Young Trumpeter

Everyone has a special something to offer inside of them. So I think that part of being a composer, or an artist of any sort, is to find your own special gift and to nurture that, and don’t worry about anything else. If you’re a writer of haiku or short story, whether you’re a painter in oil or acrylics or collage, a dancer, a sculptor, it makes no difference. Find your own voice and pursue it, and then back it up with technique and craft.”      -Morten Lauridsen

Morten Lauridsen has been described as an icon among choral composers. His works have been nominated for Grammy Awards, earned him a National Medal of Arts, and are performed across the United States and the world more often than just about any living choral composer.

Screen Shot 2018-08-28 at 9.19.27 AMBefore any of that, before the awards and accolades, the applause and the performances, before shaking hands with the president or having his work performed at Carnegie Hall, back when he was a youngster in 1950, Morten Lauridsen started playing trumpet in the school band at C.E. Mason Elementary.

As a part of our school’s historical retrospective, I reached out to the composer this summer, asking about his time at C.E. Mason, and was rewarded with a charming reminiscence of life in Beaverton in the 1950s. C.E. Mason was a new school in 1950, large windows looking out from solid classrooms, a voluminous assembly room with a stage that is now our library. Imagining a young Morten Lauridsen playing trumpet on that stage is a connection to history that our current students, musical and otherwise, can relish. Like him and his mid-century contemporaries, students today are striving to find that “special something to offer inside of them” that a more seasoned Lauridsen described in the 2012 documentary film of his life.

The 1947 architect’s drawings for C.E. Mason show details for the wooden doors our students still open, doors a young Lauridsen would have passed through on his way to study Oregon history, a favorite topic, as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic too. Even then future artists had to meet state requirements in decidedly non-artistic subjects.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 2.32.21 PMIn his six years at C.E. Mason, the young trumpeter remembered working most lunch hours in the cafeteria, washing dishes so he could have a free meal. I like to think that this work ethic, rooted in his formative years and expressed in the same building our current art students now inhabit, is in part responsible for the prolific catalogue of musical works the composer has built over the decades spent in the busy city of Los Angeles, where he is a professor at USC, and the peaceful silences of Waldron Island, where he composes beneath the stillness of the woods. Morten Lauridsen is a man of the world, but a boy of Beaverton.

As boy, Lauridsen remembered being “patched up” by the son of Dr. C.E. Mason, himself a doctor, after “being terrible spiked in the leg during a baseball game.” The small world of Oregon was smaller yet then.

Life at C.E. Mason Elementary for a creative soul in the 1950s wasn’t however, without peril. “I enjoyed most of my grade school teachers,” he told me. “Although I still remember distinctly the art teacher disapproving of my green bunny rabbit in the third grade–there went my career as a visual artist!”

If Morten Lauridsen were at ACMA today, we would frame his green bunny rabbit.

It is a pleasure to look back sixty odd years and see a picture of our school through the eyes of an artist. Knowing the astounding work that would come later from this young trumpeter and unconventional preadolescent artist puts a glow to his memories of C.E. Mason Elementary, and might serve as a reminder to our current students of the long history of art at this special campus.

Lauridsen ended his reminiscences with a heartfelt comment that I hope many students would agree with across the years. His life at C.E. Mason, he said, was “in all, a fine grade school experience.”

These days, every morning in lieu of a first bell of the day we play music over the PA. Tomorrow morning that music will be Chanson Éloignée. Our kids will be moved, the power of art will swell in song, and the same halls that young Morten Lauridsen walked in 1950 will reverberate with music composed by one of C.E. Mason’s favorite sons.

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Price Tag

I once had a teacher I respect come up to me after a staff meeting and give me a number. He’d spent a chunk of his time in his seat not paying attention to what was being presented, but rather doing some math. He’d looked around the room, counted out how many teachers and staff were there, calculated hourly wages, looked at the clock, and figured a total cost for the meeting. It was staggering. “That’s how much this staff meeting cost,” he told me. “Was it worth that?”

