Let’s Dance

Three cats,” he confirmed, looking up at me from across the ancient front desk of the motor lodge in Yreka.

“Yep.”

Tired from a full day’s drive that had started before sunrise, I hoped I didn’t sound rude. He nodded, squinted past me toward where I’d parked in the shade of the lobby overhang. “Twenty one dollars more.”

I smiled (as much as one can after twelve hours of driving) and got out my credit card wondering again how exactly they’d come up with $7 per cat. $7?

photoThe cats hadn’t been thrilled at the start of the drive when, needing to keep myself awake and inspired by the ACMA senior painting I’d seen when I visited campus in June, the soundtrack for our journey began with David Bowie.

This shapeshifting singer, always changing, always true to his artistic spirit, struck me as a nice image for coming to ACMA, a place of creativity, artistic daring, and openness, a school community where Ziggy Stardust is as welcome as the fellow in the suit who sang “Modern Love.”

So with “Let’s Dance” filling the car, the cats and I pulled out of the driveway and into the night. Driving north beneath the serious moonlight, I thought about what was waiting at the other end of I-5.

Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, soon to start its 26th year, is a place vibrating with creativity. On my visit in June I’d been struck by the student art filling the hallways, the energy in the sculpture studio, and the discussion in classrooms. I was moved by the light in the eyes of the students who showed me the garden on campus, wowed by the passion of the filmmakers I talked with, and amazed by the talent of the dancers who made the spring recital so engaging that my nine year old son, mesmerized by what he saw on stage, surprised me when he wanted to stay well past intermission.

The teachers and staff I met, friendly, funny, and student focused, were marvelous too, and I could tell from our conversations, the give and take with students I saw in classrooms, and their questions when we all got together after school that this was a group of professionals who took their work seriously and themselves a little less so. Kindred spirits. I was eager to join this professional family, working side by side, learning together, and supporting kids.

And what kids.

The students I got to talk with were creative, clever, and kind. They struck me from the start as curious and comfortable in their own skins. We talked about art, and Pikachu, and even cats. I faced the age old question: “Dogs for arms or arms for dogs?” My answer, the sensible choice, sounded as ridiculous as it should have as I said it.

bowieAnd I got to witness the students’ creativity.

In addition to jawdroppingly great dance, I watched students mold clay, make music, and collectively paint the David Bowie portrait now hanging outside the office at ACMA, the same painting that inspired my song choice on the drive north.

From the Hall of Hope and Justice to the classrooms and studios filled with passion and purpose, the spirit of ACMA is a beautiful tune of acceptance and artistry. I’m so excited to heed the call of that patron saint, answering yes when I hear that invitation: “Let’s Dance.”

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Ahoy!

I had the honor of being animated by a very young Alex HIrsch.Who is this guy?

It’s a question a few might be having as I take up the mantle of principal at ACMA (Arts & Communication Magnet Academy) in Beaverton, Oregon. A quick search tells anyone curious enough to spend ten minutes with Google that I’ve been an educator for 25 years, having taught English, art, and leadership in Oregon and California, and spent the last decade as an administrator, most recently as a principal of a very funky school not far from the beach.

A little more digging will say that I’m coming home to Oregon after too many years away, and have the great company of my wife, Jeannette, and my two kids, Ella and Henry. …oh, and three cats. You won’t find much about the cats online, and certainly not the story of me moving north with them (though if you visited a little motel in Yreka this summer and saw a guy and his cats checking in for the night, that was me. Nothing strange about a guy and his cats).

What you might also see, and if you’ve found this little chronicle of miscellany I suppose you already have, is that over the past few years I’ve written more than anyone with simple curiosity would want to peruse to answer that question I started with: “Who is this guy?”

No problem.

For a thumbnail sketch of who I am as an educator, I pulled these half dozen posts from the past few years and my time as a middle school and high school principal. Give them a peek and I think you’ll get a sense of my way of looking at the world and the work that I am so proud to be a part of. They’re not all of who I am, but they’re a swell primer of “the new guy” at ACMA.

pirateEducation can be magic, and when the stars align and everything feels unnaturally right, things like this can happen. Things like “Swashbuckling!

I always want my students to see me as a teacher, not just the guy in the tie, and part of that commitment comes when teachers are kind enough to hand me the keys to the classroom. One of my favorite topics is Sherlock Holmes, which I first folded into a lesson when I was a middle school principal, learning, as well as teaching “…a series of lessons…

Being a principal means helping be a good steward to your school and facing the reality that you are needed most when things aren’t going easy. Construction, destruction, and the awesome power of art all combined to make one day a couple of Novembers ago one of the most memorable in my professional life. I tried to catch some of the magic in “Vertebrae.”

BluesI can neither sing nor dance well, but I can care with the best of them, and the ability to say “yes” is something I possess in large amounts, so when I was invited to emcee a school assembly and join an amazing (and amazingly talented) student in singing a Blues Brothers tune I was quick to don a black fedora and suit and put on my dancing shoes. The truth was that it wasn’t my ridiculous dancing or off key crooning that I hope students remember, it’s the message that we all are good to remind each other: “I Need You.”

Even as we need each other, to truly embrace our adventure in education we need passion, curiosity, and mentors. I saw all three last summer when my son and my dad connected over “A Fish Story.”

It’s still summer, at least as I write this, and I’ll round out these half dozen entries with an old one that tries to capture some of that sunshine that belongs to July. It starts on a roller coaster and ends in a museum, all to the lazy tune of summer when we’re most relaxed when our proverbial boat is “Adrift.”

IMG_3782If you’d like, this blog is categorized with some topics listed in the right column. For my ACMAniacs out there, I’d suggest “art” as a category that means a lot to me and might to you too.

I’m really looking forward to the start of the school year, when I will have a chance to talk with students, parents, teachers and staff. I’m excited to join the ACMA family and be a part of a very special place with a quirky spirit that feels welcoming, curious, ridiculously creative, and very, very much like home.