A Yellow Bathrobe

Halloween. It’s a tough topic in some quarters in education. I’ve worked at schools where it was one of the worst days of the year for administrators like me, confiscating Jason’s carving knife, counseling pregnant nuns, and persuading the masses that togas might not be a fantastic idea at school.

At one high school I followed a fellow in a full gorilla suit on a merry chase that led through and then off campus, ending in the parking lot of a run down apartment complex. When he was unmasked, like something out of a Scooby Doo cartoon, it turned out that he was a senior we’d expelled who was wanted by the police.

Don’t get me started on ninjas.

It doesn’t help that off the shelf costumes marketed to appeal to teens often carry the word “naughty” in their description: nurse, superhero, witch. For the fellows, gore, drag, or innuendo. A principal I once worked for used to say “I’d rather come in and work on Christmas day than deal with this Halloween nonsense.” Behind closed doors he did not use the word “nonsense.”

halloweenvideothumbAs a principal I’ve always tried to appeal to common sense. A student once helped me with a video to underscore the importance of the no mask policy.

I’ve always tried to encourage homemade and clever over store bought raunch, and still, the water polo player covered in Hulk green body paint and wearing only a purple speedo…

Ah, Halloween.

So then I got to ACMA.

Folks told me that at our creative school Halloween was a national holiday.

I found out it is.

And getting ready for this year’s parade of creativity my office staff, my wife, and my kids all told me that as the principal I had to dress up.

As a substitute? I offered. No.

A petty bureaucrat? Nope.

Then one day in September when I’d tweeted some photos of student art, a couple of my staff spotted a painting and said that they had the answer.

Halloween

The coffee wielding human staring down the …something fantastic and wild, they said, needed to be my costume.

Halloween arrived, face painted and trailing a cape.

I met it wearing a yellow bathrobe and sipping coffee from a green mug.

IMG_9235We started the day, as we had the year before, with music from Harry Potter, a recognizable and magical theme, played over the intercom. Walking the hallways was an adventure in color and creativity. A giant camera, David Bowie, and an amazing handcrafted wolf laughed alongside Dorothy, Toto, and one of the most elegant green faced witches I’d ever seen.

I started visiting classrooms. In one the Morton Salt Girl, Taako, and Bob Ross sat next to a Royal Guard from the Tower of London, a vampire with real fangs, and Little Red Riding Hood. Incredible.

I spotted two avocados, a giraffe, and a biker in black pleather. More than the usual plush ears and tails giggled through the hallways, rubbing shoulders with pirates, cowboys, and Bilbo Baggins.

Two matching Waldos asked if I wanted to play hide and seek.

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Perhaps the most striking thing about Halloween at ACMA is the overwhelming creativity on display. These are wildly artistic students with talent to match their imaginations. The best costumes are always homemade, clever, and rooted in fun. Simple or complicated, big or subtle, this celebration of art is, at its best, a window into our collective soul.

As I strolled my radio crackled and I got the call that a history teacher, who would later arrive as a mummy, was held up in traffic. I had a chance to cover his AP US History class for a few minutes.

I unlocked the door and as students filed in, steampunk, cub scout, and zombie, there was the artist of my inspiration painting herself. It brought me no end of joy that she, and her peers, recognized my costume without explanation.

Magical things happen at our little school, sometimes on Halloween.

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Problems of Practice

It’s not an easy job. No one said it would be. For those of us in public school administration, however, the job is one worth doing and worth doing well.

This is my twenty-fifth year in education, about half of those as an assistant principal and then principal, and while the overwhelming majority of the work is positive, connecting with kids, getting to know families, and supporting caring teachers, there is a stressful side too (I suppose there is in any meaningful work) and I couldn’t have stayed at it -through the tears, raised voices, tension, and stress- if I hadn’t worked with supportive people and honestly believed that I had the possibility of making a difference.

Being a site administrator means being a good steward of the school, a supporter of the staff and students, and a person willing to have the difficult conversations to help the school function best.

Those are often conversations held solo, one at a time, door closed, emotions high. When they end, however they end, principals and assistant principals are left to take a deep breath and get about the business of whatever comes next.

Sometimes, in those most fortunate and often rare times, there’s a colleague able to escape the rush of obligations that define our worlds and listen for a bit. Principals and assistant principals who have been in the business know the value of these kindred spirits and recognize the challenges of making time to support one another.

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It’s this reality that makes me most appreciate a commitment the administrators in my district are making this year to build time for us to pause from our daily work long enough to share some “problems of practice.”

