“Yo Jay, yo Jay, check this out!”

We ended the drive with the five of us singing “You Make Me Feel So Young,” a swinging tune that sums up at least a part of my swirling emotions as principal at San Dieguito. Four amazing students, creative, funny, and kind, had asked me to shed any administrative dignity I might have and join them for Carpool Karaoke. “Yes” was the right answer, and by the end of the ride the lyrics to that Sinatra song had never been so true.

2Being a principal means being willing to play, participate, and share laughter with students. It also means shouldering responsibility, working hard and sometimes long hours, and bringing as much balance as possible to the job. Keeping students first in my mind helps me do that.

So today, as ASB kids filmed a segment for the spring assembly, I hopped into a car and did my best to destroy a series of marvelous songs.

They’d asked me if I had anything I wanted to sing, and before I answered I thought about it, only to realize that the music I listen to falls into two categories: old, old, old stuff (Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, so out of their world as to be unrecognizable) and rock and roll not suitable for a principal to croon (let’s be honest, it simply isn’t appropriate to hear the principal sing almost any song by Prince, The Pogues, or Social Distortion). So I made only one suggestion, an unexpected ditty that I thought would be worth a laugh, and I left the rest of the playlist up to the students.

3We started innocently enough, with a little Bowie. Parking is an ongoing challenge at our school, so we set the narrative of our video as my helping the driver, a senior, find a place to park. There was no more natural soundtrack than us mm-ba-ba-de-de-bum-bum’ing our way through Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

We laughed, anyway.

Next, I revisited my misspent youth with an unexpected riff on Run DMC’s “Son of Byford,” my driver beat boxing as he shook his head that this old man would know the words of any rap song.

The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” did not go so smoothly, but by the time we belted out “The Time of My Life,” a fitting farewell to SDA, we’d both hit our stride.

4Half an hour later, thinking we had enough footage to be cut and spliced into at least 30 seconds of entertainment, we headed back to the front lot. As we did, laughing that there might be no songs that we both knew the words to, we picked up three ASB students who were helping film and edit the video. They piled into the back and I apologized as we pulled away from the curb. “I only know Sinatra songs,” I said, and from the back seat I heard: “Pull over.”

Then, with a quickness that surprised me, my driver found a series of Old Blue Eyes songs on his phone. From the back seat came the suggestion for “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and without hesitation we broke into song.

I don’t know if the cameras were rolling as we drove back to my office, but I do know that those two minutes will remain in my memory as some of the most joyful I’ve had here at San Dieguito.

1I’d thought that my choice of Run DMC would be the biggest surprise of the day, but (as is so true so often at this fabulously funky school) it was the students who surprised me. They were so kind to invite me to join the fun, they put up with my inability to sing, and they even knew a little Sinatra. A delight.

Sprung

photo-4-1San Dieguito hosted a huge Speech and Debate tournament this weekend, with hundreds of teenagers in skirts, ties, and ill fitting suits tromping across campus whispering to themselves. Up in the northwest corner of campus the Mustang Baseball team started their spring season, while down in San Diego our girls Soccer team wowed the world, winning a CIF championship.

Spring is a busy time of year at San Dieguito, and these extracurriculars are just part of the story.

In classes, students are cooking and collaborating, painting and practicing clarinet. We’ve added new courses this year, and that means students out at elementary schools learning what it means to be a teacher, and other students cutting into cats to see what it means to be a scientist.

8-5x11-flyer-snow-angelBut despite the maelstrom of activity, San Dieguito students know that part of what makes us human is giving back. Not long ago our Future Woodworkers Club created “Kindness Benches” for local elementary schools, one of our students is sponsoring a “Kid’s 4 Peace” Book Drive, and next week our theater department opens Snow Angel as its annual “Theater for a Cause” show, the proceeds benefiting the good work of the Community Resource Center.

Whatever it is that students are interested in: robotics, music, academics, there is something to do: The FIRST Tournament in Del Mar next weekend, the spring concert in May, and the Mustang Minds competition next week.

It that’s not enough, how about a Homeroom Olympics scavenger hunt on St. Patrick’s Day?

And if this whirlwind of activity has your heart racing, in April our Student Support Services Committee is bringing back the puppies. Twice a year San Dieguito students enjoy an event called “Canine Unwind.” Dozens of service and therapy dogs gather with their owners at our bell tower and for an hour or so after school the students can just pet a dog.