Now I’ve never been one for long meetings, or standing up in front of a group reading through information that could be as easily distributed in an email or memo, but it was this amazing educator’s decision to put the “value” of meeting in black and white that has stuck with me for now almost a decade. As I prep meetings, particularly those that start the school year, his question echoes in my mind “Was it worth that?”

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What this means on the ground is more than just shorter meetings. Yes, I limit my welcome back days to mornings only, sticking firm to the commitment to get my teachers into their classrooms before lunch, but in addition I do my best to be mindful of how we spend those mornings together.

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We laugh.
We listen to kids.
We connect.
We discuss.
We play.
We try to come to consensus on the issues that impact our work.

…and when we have those mandated moments (of blood-borne pathogen training and such) we do our best to remember Shakespeare’s line: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

IMG_8275Sure there are times when a presentation is necessary, and I’ve found that teachers are most kind when it’s other teachers who are giving those presentations. It’s also important that we allow time enough to breathe around the information we get, so the discussions we have can really matter.

As a principal I’m not perfect in any of this; just ask my teachers, they’d tell you. But I do try hard to respect their time, and our time together. I know how much it costs.

After the meetings I walk. I do my best to lean into classrooms and chat. I’m reminded of that line from Henry V, when before the battle of Agincourt the king walks amongst his soldiers:

For forth he goes and visits all his host.
Bids them good morrow with a modest smile
And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.
Upon his royal face there is no note
How dread an army hath enrounded him;

But freshly looks and over-bears attaint
With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty;
That every wretch, pining and pale before,
Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks:
A largess universal like the sun
His liberal eye doth give to every one,
Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all,
Behold, as may unworthiness define,
A little touch of Harry in the night.

I’m no King Henry, but I do try to echo his optimism and modest smile. And if I were a betting man, I’d wager that my teachers work as hard, are more engaged, and get more done than any did when I was a part of marathon meetings.

The price tag for our time together is high, and that doesn’t mean that we ought not meet, it just means that those meetings ought to be worth it.

Wending Toward School

“It has been a long siege, but at length it is over. Once more the church bells may ring and the kiddies wend their way toward school.”
Beaverton Times after the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic in Beaverton

The story of C.E. Mason School begins long before the first bricks were fitted together in the late 1940s. To choose a starting point for this tale one might pick up a newspaper from November 15, 1918. Beaverton, Oregon was a small town in a rural state finding its way in the early 20th century amid the challenges of world war and an epidemic of Spanish Influenza.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 6.37.49 AMIn times of adversity the community pulled together, raising money for the war effort, planning a celebration for armistice, and looking to local leaders for reassurance and guidance. On that Friday in November 1918, it was the single local doctor who provided that comfort. Writing in the Beaverton Times, Dr. C.E. Mason told citizens that it was safe again to open churches and schools, and that once again students could get about the business of learning.

This value placed on education was apparent throughout the front page of the paper that day, a note just beneath Dr. Mason’s letter explaining that “Janitor Squires” had “used his vacation well” and “thoroughly cleaned the woodwork of the high school building and is having the blackboards in the grade school resurfaced. so that the school will be like new for Monday.”

Enrollment grew in Beaverton schools over the years that followed, and in 1920 Dr. Mason was elected to the school board with the promise of ensuring that Beaverton schools were as good as those in the big city of Portland. He was board chairman by 1929.

This civic engagement, city pride, and dedication to helping students was part of the spirit of Beaverton in these interwar years. Dr. Mason’s pursuit of quality education for local students, including his own kids, helped to define the school district he was helping to lead.

