Eight years ago, toward the end of a horrible year teaching for a horrible principal, I got a call from former colleague Martha Srisamai (now Martha Hall).
"Kay, come to Upland! You'll love it here!"
Martha had been an Upland High School grad and had gone on to teach mathematics. When UHS had a place for her, they called, and she left the high school where we taught together. She'd been there a year when she called to let me know that administrators needed to hire five new English teachers. I made a few phone calls, and the next thing I knew I was scheduled for an interview.
Principal Guy Roubian interviewed me (along with the teacher I knew would have to eventually become my BFT--Best Friend Teacher--Kelli Hogan-Flowers). I've never felt so comfortable in an interview, and by the end of it I began to imagine what it would be like to work for someone who was so laid back and seemed to have a sincere love of teenagers. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege to find out. The next fall, I became an Upland Highlander.
I'll never forget the first faculty meeting before school started. It was unlike anything I'd experienced previously. At some point, Roubian and several other administrators presented themselves before the faculty dressed as pirates. (The next year, Roubian would don a full body suit to impersonate Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was hilarious.) The point was to inspire the spirit of fun and creativity in teachers, to remind them that yes, teaching is serious business, but we need to include the element of fun as much as we can so that students will be engaged and enthusiastic about learning. As always, Guy Roubian practiced what he preached.
I had previously taught English and Journalism, and when a Journalism class opened up at UHS, Guy remembered that discussion in our interview. He asked me to take over the school newspaper, and I did so happily. The issue we looked forward to the most each year was the April Fool's issue, in which we would include both true and contrived stories, often making outrageous claims about Oprah visiting our campus or teachers moonlighting as rock musicians. In my second year doing the paper, Walter--a great kid--asked if he could write a story for the April 1 issue claiming that Principal Guy Roubian had been a teletubby while working his way through college. To fully appreciate Walter's vision, you'd have to have seen Roubian; he's a man of short stature. Walter's plan was to photoshop Guy's face onto a teletubby body.
"Absolutely not," I told him. "He's your principal and you need to respect him."
"I do respect him," he argued. "I respect his sense of humor. That's what makes him so cool."
We argued for twenty minutes. Finally Walter pleaded, "If I ask him and he gives his permission, can I do it?" I relented, sure that Guy would tell him no. Of course he said yes, allowing the article (which was brilliant) and the photo, and providing quotes from his "acting experience." It was hilarious. And Walter was right; this is why kids liked him so much. He was the principal who never hesitated to jump into the trenches along with them and be involved in their learning and their fun. In the final pep rally of this past school year, Roubian performed a cheer with the cheerleaders, allowing them to lift him up in a 'tower.'
Alas for all of us, that pep rally was the last for Guy Roubian as a Highlander. For his own personal reasons, he has taken a job as personnel director for a neighboring school district. Needless to say, faculty members are devastated. I can't imagine returning to work next month without him there. Through all the sadness of this past year, losing my brother, losing my mom, I was grateful for Guy's constant support and encouragement. His new district is fortunate to have him, but oh what a loss to Upland High School. Yesterday, when news of his move began to spread, Facebook pages were filled with comments on how much he'd meant to individual staff members.
To say he will be missed is an understatement. We can only hope that he is happy in his new position, that he enjoys his work, and that we remember the lessons he left behind as our best role model.