Spring at San Dieguito has sprung.

“I Need You.”

bluesThe last time I wore the black suit I was a pallbearer. Today I got to wear it to play.

Well, maybe play the fool.

And that’s perfectly okay.

The occasion was our school’s winter assembly, a chance to celebrate students, promote the upcoming winter formal, and have some fun. My task was to co-host the show with an intrepid student who shares my sense of adventure. We brainstormed a couple of costumes that we thought the students might find funny (me dressed as him, us both in mascot costumes) and a final number that would see us joining a band to belt out “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” while dressed as Jake and Elwood Blues.

The song, as fun as it is, wasn’t a random choice. In The Blues Brothers movie the tune is prefaced by a monologue that embraces the audience with the simple truth captured in the title of the song. Dan Ackroyd, as Elwood, tells the audience:

We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight, and we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’ Law Enforcement Community who have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you’ll all enjoy the show, and please remember people, that no matter who you are, and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You, me, them, everybody, everybody.”

There are some things that make us all the same, and as an educator who has the privilege to work with students and parents, staff and community members of all points of view that reality really resonates with me. Schools are cauldrons of opinion, spiced with dashes of immaturity and angst, and occasionally stirred by that adolescent love of controversy.

That said, no matter who we are, or what we do to live, thrive and survive (and there are days we strive for each), we do share an underlying need for something more, for connection, for belonging, for (as Jake and Elwood would tell us) love.

bb2What this can look like at a school is manifold. Sometimes it’s a student being part of a team, learning life lessons during the hours of practice and competition. Sometimes a club or an activity can foster this sense of self and community. Sometimes it comes through the kindness of teachers, peers, and parents.

Here at San Dieguito building a campus culture means purposefully designing opportunities to celebrate kindness, generosity of spirit, and an atmosphere of acceptance. We hope to reflect these attitudes in the way we comport ourselves, the decisions we make about how we live and learn together, and even the ways we put on assemblies.

That today saw two videos celebrating all aspects of student life from Comedy Sportz to Girls Water Polo, that students and staff played together on teams competing in goofy events, and that the crowd smiled even when their buffoonish principal growled through a blues song, all underscored the good that we do our best to cultivate every day.

About halfway through “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” Elwood gets a second soliloquy. He pauses, and with the band humming behind him he adds:

You know people when you do find that somebody, hold that woman, hold that man. Love him, please him, squeeze her, please her. Hold, squeeze and please that person, give ’em all your love. Signify your feelings with every gentle caress, because it’s so important to have that special somebody to hold, kiss, miss, squeeze and please.”

bb1This is school, so let’s take the spirit of the lines rather than the specifics, but it’s in these words that we see another simple truth. We do well when we appreciate those who are important to us, who we care about and who care about us. We are at our best when we strive to be someone others can love, and when we acknowledge that we are more together than we are as individuals.

As my fellow blues brother and I danced around the gym pointing to the crowd there was real meaning to the line we repeated. With trumpets blazing behind us and the steady thrum of the bass, we gave voice to a refrain that the angels of our better nature know to be true: “I need you, you, you. I need you, you, you. I need you.”

We need each other.

At some point in the future our black suits will be worn by pallbearers; today let’s sing together and dance.

Community, part one

We’re talking about community.

It’s one of the things about San Dieguito that means the most, and as we strive to nurture a campus culture that continues to live up to the reputation our school has of being an accepting and open place for all students to learn and be themselves, we recognize that a community like ours doesn’t happen without some work.

Some of those efforts come in the weekly and monthly activities that are part of the way we do business at San Dieguito. Every month our student forum offers an opportunity for all voices to be heard, and more often than not the word “kindness” shows up somewhere in the conversation.

Our ASB builds activities that build a caring and connected community. Even the competitions at school assemblies are organized to bring us together, not divide us with false labels. The teams that participate in games at assemblies each include freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and staff members. We are all part of SDA.

Clubs help too, and at this year’s Club Fair new student groups joined well established clubs like our GSA and PALs as beacons of positivity.

The students who form these clubs, like those teachers, counselors, and administrators who advise and support them, recognized and acknowledge that times can get tough. Stress rolls through our world in waves, and the answer isn’t trying to ignore or minimize the reality of those challenges, but to work together to address them, to support one another, and to emerge, together, stronger.