At our monthly principals meetings we take time midway through the morning to break into groups and talk. One of us poses a question, a real one, that is weighing on our mind. The issues might be school culture related, about safety, or about academics. The common denominator is that as a principal we don’t have the answer. Not yet, anyway.

There’s a structure to our discussion, based on the consultancy protocol developed by the School Reform Initiative. It’s a thorough process that involves a group of half a dozen administrators.

One of us takes about ten minutes to introduce a dilemma we’re struggling with, asking a question to the rest of the group to help focus the conversation to come. For another five minutes the group asks clarifying questions, doing their best to understand nuances of the problem at hand. As administrators we want information before we make decisions, and this back and forth provides it.

We then shift to probing questions, hoping to prompt the original questioner to think about the issue in a new way. Next, the process shifts into a curious conversation between the group during which the original questioner is an observer, taking notes, but not participating in the discussion. Having been both a participant and an presenter this year, I can say that it’s a part of the process that is transformative. To hear peers puzzling through the issue, the same issue vexing one of us in real time, is powerful and can lead to real insights. The process ends with a reporting out, the presenter reflecting aloud insights and appreciation. In the course of an hour or so real movement can take place.

But even more than technique, this time we spend leaning in and listening, being vulnerable (and truly so) with each other, and focusing our attention (attention so often fragmented by diverse demands and unexpected stresses), focusing our attention on helping each other, this time is important because it reminds us that we are not alone. We are more than bureaucracy and we are facing problems that may just have a solution, even if we haven’t been able to see it on our own.

Getting to those solutions alone can seem impossible. I suppose sometimes it might be. But in the company of colleagues, the stress of our meaningful work feels more likely to form a diamond than remain a lump of coal.

It’s not an easy job, but with the perspective, encouragement, and support of others, it’s a job we may yet do well.

Growing Up

Just as the early 20th century doctor the school was named for was famous for his generosity, kindness, and caring, in the years between 1974 and 1992 the campus of C.E. Mason opened its arms for students of many experiences, challenges, and backgrounds. Beaverton’s Community School called C.E. Mason home beginning in 1980, and a highlight of those open arms years came when the area that was once the cafeteria became the home for Continuing Education for Young Parents program, often known as CEYP.

The basement, now the counseling office and once the cafeteria, held a nursery for children from one month to six years old. Parents entered through what is now the counseling office door and were able to see their children play just to the right, in what is now the lobby, study-room, file room, and bathroom. This area was divided by age groups and the other section of the basement held a space for tutorials, a small cafeteria, and a place for social gathering. It also was the place where the young parents would come to work on homework or prepare for tests.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 3.25.29 PMThe support staff for CEYP was located in the offices near the cafeteria, where they would help some students study for the GED. At the same time, other students would take general core and elective classes with the rest of the Community School “Masonites.”

These years marked the transition of campus from serving elementary students to seeing teenagers at C.E. Mason. Rooms built for youngsters were refurbished and remodeled for bigger kids. It was the start of our school’s life with an eye toward life in the years after school, helping young adults see futures where they could thrive.

Left alone, C.E. Mason might have remained a stable positive influence for years, but from the start this has always been a changing and evolving educational landscape, and as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, the spark of an idea appeared.

This little campus was about to be changed by one of the most powerful transformative powers around: Art.

After Issue #200

WARNING: This post is about Moon Knight. For my constant reader looking for education related content, a peek at the history of my school, or some sort of musing about being a principal, stop reading now. Come back in a week and you’ll find a post on teaching and learning, or ACMA, or art. That said, to anyone willing to swoop into this post on their glider capes, I whisper “welcome” through my cowl mic and up to the moon copter. I hope for you, maybe, this post inspires a nod of acknowledgement to a nerdy kindred spirit.

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They’re cancelling Moon Knight again. As a fan, and an avid one at that, I should be bothered I suppose, but having weathered the decades long starts and fits of the silver and jet avenger I half shrugged when I heard the news, vowed to enjoy the final couple of issues of the very strange current run, and pick up the collection from the Sienkiewcz and Moench years that comes out in January.

199By then someone new will have thought about what to do with my favorite superhero, made a pitch to Marvel, and started plotting the next incarnation of the Fist of Khonshu. Perhaps it will even be good.

For any devoted Spiderman fans, a monthly (or some decades even weekly) issue of their fellow’s comic book has been a steady staple since 1963. Peter Parker was slinging webs long before I was born, and looks to do so uninterrupted long into the future.

