Mascotte

“The word ‘mascot’ comes from the French term ‘mascotte’ meaning lucky charm. The word was first recorded in 1867 and popularized by the opera ‘La Mascotte’, performed in December 1880. It then entered the English language in 1881.” -from The History of Mascots, International University Sports Federation

At ACMA we do not have a mascot. Established in 1992, Arts & Communication Magnet Academy has made it more than a quarter century without a “lucky charm” that we can put on coffee mugs, sweatshirts, and baseball caps. Still, from time to time the question rears its plush costumed head: should we?

A few paragraphs from now I’ll end this post with the line: ACMA transcends any single image, any simple definition, and any (even the most creative) mascot. But before that, just for a smile, I offer the top ten ideas I’ve heard over the past year…

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 12.47.30 PMACMA Tigers
A call back to history, when C.E. Mason Elementary opened in 1949 with the very midcentury mascot, the Tigers! (It just feels like a mascot like that needs an exclamation point after it.) Tigers would be a great mascot for ACMA with so many possibilities for artists to have fun with the traditional image and a nod to the plush ears and tails so many of our students wear right now. Tiger striped sweatshirts? Sure, our students could make that work. But…

We’re not really all that traditional, even with a pinch of irony, and if we were looking for an animal to represent that playful and unexpected nature that help to define us, we’d probably go with someone we know and love: Rojo!

RojoACMA Llamas
One of last year’s highlights was the visit from ACMA spirit animal Rojo the llama. Rojo came to campus, kissed some students, enjoyed the love we shared (and reflected it back in warm waves).

As she waited her turn to pet Rojo in the courtyard last year a student asked me why the llama was on campus. “It’s ACMA,” I told her. “Magical things happen here.” She smiled and nodded. That sounded right. So what better animal to go on the ACMA swag than a llama? Well…

If frequency was taken into consideration, the animal most associated with our artsy campus would have to be a unicorn.

ACMA Unicorns
From backpacks to plush horns, the unicorn is the animal embodiment of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Magic, fanciful, beautiful, and bringing joy, unicorns are to ACMA what ponies are to Mongolia. During a “shadow day” last fall, when fifth graders considering applying to ACMA visit campus for a day, one of our current students who was acting as a guide arrived to school in a unicorn onesie. “I just wanted the kids to know what we’re all about,” she explained. “Here you can be yourself.”

…or a unicorn. But…

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 11.34.21 AMNot every student wants to be a unicorn. Knowing you can wear a cape, or a beret, or a pair of cat ears is different than choosing to wear a cape, or a beret, or a pair of cat ears. That spirit of possibility and creativity unites us, but looks different in each of our students. It’s why maybe an animal, real or imagined, isn’t the perfect mascot. Maybe we should think about something more universal to who we are, like…

ACMA Artists
We print it on the pencils we give out at the start of the year: ACMA Artists. It’s simply who we are. Writers, dancers, sculptors, filmmakers, actors, painters, animators, singers, photographers, stage techs, musicians… we are ACMA.

So maybe that’s just a description, not a mascot. A mascot ought to be something with some symbolism, some playfulness, some history. What if we looked back at the opening of the school and tried something clever? What if we considered…

ACMA Masonites
The what? Well… when Arts & Communication High School opened in 1992 they did so in a building with the name C.E. Mason still emblazoned above the front door. Early attempts at naming the school included the original name, and looking back on photos from ACMA’s past you can see that during the first Clinton administration they were still calling themselves “Masonites.” How marvelous then to keep this throwback handle even as ACMA moves forward? A conversation piece! A curiosity! A silly idea? Perhaps.

No, our students identify less with C.E. Mason than they do more artistic spirits. Maybe, to take the senior painting from a year ago as inspiration, we could be…

bowieACMA David Bowies
Yes, some will argue, there is only one David Bowie, but is there really? Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, that fellow in the suit singing about getting to the church on time? Bowie was not only a wild creative force, but his shapeshifting nature goes a long way to capture who we are as a collective artistic community at ACMA. Visual, musical, always in motion, Bowie embodies art in a way few did. Filmmakers and actors? Don’t forget Labyrinth! Plus, he’s the coolest cat around.

