Museum Director Musings on Being Principal for a Day at Workman High School

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Well, it is William Workman High School on Temple Avenue in the City of Industry, so that’s an apt trifecta for being a Principal for a Day in a great program that gets area schools connected with business and professional people.  Sponsored by the Bassett, Hacienda-La Puente and Rowland school districts, along with the Regional Chamber of Commerce—San Gabriel Valley and La Puente Valley Regional Occupation Program, this year’s event had the theme of “Partnerships: The Silver Lining in Education.”

Last year, my first as museum director (though I’ve participated several times before), I was at Los Altos Elementary in Hacienda Heights and that led to ongoing collaboration with that school and our public programs staff.  With that in mind, I requested to be at Workman High so that I could explore the idea of partnership between the Homestead and the school.  I had little idea of just how impressive Workman, its students, and its teachers and staff are.

A new “gateway” sign for William Workman High School, the site of my visit this morning as Principal for a Day.

I arrived at 8 a.m. along with La Puente mayor pro-tem Dan Holloway and were welcomed by principal Dr. Anna Corral and students Sofia Pacheco and Javier Gonzalez.  Sofia, a sophomore who is in the choir and in drama and is considering pursuing acting and/or psychology in college, and Javier, a senior who is a trumpeter in the school’s jazz band and is looking at astronomy and business as possible majors at colleges in New Jersey, Iowa and California, helped Dr. Corral choose which classrooms to visit.

These included a wide array of subjects, including honors English, U.S. History, art, band, choir, auto shop, biology and many more.  There is a “Link Crew,” in which students help incoming freshmen and others and many programs to assist students in a variety of areas involving partnerships with community organizations.  A studio for filming video and doing audio recording, including the school’s “Lobovision” was also part of the tour.

The pride of the Lobos is emblazoned on the side of the school’s gymnasium, where the girls’ basketball team, which has advanced deep in the CIF playoffs, plays.

Workman also offers a Renaissance program, which is part of a national network promoting academic excellence; AVID, a program that also encourages academics and student support, especially in preparation for college; and it is a California Democracy school, one of only a dozen in the state, which promotes civic learning and engagement as students move to college, career and in being informed citizens.

It was also impressive to learn that, among its many attributes, the school has a college-level calculus course and a strong commitment to engineering, auto tech, and the arts.  In fact, the jazz department, consisting of several ensembles, is readying for its “Concert Under the Stars,” taking place on 27 April at the Hacienda Heights Community Center.  Alexandra Rasic from the museum has been meeting with the department’s head, Mr. Limon, about future collaboration with the Homestead and a small combo played at the City of Industry holiday treelighting ceremony that took place in early December.

This phenomenal mural, painted nearly a half-century ago in 1970, in the office shows the school’s namesake along with a rendering of the Workman House, the mausoleum, and the cast-iron cemetery plot fence from the Homestead, Workman’s cattle brand, a portion of a map of his share of Rancho La Puente and a landscape of the Puente Hills.

Dr. Corral also showed us where aging athletic fields are being readied for a dramatic renovation, including a quality football stadium, a modernized track, and an improved baseball field as part of a district commitment to improve conditions for the school’s athletes.

It was also a pleasure to visit the history class of Billie Joe Wright, named the school’s teacher of the year this week.  One of the leads in the California Democracy program, Mr. Wright was kind enough to put up the Homestead’s website up on a screen and asked me to briefly describe the museum.

A student in an AP Art class shared some of her excellent work, including this piece, with us as we toured the studio.

I noticed the class was working on a unit dealing with post- Civil War Reconstruction and I told him that the Homestead’s Book Club has just finished reading a book on that topic and which will be discussed at the club’s meeting tomorrow.  Mr. Wright talked to the class about the potential of having an extra credit assignment relating to the Homestead.

In an economics class, working at a computer lab, the teacher, Mr. Blackshaw, explained to us that he had the students learn about stock market investing through in which they gain a real-world understanding of how stocks are traded in a way that is interactive and engaging.  With a wife who works in the mutual fund industry, that struck a chord with me and I’ve shared what I observed with her.

Scholarship recipients, including one of our guides, Workman senior Javier Gonzalez at the center, being recognized at the lunch at Industry Hills Expo Center across the street from the school.

Mr. Snapp’s AP Art class was working on some interesting pieces having to do with the conceptualizing and drawing of a human hand as part of a project and pieces on the walls around the studio testified to the talents of the student artists in the various art courses offered at the school.

It was full and busy morning and it went by very quickly.  This was followed by a luncheon just across Temple Avenue at the Industry Hills Expo Center, where all of those who participated in Principal for a Day gathered to hear a talk by a local doctor who is a graduate of Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights and to honor students from the local high schools and adult schools who received scholarships.

Sofia Pacheco, a sophomore at Workman, Javier Gonzalez, yours truly (with William Workman looming large over my left shoulder), principal Dr. Anna Corral, and La Puente mayor pro-tem Dan Holloway at the end of a very interesting and enlightening site visit.

At lunch, Dr. Corral asked how Workman High and the Homestead could collaborate and we talked about working with history, English, economics, music, drama, art and other disciplines.  We’ve already begun the dialogue with the jazz department and can branch out to other areas.  Following on last year’s momentum developed with Los Altos Elementary, it is good to know that Principal for a Day is a vehicle for the museum to engage in meaningful and impactful collaboration to highlight that “silver lining in education” theme for this year’s program.

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