Moon Knight?

Starts. Fits.

Sure, Moon Knight is a little weird. Resurrected by an Egyptian god, multi-personalitied, a bit more violent than a good superhero should be, Moon Knight makes Bruce Wayne look well adjusted.

And…

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 10.37.53 AMHe’s a masked vigilante with a (mostly) steady love interest, a daughter, and a slew of charismatic friends. With the exception of the exceptional Ellis and Shalvey run, Moon Knight is more interconnected with real world characters than most folks who wear capes. Diner owner Gina and her boys, Frenchie and his partner, Crawley and the flies buzzing around his shaggy head, Moon Knight’s world is populated by diversity and rich with possibilities.

That his three personas don’t always get along, his relationship with his god is unhealthy more often than not, and his relationship with Marlene (a complex character in her own right who has only begun to be explored) is as complicated as it is may be part of the reason for the interrupted history of a character not easy to pin down.

There are those who say they’d like to see Moon Knight in a movie or a Netflix series. I guess, but which Moon Knight?

Maybe it’s my age, but I’ve come to realize that I care less about hoping for an incomplete cinematic version of Moon Knight and more about the next incarnation of the Fist of Khonshu that will show up in a comic book.

That could be a few months from now, or a few years from now. And that’s okay.

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What does any of this have to do with anything? My very kind frequent readers know that my posts tend toward celebrating something positive or trying to make sense of something a little less so. This little ditty, they’ll comment, is just about Moon Knight.

Yes, and…

I think that there is something in my attitude toward this quirky hero that holds true for life writ large.

MKIn this world, the real one, not just the Marvel universe, there are cancellations and interruptions. There are optimistic beginnings, difficult endings, and lots and lots of weird stuff in between. There are days that the world feels wrong. There are days it seems to soar.

And time after time, when the universe hasn’t quite turned out like we wish it had, or we’re looking out the window after something important has ended, we find that just outside is something new, some wild creative approach that we never thought about and now can hardly wait to see happen.

Life, especially a creative life, isn’t always constant, or easy, or uninterrupted. Joy cycles through life, waning and waxing, dark always replaced by illuminationkind of like the moon.

Hunting for C.E. Mason

This summer I started the project of chronicling my school’s history from its beginnings as an elementary school in the late 1940s to its transformation into the arts magnet academy it is today. This meant historical research, which provided lots of information and some terrific stories about life on campus in the middle of the last century, but after much digging I was left with one blank that gnawed at me: The man the school had been named for, C.E. Mason himself.

Sure, I had the bare bones of a 1920’s era biographical sketch:

CURTIS EUGENE MASON.
A native Hoosier, born in 1880, the son of William and Isabella (Liggett) Mason, Dr. Curtis Eugene Mason, a prominent physician of Beaverton, spent his boyhood in Missouri after the immigration of his parents to that state, receiving his education in the public schools there. The Masons were of English descent and were Indiana pioneers and Dr. Mason’s paternal grandfather served in the Civil war, participating in Sherman’s march to the sea. Graduating from high school Curtis Eugene Mason matriculated at the University of Chicago and later at Rush Medical College from which latter institution he graduated in 1911 with the degree of M. D. He came to Oregon the same year and entered on hospital work in Portland, practicing for four years with Dr. Bodine of that city. Removing in 1917 to Beaverton he began his practice there. He was at this time enlisted in the Medical Reserve Corps and was prepared to serve in France should he be called. Fortunately for those dependent upon his medical services at home, and they were many, no such necessity presented itself during the war and Dr. Mason continued to devote himself to his practice.

In 1912, Dr. Mason was united in marriage to Bertha Clement, the daughter of a retired banker of Wisconsin now a poultry fancier in Washington county, Oregon. Mrs. Mason is a graduate of the University of Chicago and was for some years an educator. Their children are all boys: Herbert Eugene, John William and David Clement.

Dr. Mason is a deacon of the Congregational church and a member of the board of trustees. Fraternally his affiliations are several. He is a Mason in more than name and a Woodman of the World. He belongs to the Multnomah Medical Society, the State Medical Society and the American Medical Association. While his practice is a general one Dr. Mason has long been interested in the diseases of children and in a larger community would specialize in that branch of his profession. Though still a young man he has built up an extensive practice and stands high in the esteem of the people of Washington county, particularly among those who are his compatriots.

That he married the daughter of a “poultry fancier” …amazing.