The 1930s and 1940s saw even more growth in Beaverton and in 1947 the school district spent $15,000 on farmland designated for a new grade school to help with overcrowding. That school opened in the fall of 1949 as C.E. Mason Elementary. A year later epic growth prompted the addition of nine more classrooms at C.E. Mason.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 7.39.29 AMAlmost seventy years later there are still students in those same classrooms, reading, writing, learning, and making art. Creative sixth through twelfth graders sit today where the youngsters of 1949 once did, and while C.E. Mason Elementary has changed much over the decades, the impact the school has on the city of Beaverton is as great now as it ever was. Next week more than 700 students will “wend their way toward school,” a school that our hardworking custodians have spent summer vacation making “like new for Monday.”

“That was fun!”

IMG_7267Last spring heard the satisfying crash of the pins as they flew in ten directions and bowling balls thumped hard into the table at the end of the hall, followed by wild applause.

An afternoon meeting over, my staff was bowling in the hallway between the art studios and the math classrooms, a beautiful benefit of working in a building that will be torn down in just a few months. We weren’t really causing any damage, but from the laughter and applause that filled the hallway, you’d think we were having a party. Putting away the tables at the end of the afternoon, one of my veteran teachers looked at me and said: “That was fun!”

I work at a school where the staff makes a point to have fun. We work hard, certainly, care deeply, and are passionate about the teaching and learning that happens every day, and… while we take our work seriously, I’m proud to say that we don’t always take ourselves seriously.

In a world of no nonsense, we are very much some nonsense.

What this willingness to play means is that as stressful as our jobs can be, and as educators that stress is very, very real and rooted in the importance of what we do, we support each other and ourselves with laughter.

There’s a rumor that it’s the best medicine.

And what do we need medicine for? The act of teaching is by its nature exhausting. The best teachers don’t only teach English or math or science, they teach kids English and math and science. That means buckets of energy being poured into class period after class period, hours spent with young people who bring their own complicated lives to school, hungry to connect and ready to take on the world.

Add to that constant pulls on our time, demands from the site, the state, and the district, and budget concerns so regular that they aren’t a storm to be weathered, but the wet pavement on which we always drive.

Yet these challenges, as real as they are, are all stresses that we share. As much as any teacher might feel alone in her classroom, at a certain point a bell will ring and the kids will leave, and -if all goes right- that teacher might stumble out after the students and find kindred spirits, people who can support, listen, and maybe even laugh.

In his book Play, Stuart Brown offers this assessment: “Play, but its very nature, is a little anarchic. It is about stepping outside normal life and breaking normal patterns. It is about bending rules of thought, action, and behavior.”

Bowling.

In the hallway.

This ability to finish a hard, emotional, and important day of work and still have the desire to connect and have fun is a healthy example of a staff who care for one another and are willing to support each other through the tough times as well as the fun ones.

I believe that as a staff can see this perspective of togetherness and shared community the benefits are passed on to students. Even better are the times that students and staff have a chance to play together.

Last school year this sense of fun began at our first pre-service day when a group of students led the staff through some theater games designed to get us to see school through teenage eyes, play, and think about how we might embrace the improv inspired notion of always saying “Yes, and…

pastedImageThroughout the year staff made a point to continue to sprinkle play into our work together: a Rock-Paper-Scissors competition, firing marshmallows down the hallway, and synchronized swimming without water.

This year I hope that continues, spreading smiles through our faculty as well as our students.

A friend from long ago once gave me a present when I left the school where he and I both worked: a wooden lamp, with a sign that reads “Work like a captain. Play like a pirate.”

Wise, whimsical words.

Because learning, working, and living each involve hard work to be done right, and all of those noble pursuits benefit if from time to time they’re punctuated with the phrase: “That was fun.”

Pausing to Reflect

Harry Truman was president in 1949, South Pacific opened on Broadway that year, and up on Center Street a little school opened called C.E. Mason Elementary. Looking at an old photo of the place it’s hard to believe the growth that has filled in the green spaces around campus. Beaverton in the 1940s was a much different place than it is today, and while highways have rolled out alongside C.E. Mason, houses have grown where fields used to be, and the landscape looks completely different, the school at the heart of it all is still here, beating with the steady rhythm of students arriving to learn.

