Patti Rasmussen

Administrators I've learned to respect

Patti Rasmussen · May 31, 1997

I was thinking back to when I first became "political" about education. You might be surprised to know it wasn't something earth-shattering like boundary changes or bilingual education or even bond issues. It was school buses. Yep, that's right, school buses -- and they were going to take mine away.

This goes back to about 1983 when my oldest son was in kindergarten. The bus stop was right across the street from my house, on the corner of Maple and Valley. As a person who voted for Prop. 13 (because I was young, a Democrat and had no children) I couldn't believe it when I heard word come down that there was no money and one of the first things the school district was going to cut was transportation.

I was livid! I had waited five years for the privilege of watching my baby walk out the front door and get on that school bus. That's when I heard about school board meetings, and that's when I met the five people who sat on the board and the man who the ran the show, Dr. J. Michael McGrath.

Of course, back then, it was kind of an ol' boys club, with the likes of Jay Manwaring, Howard Hill, Chuck Payne and some women, Pat Willett and Bobbie Summers. I got up and spoke my mind; they didn't hear me. I remember thinking: This superintendent guy, this Dr. McGrath, could care less what I was saying.

So, not being one to sit back, I got involved. I sat on Newhall School District committees. The big one, held during the summer of the Los Angeles Olympics, had to do with desegregation. The heat in the meeting rooms matched the heat of those August days.

What got me more political was transferring my boys to Newhall Elementary School. That school had its hands full with bilingual education, old, worn out buildings, and to top it off, a visit from the state in regard to civil rights violations.

What evolved for me during those years was a respect for teachers who teach under challenging circumstances, administrators who have to look beyond the emotionalism and deal in the sometimes hard realities of educating our youngsters under trying circumstances. And a respect for the man who runs the whole organization, Dr. McGrath.

Not that he hasn't driven me crazy over the years, or that he's not hearing me, but because throughout those fourteen years, he did hear me. The problem with me back then was, I didn't see the whole picture. You know those school buses? Well, at that same time, teachers were rationing paper at the copy machine for their students. Did I know that? Dr. McGrath always had to.

Now he's retiring. For a retirement present I gave him a shiny toy school bus. He may, in turn, give it to his new grandson, and that's okay. Because I learned that even though he has been an administrator for longer than I've been a parent, he's never stopped teaching. He's taught me a lot and I will miss him.

* * *

There are some other people retiring from the Newhall School District this year. Two of them I've had the privilege to be associated with, and another, Mrs. Lynn McDowell, principal at Peachland Elementary, I had the privilege to sit and talk with on many occasions. I consider her one of the more gracious ladies I've met.

Mary Hansen was my son Taylor's sixth grade teacher. She's been with the school district for 25 years. Her mission was to get those children ready for junior high. With Taylor, she never gave up. She still asks me to this day how he is doing. She smiled a lot during my reports of his Placerita Junior High years and always said he would get it someday. I think, deep down, she really likes the dreamers.

Joyce Wetterau has been the principal at Newhall Elementary for thirteen years. She came on board in 1984 during those civil rights violation years. She took an elementary school, which many considered to be the black sheep of the district family, and turned it into an award-winning California Distinguished, National Blue Ribbon School. She taught me a lot about budgets (I sat on her Site Council), about tolerance and about pride. She always amazed me with her ability to know, really know, every child in her school and her genuine pleasure of having a child read to her. Mrs. Wetterau is a native of Burbank, where she still resides, and I am sure she and her husband will have many happy days at their cabin in Lake Arrowhead.

It has been a pleasure to know them all, and I wish them a happy retirement.

* * *

One last thing. There is an election coming on Tuesday, June 3. The ladies at the library have asked me to remind you to VOTE! There are two very important bond issues on the ballot: Propositions L (libraries) and E (fire station). Both need our support. Please vote Yes.

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Patti Rasmussen's commentaries appear in The Signal on Saturdays.

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