Yes, I’d read the newspapers that gave me glimpses of the man, but even though he had been a civic leader for decades, served on the school board for close to twenty years, and had an elementary school named in his honor, as I researched my way through July, August, and September I could not find a single photograph of the elusive C.E. Mason.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 7.33.53 AM.pngThe usual internet search provided little more than Dr. Mason’s advertisement in Beaverton’s newspaper from the 1920s, which stayed particularly consistent for years.

A little more legwork, and the help of some kind souls, provided a bit more: he was Beaverton’s only doctor for a great many years, comforted and cared for the community through influenza epidemics, and delivered so many babies.

Elected to the school board in 1920, he was committed to improving education in Beaverton, hiring and keeping good teachers, and making schools in town as good as those in Portland.

pics

A friend at the district office brought out a manilla envelope with wonderful photos of the school named in his honor. From the 1960s and 1970s, they showed buildings, vintage cars, and no C.E. Mason.

I tried the local Masonic Lodge where the aptly named doctor had been a member, but didn’t hear back. My school librarian reached out on Facebook and got some leads, but still no picture. Internet searches of historical photographs led nowhere. The closest we got was a picture of his son as a youngster.

My office staff, an intrepid bunch, turned to one of those online ancestry websites, and over the course of a couple of weeks facsimiles of Curtis Eugene Mason’s draft cards (brown eyes, brown hair) and census found their way onto my desk, cool artifacts, but no photo.

My assistant principal, a sensible woman, saw our work, tilted her head, and said: “You’re stalking him.”

I suppose.

Then the day my receptionist leaned in to my office and said: “I have C.E. Mason’s grandson on the phone for you!”

He was calling from Alaska.

He remembered his grandfather fondly, proud of his work on the school board and as a doctor in Beaverton. He thought he had some photos …the holy grail!… and said he’d look for them.

By late September, he still hadn’t found them.

A phone call from a second C.E. Mason grandson, this one living in sunny California, yielded some fantastic stories.

He told us that his grandfather “was self-made and proud of it.  He was a teacher, but his principal at a school in Missouri encouraged him to go to medical school.” That care for education lasted a lifetime, where he was an active member of the school board, eventually its president, and a constant advocate for improving teaching and learning for all students.

He was also proud to be a physician and always ready to make a difference. As his grandson remembered, “when he attended church in Beaverton, his stethoscope often dangled out of his suit coat pocket.  That was not accidental. He had a home downtown, across the street from the Masonic Lodge which had an office downstairs. He saw patients all day, and again in the evening, after he had dinner. That’s the only time many local farmers could see him.”

Caring for others was a hallmark of C.E. Mason’s life. “During the depression,” his grandson remembered, “he accepted trade items for people who couldn’t pay.  A couple chickens or a hog or whatever. Some didn’t pay. Some took years. In 1960’s, he received payment for an operation he performed in the twenties.”

Did he have a picture? He’d look.

While we waited for a photo we kept digging.

I joined the “You know you’re from Beaverton…” Facebook group, which led to some marvelous contacts and great pictures from the school’s past, but nothing more on the good doctor.

As the leaves turned orange, red, and yellow, we had to imagine Dr. Mason from the few details we could piece together: his eyes and hair color from the draft card, his grandson’s description of him in his 80s, overwhelming appreciation for his work as a doctor.

September turned into October.

…and then, a breakthrough!

I should know that when in doubt, the best thing anyone can do is contact a librarian.

I’d reached out to the Beaverton Library early on and gotten some great leads on the early history of our school. Microfiche, still a real thing, offered up clues about life in the last half of the past century, and then, midway through October, Jill Adams, Beaverton City Library’s Adult Services Reference Librarian, sent an email with the short text:

From the title 100 People who shaped the century 1993 LHIS 979.5 ONE 1993

Attached was PDF.

Eureka! I fumbled with my phone, clicking on the attachment and waiting.

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 7.40.33 AMThe circle spun, telling me the file was loading, and then…

An error message.

So. Close.

I hurried to a computer and pulled up the email.

There, in sepia and black, was a scan of an article on this “history shaper” described as “a busy doctor and community leader.” Much was information I’d read before, gathered here as a summation of his altruistic life. “According to his son, Mason, who died in 1976 at the age of 96, remained a member of the Chamber of Commerce until he ended his family medical practice in the early 1960s.”