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This year is a big one in the history of our school, with a major renewal of campus set to begin in the summer of 2019. Before this major construction, it seems right to pause and look back over the years and the people who have called our school home since it opened in 1949.

Honoring the rich history of the school, over the months ahead I will do my best to celebrate some of the stories of C.E. Mason Elementary and its transformation into the vibrant Arts & Communication Magnet Academy it is today. Ours is a school with deep history, interesting characters, and more than a few tales that will have your shaking your head in wonder.

That said, I’m a principal, not a historian, so I hope folks will be patient as I try to capture a slice of history from the past seventy years, knowing my focus is always on helping support my students today. Those students benefit, in my opinion, from knowing that they are a part of something greater, new chapters in a grand story. The snippets I share won’t be all of that story, but glimpses from the decades students have been filing in through our front doors.

I’ll do my best to post something every week from now until spring, and over the course of the school year will try to provide a sense of the grand scope of our little school. Whatever your connection with our school, I hope that you’ll find in these scribblings some familiar memories, a few surprises, and an appreciation for just how much we are all alike whether we were here in the 1950s, 1980s, 2000s, or today.

If you have a story to tell or the name of someone I ought to talk with, please share those with me at bjorn_paige@beaverton.k12.or.us . I’m excited to share the stories that make up our history.

The Opposite of Athena

“It is not enough to have a classroom free of psychological and social threats. The brain needs to be part of a caring social community to maximize its sense of well being. Marginalized students need to feel affirmed and included as valued members of a learning community.”     -Zaretta Hammond

At the end of last school year a series of conversations with some great teachers and students got me thinking more about the cultural backgrounds our students bring with them to school and how welcoming and affirming, or not, we are to those stories. I’m proud of the kind and supportive atmosphere that helps to define our school. Coupled with wild creativity, a comfort expressing ourselves, and an atmosphere that celebrates the individuals who make up our school community, ours is a school where to be a little different is just fine.

athena vaseHere at ACMA we work hard to create culture, a lofty and important pursuit, and as we do we would be wise to also consider the diverse and meaningful cultures our students, and staff as well, bring with them to our campus. None of us are, like Athena from Greek mythology, sprung fully formed from the brow of a god; we come to school carrying within us the long and rich histories of our families.

Some of that history makes us strong, some of that history gives us doubt, and all of that history helps to define who we are at the start of our individual journey. Can we transcend our families and heritages? Sure. Are we even richer if we can integrate those into who we are? I think so.

In her book Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain, Zaretta Hammond encourages educators to reflect mindfully on their own cultural baggage, challenging us to know ourselves. “You can never take yourself out of the equation,” she writes. Instead, you must commit to the journey. This means we each must do the ‘inside out’ work required: developing the right mindset, engaging in self-reflection, checking our implicit biases, practicing social-emotional awareness, and holding an inquiry stance regarding the impact of our interactions on students.”

Hammond-coverHammond often returns to the focus on paying attention to ourselves and our students. Recognizing that culture is how we (and our kids) make sense of the world underscores the importance of making room for all voices.

It was this spirit of listening to each others’ stories and reflecting on our own that prompted a “Culture Bag” activity at our leadership summit last week. Before the meeting we were given the instructions: “Please bring three items which represent who you are (i.e. your culture) that you wouldn’t mind sharing with others. Your culture is a matter of perspective and can be specifically tied to your interests, your experiences, your family, etc. We will use this time to learn a little more about each other.”

I’m usually dubious about activities designed to push me into connecting. I hate any artificial notion of getting to know you, but…

Before we began sharing, our superintendent stood up and modeled what we would be doing. He shared his story, and his artifacts (a photograph of his siblings, a hammer from his days working in a plywood mill, and his diploma from college), pulling back the curtain on his life and becoming very, very human. That he was so willing to be so vulnerable set the tone for something special.