This truth drives us to stay thoughtful about what we do as a school to promote a community that can bring empathy to our interactions. This means community events like our upcoming San Dieguito Book Club, when we’ll discuss Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba. It means really listening to each other when we have different political points of view, as the students did recently during an event just after the November election. And it can be celebratory too, as it was last year when the student body all held hands and encircled our campus in a show of San Dieguito unity.

holding-hands

This fall that same thoughtfulness manifested itself in a group of students interested in developing a week of activities to promote a unified campus community. Organized and passionate, these students spoke with our administrative team, presenting the skeleton of a plan that sought to help students listen to each other and see in one another both the differences that make us unique and the commonalities that make us human.

We realized after about an hour that to support this plan to build and celebrate community our best next step was to involve a bigger community in the planning. We prepared the invitations.

Our first meeting brought a wide range of people to the table: students from ASB and PALS, our faculty adviser and representatives from our fledgling NAMI Club, and a sprinkling of teachers who care deeply about our school and the people who form it.

We talked big picture and we talked specific ideas. We discussed vision, purpose, and need. We agreed on the importance of the enterprise and some of the steps we’d need to take to reach the results we hope to achieve. The clock finally told us that we needed to wrap things up, but a follow up meeting is in the works now, and the way ahead looks more like a clear path than a dark forest.

This post carries the words “part one” because it really is just the first step of a longer, meaningful journey. I’m so fortunate to work a school ready to travel forward …together.

I love…

photo-5-1I love that San Dieguito is a school where the unexpected is expected, where school spirit is funky, and where people, students and adults, take the time to see past the outer masks we all wear and really listen to the content of each other’s character.

I love that at SDA students can find themselves, be themselves, and try and fail and succeed and know that they’re safe.

I love that right now you could walk up from this library to an art gallery on campus where you would see paintings and drawings by staff and alumni, and that if you made that same walk in a month you’d see student work that would astound you.

This is a place where students and teachers learn and laugh together.

10572004_10153277958182362_6097884111524666894_oIn just a few weeks our homecoming game will see hundreds of students, male and female, freshmen through seniors, playing flag football, and we’ll end the night with students playing a game with our staff. Last year at halftime the student body came out onto the field and danced.

I love that we have a campus that embraces events like Cabaret Night, the Dorkathon, and the Homeroom Olympics, a place where students in AP Art history just celebrated our school’s 1936 opening by holding class in tents on the anniversary of the first opening day, when construction wasn’t completed and kids had class in canvas classrooms.

photo-3-6We have construction now, but no fear of tents.

I love that yesterday, when I was subbing in a Senior English class and stretching time as the sub plans were being delivered, in a delightfully unscripted moment a student raised his hand and asked: “No offense, but what do you do during the day?”

I did my best to explain what a principal does, though I’m not entirely convinced I did.

And I love that later that night at Back to School Night, when I went over to thank some students for volunteering to help parents find classrooms, that same student was there, and as I thanked him too, he said: “I’m not part of ASB; I’m just here because of the good vibes.”

Me too.

photo-5And those good vibes are evident all over San Dieguito, at concerts, games, assemblies, dances, and performances. That spirit of SDA shows up in our Link Crew, students who help new students feel comfortable at our school; our PALS program, student listeners trained to help peers through challenging times, and the hundreds and hundreds of students who find quiet ways to make our school better every day.

These same students remind us to embrace life and be playful, passionate, and positive.

With every student I see in a cape or a costume, a Mustang jersey or a goofy hat, I’m reminded of why we all do what we do.

photo 1 (14)As educators, at our best, every decision we make is for the students.

“How will this help kids?” That is the question great teachers and principals, and all of us with a hand in education should ask ourselves every day.

I love that at SDA, where you can wear a Pikachu costume …or you don’t have to, we embrace respect, kindness, and a funky spirit that feels most like love.

 

 

This post is what I shared with our school board when I had my yearly opportunity to present a window into life at San Dieguito. It was too early in the year to catalog a bunch of successes and I didn’t want to simply talk about what we were going to do, so I opted to try to capture a little of the spirit of our amazing school.

