting students in situations where they can succeed: academically, creatively, and empathetically.

img_0011The suggestions in Unselfie reinforce that belief and remind me how important it is to use the empathy we all have. As Borba writes: “Science shows that though our children have a Good Samaritan instinct, their helping muscles must be exercised continually or they’ll lose their power.”

I love the six steps that Unselfie provides to parents and educators to help students, including “find a cause that concerns your child,” “start locally,” and “keep going.” The list offers practical ideas that could be put into practice at home or at school and could make a difference both for individual students and the greater community.

I finished the book believing that I could make a difference, that I could contribute to a kinder world and a school community that valued, promoted, and celebrated empathy. It will be fun to hear what the others who read the book thought when we get together this evening in the library.

And for anyone who hasn’t quite finished the book, or who spotted this little post too late to start now, I’ll offer a briefer than brief summary of Borba’s epilogue as enough preparation to join us tonight.

In the final few pages, Unselfie suggests these seven ways to cultivate empathy.

Be friendly, it matters a lot and is a choice we can all make. Break down barriers; we are far more alike than we are different, not matter what some around us might suggest. Give kids a voice, whether at something like SDA’s student forum or around the dinner table. As a person who has spent his adult life working with teenagers, I can assure you that they have much of value to say.

Play chess and unplugged games. Create parent support networks. I hope our book club counts as that. Build caring relationships, with our students and each other. And Don’t give up on a child. We may be the helper that student needs, and I’ll suggest that they may hold the key to the kindness we need to show.

I hope for a good turnout for tonight’s book club, and even more I hope that the ideas suggested in Unselfie may help all of us at San Dieguito flex our helping muscles.


The San Dieguito Book Club meets on Monday, February 6, 2017 from 6:00-8:00 pm in our Media Center. Feel free to join us to talk about Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.


Beautiful Compensations

This week, while I was preparing to jot out these thoughts on Michele Borba’s book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, and particularly the second section “Practicing Empathy” that begins with the quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

I was surprised by a situation where my school asked another school if we could change the start time of one of our games to accommodate “Senior Night” and they said, unequivocally, “no.”

A week earlier we had been asked by the same school to roll back the start time of a game at their school and we’d agreed, so the refusal hit extra hard. I did my best to articulate our request, but the other school held to its decision, quoting CIF rules that showed they were legally in the right. It was a lesson for me in the importance of empathy.

photo 5At San Dieguito we pride ourselves on a campus community that puts a premium on seeing the world through the eyes of others. We recognize that we’re human and we make mistakes, but we strive to, as Borba suggests “move from ‘them’ to ‘us.’”

As a part of that journey, next week parents, students, teachers, and admin like me will meet to discuss Unselfie, and the importance of empathy at our San Dieguito Book Club. Our school community meets several times a year to talk about relevant books, and the opportunity for us to discuss the issues and challenges we face as we travel this path together make us stronger and more prepared to make a difference.

The first section of Unselfie discusses “Developing Empathy” and in the second section she writes about putting that empathy into practice. Much of Borba’s argument addresses parenting and the strategies parents can use to help their own kids practice empathy. She writes about kindness, explaining that:

Kindness is strengthened by seeing, hearing, and practicing kindness. … [and] kids must have ample opportunities and encouragement to practice kindness.”

Describing a school in Delaware that implemented a program to encourage this behavior, Borba explains that momentum “continued building throughout the year because the students continued doing simple, regular kind acts, and other kids saw or experienced them and wanted to do the same.”


At school we can do much to help support a commitment to empathy by putting students in positions where kindness is celebrated, encouraged, and where it can become a “simple, regular” part of the educational experience. This needn’t be didactic; it may be as easy as adults and students being more mindful about recognizing the kindness around them, and the school putting into place ongoing opportunities to recognize instances of empathy.

Here at San Dieguito I see examples of this in our ASB’s commitment to celebrating all students at assemblies, on our school’s Facebook page where students are recognized for being good to one another as well as for their accomplishments, and through programs like our Link Crew (where older students mentor and support younger ones), our PALs, and various clubs built around the ideas of being good people. I see it in the way our teachers treat our students, seeing them first as people and then as scholars. And I see it in the notes I get from kids, one this week so heartfelt it moved me almost to tears.

Borba spends some time talking about other advantages to practicing kindness, specifically citing scientific studies that suggest kindness leads to happier, less selfish, and more popular (as defined by having more friends, a slippery definition of popularity) kids.

In addition, she turns the discussion on adults, suggesting this scenario:

Pretend it’s twenty-five years from now and you’re at a family reunion eavesdropping on your now-grown kids discussing their childhoods. How are they describing your typical behavior? And what do they remember as “the most important messages” you told them as kids?”

Talk about giving adults pause.

The question, in a slightly altered form, is one great educators ask themselves often. Working with students as we do, it’s true that what we say is only a part of how we are perceived; what we do, how we carry ourselves, and the lessons we teach when we’re not purposefully teaching lessons does as much to define us in our students’ eyes.

As a dad (and as a principal) I read more closely as Borba described “how to cultivate kindness in children” including modeling kindness, expecting kindness in others, valuing kindness, reflecting on kindness, and explaining kindness. Her examples and suggestions have a real practicality that I look forward to discussing with the students, teachers, and parents who come to our book club next week. How might we incorporate a more thoughtful approach to encouraging empathy in our school? I believe our students know answers to that question that I would never think about.

cover-unselfie-by-michele-borba-500x750In the final chapter of this middle section of her book, Borba describes the vitally important shift from seeing “them” to seeing “us.” Describing a study by social psychologist Muzafer Sherif, she quotes the psychologist who explained “Hostility gives way when groups pull together to achieve overriding goals that are real and compelling to all concerned.” As she notes: “Raising kids in a competitive environment not only can increase animosity but also suppress generosity and prosocial behaviors.” How important then that we work together for the benefit of all.

Back to our Senior Night. After some additional conversations with the other school, where we talked about helping each other, supporting students, and the importance of looking out for sister schools, the angels of our better nature prevailed and the start time was rolled back an hour. It was a decision good for kids, and an experience good for all of us.

The results of students, and adults too, practicing empathy is more than just a kinder school. As we see the world through the eyes of others and slowing ourselves down to ensure that we allow for multiple points of view, we not only make our school community better, we also enjoy those “beautiful compensations” that Emerson writes about: lives richer because of the kindness we show to others.

The San Dieguito Book Club meets on Monday, February 6, 2017 from 6:00-8:00 pm in our Media Center. Feel free to join us to talk about Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.