But, you’ll say, he’s a fellow and you’re 75% female at ACMA. Okay, then closer to home…

ACMA Mona Lisas
She is everywhere on campus. Painted on walls: a canine Mona Lisa, an abstract Mona Lisa, and a Mona Lisa in flannel.

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She finds her way into every hallway, her enigmatic smile as ACMA as ACMA can be. More than almost any image, Mona Lisa, or the unexpected riffs on DaVinci’s painting, capture the intersection of student creativity and classical art. Put Mona Lisa on a t-shirt and folks won’t be surprised that you’re talking about ACMA. And…

ACMA …the ACMA
Last year we asked students what they thought. We invited them to come up with an answer to the question: “What is the ACMA?” They drew and wrote out ideas, and the results were as varied as our students. One student suggested a penguin, another a ghost. Another noticed that “ACMA” as it’s so often pronounced sounds very much like “Akuma,” the word for a Japanese fire demon. All of those answers are as right as tigers, or Masonites, or David Bowies.

IMG_6246I love that at ACMA we aren’t easy to pin down. I dig that to define us defies expectations and avoids easy labeling. That we don’t have a mascot feels as right. We are possibility. We inhabit a world of change, transfiguration, and magic. Heck, we create it.

So as fun as it would be to have an ACMA sweatshirt with a picture of Mona Lisa or the Spiders from Mars on it, I like that the next week I could wear a unicorn, and the week after that an ACMA Llama. It’s the uninhibited possibility that really captures who we are.

Truth be told, ACMA transcends any single image, any simple definition, and any (even the most creative) mascot.

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A Luxurious Profusion of Art

I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I write a bit, and like to. Occasionally I’ll scribble something resembling a cartoon; my kids tell me they can always recognize a sketch as mine when a pirate or a cat shows up on a note or inside a greeting card. It makes me happy to see my daughter’s own cartoon cats beating mine into Grandma’s birthday card (cats are easy and fill up the space, she explains to me, my rationale as well, though I haven’t yet admitted that to her).

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My wife is the real artist, a painter whose time in art school showed that she could also sculpt, make books, and create with wire. At one point a life sized model of me made from metal mesh knelt on the balcony of our apartment in Oakland. What the neighbors must have thought.

I have a good friend who is a classical guitarist, and while I’ve never learned an instrument myself, I recognize his playing as magical. That said, I feel my heart swell when I listen to my daughter practicing the piano at home, and the other night, long after sensible parents had put their kids to bed, I’ll confess to being delighted when I heard her quietly plucking La Vie en Rose on the ukulele.

This appreciation extends to every live performance I’ve ever seen in the theater. The last time I acted on stage I was in the third grade, a weasel in a school production of Wind in the Willows. It was the 1970s and costumes were very homemade. My tail, which I remember being as round as a mason jar and longer than my leg, literally knocked over scenery during the weasel dance in Toad Hall. I never acted again.

But, “O for a muse of fire…” how I wish I could memorize lines, or play the violin, or knock out Misty on the piano. To be able to paint an autumn field alla prima, or throw a pot on the wheel, or tap dance… these are skills that leave me in wonder.

I remember a time, now decades ago, going in to the Hipbone Studio in Portland with my wife for an evening of life drawing. Her sketches in charcoal on newsprint looked like something by Raphael; thirty minutes in I’d resorted to caricaturing my fellow artists.

And what does this long reflection (confession?) on my own artistic shortcomings have to do with anything? I suppose some of it is just a love or words. As Stephen Fry wrote:

While I am fond of the condensed and economical use of [words] in poetry, in song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism, and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profusion and mad scatter of them too.”

So as someone who appreciates art, and art of all kinds, and who has the pleasure of earning a living by being the principal of an art school, I relish the chance to madly scatter a few words of praise and wonder at the arts and artists I spend time with every day.

This extends beyond the gallery or performance hall, and peeks behind the curtain or glossy cover of the literary magazine.

Beyond the swell of inspiration that comes from watching performances and seeing finished work on display, there is something fundamentally profound in seeing the process of artists creating.