Oh, and I wore a Pikachu costume. 

photo-2-9

Back in the Saddle

photo-1-7It was a hundred degrees in the morning, but the kids wanted to sit outside to make plans in the fresh desert air. Three weeks before classes started, forty or so students and their Associated Student Body instructor had traveled with parents and chaperones to their annual planning retreat in Palm Springs. This morning it was time to talk about spirit days, Homecoming, and the Welcome Back Dance.

They kicked around ideas, looking for activities that would resonate with their classmates. Their adviser, a twenty year veteran, showed them lists of what he’d seen over the past two decades. They wanted to repeat some of the events that had shifted from innovative to traditional, and they bandied around new ideas they thought would be fun.

photo-3-4Fun for me was seeing that on their own current students decided that they wanted a western themed Welcome Back Dance, complete with costumes and hay bales …an idea that San Dieguito students came up with on their own back in the 1940s.

More than a few of the alumni I’ve talked with have described the fun they had dressing up as cowboys and hillbillies when they did their own western dances in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

Looking at the photos of these students from decades past. I see the same youthful exuberance I see in the faces of students today. Times change, technology changes, and the city around our campus looks profoundly different than it did decades back, but in the smiles beneath broad brimmed hats I see a universality that ties together San Dieguito Mustangs from across time.

For perspective, the first western themed dances at San Dieguito took place about sixty years after the actual gunfight at the OK Corral. More time separates the 2016 dance from 1940. And yet, no matter the decade, there is something familiar in the pictures of the students.

58-16These are students having fun, caring for each other, laughing, and dressing up to dance. I’ve sprinkled photos from 2016 and 1958 together in this post, and see in all that same spark of joy that I imagine will still be lighting students’ faces fifty years from now.

When this year’s Welcome Back Dance takes place, in a courtyard built in 1937, our students will saddle up as some of their parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents did in their own time on our campus. Tying these generations together is the shared experience of San Dieguito, the human spirit of play, and now, as then, probably a lasso or two.

“So, please understand…”

photo-3-3Not every student has a newborn calf in her barn, but everyone has a story.

I get kidded sometimes for reading more poetry than books on education, but then, when I’m least expecting it, a verse hits me and I realize that a poetic sensibility may be the right way to look at how best to do my job.

It happened a couple of weeks ago when a friend loaned me Edwin Romond’s collection Dream Teaching. With humor and poignancy, Romond captures the essence of working with students, and the interior life of a caring educator.  If I were ever teaching a class on being an administrator, Dream Teaching would be required reading.

One poem struck me particularly. I’m a principal now, so while the poems about teaching sparked nostalgia, “Letter to My Principal” did even more.

The verse, formed as a poetic apology letter from a student, captured a spirit I see in kids all the time.

It begins with what I believe is earnestness and an acknowledgement of a decision technically against the rules:

I came to school late today
and I am sorry.
I do remember your note
about my punctuality
But…”

Those of us who have been site administrators know that our students sometimes make decisions that go against our school rules. We’ve written letters home about attendance and worked with teachers and parents to keep students in class.

Sometimes the temptations that lead kids to be late or absent are silly; sometimes they’re sinister, but Romond’s poem is a reminder that we do our jobs best when we don’t stop at the what, but ask for the why. The narrator of Romond’s “Letter” gives a why to remember.

…a calf was born last night
and I found him blinking
into his first morning…”

Rather than making this an excuse or complaint, the verse veers in a direction our students are not only capable of, but a condition more common in “kids today” than popular culture would have you believe: wonder.

Romond captures this when he writes:

So, please understand
I was caught in a sunrise
so gold it turned our barn
to pink…

…I was set to leave, I swear I was,
but his mother, her eyes dark as plums,
began to bathe him with her tongue
moving like a paint brush
up and down his milky face,
and when he gazed at me
and mooed like a nervous bassoon,
what could I do but stay…”

Now I’m not suggesting the elimination of compulsory education, and any student reading this should know that too many tardies can still keep you from buying a ticket to the dance, but Romond’s poem reminds me just how important it is that in a society rushing so quickly from moment to moment and expectation to expectation, we pause to experience the magic and power of the world.

photo-1-3Education is humanity, not bureaucracy. Rules exist, and must, and alongside them exists beauty so gold it turns the schoolhouse pink.

What would our students write to each of us if they had Romond’s gift for words? What would they tell us if they dared or if we dared to listen?

“Letter to My Principal” dares, and does so with a passion and purpose that kindles thoughts poetic and a reminder to slow down and really listen.