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.

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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.

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.

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.”