So when I found myself at a table with three other administrators we all embraced the invitation to share a bit of ourselves. We laughed, winced at some of the tough stuff that has made us who we are, and ended after about fifteen minutes with a better understanding of what guides our work with students. I knew then that it was something I wanted to do with my staff.

For the adults who fill my school, gifted and caring professionals who bring so much to their jobs, I hope this kind of sharing can help us all to know each other, understand each other, and think about the rich stories we all bring to our school. I’m hopeful too that it’s a spirit that we’ll all bring to our opening days with the students.

I’ll save my own stories for our first staff meeting next week, though for any staff member peeking at this little post, I’ll share this photo without explanation.

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Throughout the year I want to provide my students, my staff, and my school chances to celebrate our culture and our cultures, ourselves and our stories, and to see one another as honest, real, and very, very human.

Fellow Campers

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 7.14.00 AMA year ago my ten year old son saw a man die. It was a hot, hot day in central Oregon and he and another boy near his age were casting worms into the Prineville Reservoir from the back of a friend’s motorboat. At the helm was an assistant principal from my district. Beside him, helping the boys with their fishing poles, was a principal from a sister school. A small pack of us were camping on one of these last weekends before the start of the year and while I sat on the shore beside a couple of other administrators, across the water a drunken man climbed to the top of a hundred foot cliff and decided that he should jump in the water.

For those of us on the beach, the first sign that something horrible had happened came when the boat chugged back into view, the adult faces onboard grim, the kids fussing over their poles.

We helped tie up the boat, and as the boys trundled their tackle boxes onshore, the men, one dripping wet, leaned in to explain what had happened.

They described foolish youth, a young man climbing up and up, their discussion that there was no way he’d jump from so high, their losing sight of him for a moment of relief as they imagined him climbing down, and the realization that something terrible might happen when they saw him reemerge even higher up on the rocks.

The boys were fishing off the other side of the boat. I like to imagine that their attention was focused on the promise of bass.

When the man hit the water, feet first, head hitting hard, he sank like a stone.

The assistant principal at the tiller had the boys pull up their lines and piloted the boat toward the base of the cliff. The principal shed his hat and sunglasses and dove in as soon as they arrived. In the dark water he found nothing.

The men in the boat left us to return to the cliff and give statements to the police. We dads took quiet walks with our kids to make sure they were okay. The experience was surreal.

It also, in the space of a day, provided a window into the character of my colleagues. Their calm, care, and unflinching ability to act was inspiring.

I’d witnessed the kindness of my colleagues earlier in the day, someone taking a photo of my son’s first fish, a picture I keep near my desk and he keeps on his bedside bookshelf, and echoing that kindness was the care those fellows in the boat felt about the wellbeing of the boys in the wake of the tragedy. These were traits I could imagine defined them not only as people, but as professionals as well. Bravery. Presence of mind. Care. This, I imagined, was some of what they brought to their work at schools.

I saw those colleagues throughout the school year, never often enough in the hurly burly profession we share, and never for as long as we’d like. Today we reconnected at our all district admin meeting where the district’s collected administrators spent a good chunk of the day talking about building trust.

What I didn’t say at that meeting (it might have sounded funny or out of place) was that I trust those administrators from the camping trip profoundly and completely. They are people of integrity and goodness. They are the kind of people parents are fortunate to have working with their kids.

Not everyone gets to peek into the hearts of their administrators, see them in times of great stress, but last summer I did. They rose to the occasion.

And I know that every year principals and assistant principals are confronted by intensely stressful situations and high stakes emergencies. When kids make decisions that are dangerous or tragedy strikes unexpectedly, the women and men who take on the responsibility of leading schools have to put aside the metaphoric joys of fishing, hurry to the trouble, and dive into the water.

As we get ready to start a new school year I find inspiration in those caring and courageous souls around me. I wish for us all years without tragedy, and wish for the many of us who will find it the strength and spirit of those fellow campers.