The hours a filmmaker invests setting up shots, coaching actors, editing and adding music; the days a sculptor devotes before a piece goes into the kiln; the endless rehearsals a jazz musician muscles through to make a piece feel easy to the audience; this making of art is, as often, where the true magic lies.

Watching the sawing, hammering, and painting of sets before the play opens, or listening as the costume designers talk options with their director, these are the moments when art is alive.

Poets mulling over words, short story writers wrestling with their characters, playwrights polishing dialogue, this is art.

Choirs harmonizing, orchestras coming together to bring a score to life, the work it takes for large groups like this to make music together is the challenge of art that brings with it the possibility of bringing us closer together.

Dancers, dedicated beyond belief, pushing themselves mentally and physically to make their art appear effortless to an audience who doesn’t see the hours in the studio, the starts and stops, the grinding work they throw themselves into in the collective embrace of music and marley.

And knowing I can’t dance, or play the cello, or step into the darkroom with a roll of film and come out with a work of art, I do my best to be the most appreciative audience I can be.

I applaud ferociously. I celebrate unceasingly. I post images of student art on Instagram, video clips of choir on Facebook, and posters of the upcoming shows on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 9.07.18 AMI do my best to remember what it was like when I was a youngster and my dad taught me how to take photographs. He was patient, methodical, and caring. My wonder at seeing the world through a viewfinder, just as my dad did, is something I see in the many young photographers on campus. And I think about what it was like to be young and artistic and have an adult believe in me and want me to succeed.

I aspire to be that adult, one of many adults at our school with that caring and belief, who strives to be that supportive force for all students.

Art transforms the world. Making art transforms the artist.

Thank heaven for places like ACMA, where art and artists are given the support and opportunity to transform us all.

Found

We tried something different at our last staff meeting. After spending some time analyzing data and engaging in a rousing discussion of student academic success and the results from our student wellness survey we shifted gears and did a little crafting. Specifically, every staff member got a sheet of paper with a couple of pictures copied onto it and together we laughed as we helped each other fold (and fold and fold and cut and fold) those pieces of paper into miniature books.

IMG_8460The blank pages inside the books, I explained, were for the staff members to fill out as we went on a little walking tour of campus. Ours is a school built in 1949, added onto in the 1950s, and one that made a life changing transformation into an arts academy just over twenty years ago. Some of our staff have been here since almost the beginning (of the art school, not the 1949 elementary), and the stories they have to tell are as rich as they are inspiring. Over the course of the year we’re celebrating those stories and the people and events that form the history of our little school.

Part of that celebration is listening, engaging with the past, and making connections to our present and our future. One joy of the process is the parade of surprises that surface with a little digging: there was once a large greenhouse on campus, the reason a roll of film is painted above the classroom near the front door is because it once was the filmmaking room, the fact that an English classroom used to be the library and a history room was once the staff lounge (and that a couch from that lounge is now a prop in our theater).

So as we left the library, which in the 1950s was the assembly room and later became the gym, tiny blank books in hand, I asked the teaches if on those empty pages they would write, draw, or capture in whatever way they wanted some of what they were seeing and hearing on our campus walkabout. Their individual perspectives on our school matter, I told them, and using this little rectangle of paper to record them could provide something fun for others too. What if, I asked, when they were done, they scattered their ACMA history books across campus for students to find?

IMG_8462So we walked.

Our first stop was the Quonset Hut where our students now eat lunch. There, amongst the cafeteria tables, one of our most veteran teachers pointed to the high arched ceiling and brought everyone’s attention to the black paint rising up the walls. “From there back,” he said, “was the stage…” and then he began describing the wild creativity, born of the necessity of not having a world class theater, that had filled the space. He talked about the production that included a swimming pool, the dance numbers, the music, and the staging of Alice in Wonderland that knew it was the last ever in the space and cut holes in the makeshift stage for trap doors and other surprises. “We were creative,” he explained, “because we had to be.”

The true words of an artist.