It went on to say that “He delivered about 2,000 babies in Beaverton and Tigard.” It didn’t mention, I thought to myself, that some of those deliveries, in both homes and hospitals, were done for little payment, or (as his grandson had told me) for the payment of a chicken or what the family could afford.

And then, looking back at me with kind bespectacled eyes, was the man himself.

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Months into the search it was an emotional and satisfying revelation.

No monocle or handlebar mustache, no ascot or kooky expression, C.E. Mason looked the kind, sober fellow I’d been hearing about. I know that I’ll keep searching for another picture or two of Dr. Mason; I’d like to have a framed photo up in our new building, nothing ostentatious, just a simple conversation starter about someone who cared deeply for education, his community, and making a difference through kindness.

Feathers/Wings

IMG_8703We started them on the first day of school, the day when all students new to ACMA came to campus a day before returning students. After a welcome in the auditorium students fanned out across campus in groups, visiting the library, participating in some theatre games, and making art. That art was simple in design, but big in idea. Feathers.

Each student got to choose a bright cardstock strip to draw or write on any way they thought represented them. Faces, quotations, animals, the choices were as different as each individual student. Next, they cut these into the shapes of a feathers, and by the end of the day hundreds were piled on the art studio table.

IMG_8704Over the next couple of weeks we added to the pile of feathers. Staff took turns making their own during our preservice week, parents got to make feathers at my first principal’s coffee, and our intrepid assistant principal set up a table for returning students to make their own at lunch. The feathers filled a wicker basket to overflowing, and then…

On the wall outside my office at the front of the school those feathers became wings. On a rich blue background two swooping collections of feathers reached toward the butchers paper clouds. On those clouds, drifting about the rainbow wings, were written: “Attitude determines altitude” and “Commit to soar, ACMA.”

IMG_8701We figured it would be a nice photo opportunity for any souls willing to stand in front and make the wings their own. It was also a metaphor that captures at least a bit of who we are as a school.

Individually we are creative, divergent, and wildly individualistic. Some of us draw, some of us write, some of us express ourselves in music and movement. Those feathers showed all the colors of our rainbow, gave each person their own personal space to create, and the freedom to be themselves. And…

Together those individual feathers coalesced and created something magical and greater than any one individual. Alone we are feathers; together we are wings.

So too at our little art school. The painter, the poet, the percussionist; the dancer, the director, the dreamer; each left to our own devices can create something marvelous and individual, but how much more when the sculptor and the screenwriter, the filmmaker and the photographer, the actor and the artist support each other?

Art unifies us. Art lifts us up. Art, and each other, helps us soar.

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Get on the Bus

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.47.04 AMThe decade of the 80s was a transitional time for C.E. Mason’s campus. District programs filled the building, young scholars visited campus for special programs and child care was established for teenage students with babies of their own.

One of those elementary aged students, G., who spent every Thursday at C.E. Mason is now an innovator for our district, a teacher on special assignment and happy collaborator on our BSD Future Bus. G. remembered getting on a yellow school bus at Cedar Mill Elementary and driving to C.E. Mason for “enrichment” and active learning.

At C.E. Mason, he and students from other elementary schools dissected cow eyes, made stop motion animation, and once simulated a medieval city. Taking one day a week, 20% of his 4th, 5th, and 6th grade years, to come to this little school where he was challenged, inspired, and encouraged was life changing for for G. and the students from across the district given the opportunity.

As a participant, he remembered, it was “awesome” to do the extremely hands on activities; as a social practice, he reflected, “not so much.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 8.46.29 AMThe 1980s were a time of tracking in education, and G. recalled that while a handful of students from each class were allowed the bus ride to C.E. Mason for challenging curriculum and creative thinking, those who remained in their elementary classrooms were offered instead an extra chocolate milk at lunch.

The world of education has changed greatly since then. Heterogeneously grouped classes, hands on activities integrated throughout the curriculum, and innovators like G. hired to work with teachers to bring creativity, making, and doing into classrooms, show that while once certain kids were put on a bus to go to innovation, now that innovation comes to all kids …sometimes on a brightly painted bus.

At C.E. Mason in the mid 1980s, however, it was cadres of curious, hand picked pupils who studied mental abstraction and spatial reasoning, learned science by doing, and history through creative simulations. Technology loomed large for those students, albeit on floppy disks, and creativity using that technology was expected and encouraged.

For any who believe that education has slipped in the past thirty years, I’d suggest that many of those same approaches and activities that worked for the chosen few students can be seen on campus today …for every student. That, I’d argue, is progress.