IMG_8466From there we walked north to the “new edition” of 1950 and a math classroom that housed one of the many Mona Lisas of ACMA. Anyone walking our halls today notices variations on DaVinci’s theme: Mona Lisa in flannel, Mona Lisa as a dog etc. etc. Most are painted directly on the plaster and easy for anyone to see, but the math teacher who calls this room home had mentioned to me that he’d found the newspaper Mona Lisa that fell off the wall a few years ago and given her a home in his room. Pausing to look at her, our staff took time to talk about the magic of student art filling our halls. From the paintings and tiles to the giant salmon above the western doorway and the masks above the Tom Marsh Gallery, student work is a part of who we are as a school. Our next task, as we walked south toward the main office, was to slow down (a tough thing for a teacher in September) and really notice what we were seeing. That, and jot in our books.

We filed down the hallway and toward the corner where we stopped next to talk about another kind of art …the professional type. I’ll save details of this for a future post, but a fact that I went more than a year before knowing was that hanging alongside some of our student artwork is the work of well known artists from the Pacific Northwest. The smiles in the eyes of our staff as one of our art teachers described our “collection” were inspiring.

IMG_8461We ended back in the library (née assembly room, née gym) where adults who knew a little more about their school scribbled and sketched in the books they’d made, books that were a bit of them and bit of ACMA, presents of the past for students of our present.

The next morning, arriving to school early, I spotted a few of those books in hallway. By lunch I’d seen more in the classrooms I visited throughout the morning. Will they get students wondering? Will they prompt someone to ask a question about our school or inspire curiosity about our campus?

Whatever the result, the process of reflecting on our shared history and taking time to be creative together made for a fantastic end to a meeting that was all about understanding our students and helping them succeed. Truth be told, I believe that our walk has the potential to help make our school a better place for kids (and adults too). Data is certainly a way to understand our schools and ourselves, but so too are stories.

I love the creativity I saw in my staff, the willingness to get up out of their chairs and do something unusual, and the gift they were willing to create for the kids to discover.

What are you going to be?

A decade into its life, C.E. Mason Elementary was an established school showing children how to behave in the world around them. Kids studied hard, played hard, and got the kind of advice you can imagine a serious adult might wag a finger at the youngsters and deploy. Hearing stories of the school from the 1950s and early 1960s is a reminder that the anxieties and playfulness kids bring to school with them today are the same their parents and grandparents brought with them when they were youngsters, and the concern and care educators and parents have for kids isn’t all that different now than it was when Eisenhower was president.

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Back then, however, the voice of education echoed over the school intercom.

“I could nearly write the message the principal read over the intercom every morning,” a C.E. Mason alum told me this fall, recounting word for word the stentorian adult voice that filled the school to start the day.

Are you going to be ‘Mr or Miss Daydreamer?’ Are you going to stare out the window all day, thinking about your horse or favorite TV show and ignore your teacher? Or you going to be ‘Mr or Miss Ants-in-your-Pants?’  Are you going to wander around the room and not to your school work?”

“Same speech nearly every day,” he remembered, the words as fresh in his mind today as they were almost sixty years ago.

Richard and his brother came to C.E. Mason Elementary as fifth and fourth graders, transferring when their neighbor put up a fence to keep kids from walking through his driveway. New to the school, he remembered sitting in Mr. Miller’s class and thinking that all the kids knew each other. “I just wanted to fit in,” he told me. “Not stick out.”

The “Playshed” was Richard’s favorite place at C.E. Mason. “It was the big round topped play area,” he recalled, describing the Quonset Hut that still stands just northwest of the main building. “We played four-square, which was quite competitive and serious at C.E. Mason, compared to Raleigh Hills. I had a friend named Larry who was overweight, but quite good. His mom was a cook in the cafeteria at BHS. I didn’t see him again until our 20th High School Reunion. Everyone was raving how great Larry looked.  He’s lost weight and was very virile and good-looking. He is now a physical therapist in Alaska. He told me that he was embarrassed that everyone commented about his appearance. I asked him when he lost all the weight. He said, “Years ago. I lost weight as soon as I got away from my mom’s cooking.”

Lunches were a big deal at C.E. Mason, which had a cafeteria in an age when not every school did. Richard remembered once coming home from school and telling his mother that he had discovered that he really liked beets. “I asked her why we never had them,” he said. “She was silent for awhile and then admitted my dad hated them, and that’s why we had never had them in my childhood.” Thank goodness for the C.E. Mason cafeteria.

But it was more than beets that stuck with Richard most from his days at C.E. Mason. For a student who just wanted to be a part of the crowd and not stick out he had one major strike against him.

On Richard’s first day in Mr. Miller’s class the principal did more than just quiz the kids about what they were going to be. Richard remembered: “The principal announced on the intercom on the first day of school that for the first time in the school’s history, there were grandchildren of C.E. Mason attending the school.” Richard and his brother.

To be the grandson of Dr. C.E. Mason meant more than a little notoriety. It also led to an incident Richard remembered with fifth grade “horror.”

“The school had some kind of contest for being quiet on the bus, or not leaving litter, I forget the specifics.  The winning bus, we were told on the intercom, would have “C.E. Mason ride on the bus with them.” I was horrified. My grandfather was about 83. He had thick glasses, a big gut and he shuffled when he walked. I doubted he could even climb the stairs of the bus. I couldn’t believe they would subject me to that kind of humiliation. I learned a few days later that C.E. Mason was actually a stuffed tiger mascot that the principal kept in her office.  She really had me worried for a few days.”

Richard Mason’s memories paint a vivid picture of C.E. Mason Elementary. Like so many who attended the school in those first dozen years, his are recollections of a time when order and high expectations pushed up against the exuberance of youth. Competitive four-square, beets, and stuffed tigers, 1960 feels a world away, and still just like yesterday.

Bird is the Word: Three Stories

I’m sometimes asked what it’s like to be the principal of an art school. With just over 700 students grades six through twelve, an unusual age spread, focused on visual and performing arts, my school is proudly quirky, unapologetically iconoclastic, and as wildly creative as it is kind. Our staff shirts this year are tie dye. But that doesn’t quite catch all of who we are.

IMG_6890So I offer three snapshots of our school spirit, tiles in the mosaic of Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. Hardly comprehensive, these examples from a busy August simply show a sample of who we are, or aspire to be.

ACMA has long had a tradition of silly yearbooks photos. It could be argued that these have always been a part of our school; look back at the first yearbook and you’ll see Faye Dunaway, Groucho Marx, and Obi Wan Kenobi alongside the students. By 1994-1995 students had begun to add props to their yearbook photos, hats, guitars, and stuffed animals. Fast forward to the early 2000s and the staff are in on the goofiness.

Last year saw a puppy make his way into a yearbook photo. Some students came with masks, hats, and one in a banana suit. For kids new to ACMA silly yearbook photos, the final station of our registration day, are an introduction into the playful spirit of our school. They get their official ID picture, formal, with a smile, and then are invited to have fun. Work, then play. For returning students this is an opportunity to plan ahead and express themselves in a way that is “so very ACMA.”

So this year, as I was walking through the blue box theater where they were taking photos, I heard a snippet of dialogue that I’m not sure would ever be uttered anywhere other than our little school. Bending over the display screen, the photographer and a student were reviewing a proof and the photographer said: “You look fabulous in this first photo, but the bird is looking away.”

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So very ACMA.

The next week our teachers returned to campus, and in the midst of staff meetings and preparing for back to school night, new student day, and the first day of school, a group of about a dozen of my performing arts teachers gathered in the library to talk about a big idea. Our PTO had suggested that in lieu of an auction, this year we might entertain the notion of a celebration of the arts, a Cabaret Night that would see performances from across the creative continuum, an evening where parents, patrons, and families could come and enjoy what ACMA is all about. It was a kernel of possibility that these teachers decided to embrace.

Talk ranged from how we could select the best of the best performances for the night, integrate new work, and invite talented student performers to show off the art that matters so much to them. It was what I expected the conversation might look like, talented artists chatting about showcasing student work. And then…

Then something shifted. One teacher brought up and idea about how we might fill the foyer with visual art, integrating photography, animation, and spoken word into the event. Another suggested a plan for providing multiple performance venues. A third asked about using the main building for some part of the night, making part of Cabaret Night a farewell to the CE Mason building that has served as home to students for almost 70 years. Ideas exploded all around the table. Dinner? Dessert? MCs? What about alumni?

Conversations blossomed about former students and what they were doing in the world of art and performance. Would any be interested in performing with our students? The possibilities…

One night turned into two. How could we invite more families to come to experience our art? What kind of projects could we collaborate on between departments: film, dance, music… if we projected photography and had our jazz band… how about some poetry paired with… would the choir want to… could we get sculpture students and the orchestra to…

I left dizzy with the possibilities. I’d seen each of these teachers individually preparing and producing opportunities for students to shine, and I’d seen a few collaborate with other departments, but in a passionate hour on the week before school began I witnessed the sheer power of art and imagination, in service to students, on a level that is hard to capture in words.

IMG_7358I know that this spring the fruits of that conversation and the hard work that will follow this genesis of ideas will be marvelous (mark your calendars for May 17th and 18th), and as inspiring was to be a fly on the wall while these amazing artists and educators talked about taking chances, supporting students, and embracing the challenge of creativity on an epic scale.

On a more modest, but no less inspiring scale, a student came up to me at Back to School Night almost in tears. She’d lost $40 in the course of picking up her schedule (and ice cream cone from our PTO for our annual ice cream social) and asked if anyone had turned it in. They hadn’t, and it broke my heart to tell her so. She left, retracing her steps back to Fred Meyer where she’d been before walking to campus.

My mingling during the ice cream social brought me to the family of an incoming sixth grader, who shook my hand, remembering my name from our registration day, and let me know that he and his mom had found $40 that he wanted to hand in to lost and found. “They might really need it,” he said. I knew he was right.

So I asked the student if he wanted to be the one to give the money back to the student who’d lost it, and he smilingly agreed. We walked into the building in search of the upperclassmen who had lost the $40. We found her friend, who called her at the store. Then the friend turned to the 6th grader and handed him the phone. He introduced himself, listened, and smiled. Handing the phone back, he looked at me and said: “She wants to give me a hug!”

The creativity of birds, the passion of artists, and the kindness of family, these are who we are at Arts & Communication Magnet Academy …wrapped in a tie dye t-shirt.

If you build it…

IMG_8448It was hardly a year old when they realized that the new school wasn’t big enough. Constructed in 1949 with just eleven classrooms, offices, and an assembly hall, C.E. Mason Elementary School found itself not quite able to accommodate the postwar expansion that had prompted its creation and swelled the population of Beaverton from in the late 1940s to the early 1950s.

In 1950 a library and another seven classrooms joined the original construction, perched a bit higher on the incline north of the original building, high enough to provide students for the past sixty eight years with a ramp to climb on the way from the main office to the northernmost classrooms.

main hallwayBuilders added a play structure north of the assembly room in the early 1950s, which stood until replaced with our familiar Quonset Hut in 1958. To the west of the extended wing of classrooms students played in a courtyard looked out at through walls of windows, a temptation for flying rubber balls in the 1950s as much as those same windows are today.

Inside the building, a team of educators greeted students with the energy always present in a new school. Principal Esther Peer, whose alma mater Oregon Normal School (now Western Oregon University) now has a scholarship named after her, was the first administrator in the building. She oversaw eleven teachers when C.E. Mason opened its doors in the fall of 1949, and presided over the hiring of a few more as the school grew.

CE Mason OpensAround C.E. Mason Elementary Beaverton exploded with growth as well. Highways, neighborhoods, businesses, the history of Beaverton, Oregon is one of great postwar boom.

And as town grew, students in the 1950s, wearing skirts, slacks, and button down shirts, poured into the school to learn the three Rs …and a little art and music too. C.E. Mason alum remember the bright classrooms, both stern and kind teachers, and a sense of fun.

Then, after 8th grade, C.E. Masonites trooped across town to Beaverton High School, and later Sunset High, taking with them memories of Miss Moshofsky’s arts and crafts class, Mr. Gillmore’s band, and the cafeteria downstairs. Life at C.E. Mason prepared them for the greater world beyond the rounded entryway at the top of the front steps of their little school.

You can see living memories of the original C.E. Mason building in its current incarnation: a wooden door here, a fixture there, the assembly room’s wooden floor beneath the carpeting of today’s library.

Most schools have only one chance at the wild energy of the opening years; this campus will have at least three. And looking back through the fog of time it’s clear to see that the foundation on which so much history has been built is solid, and the notion that our school is always outgrowing itself is ever present.