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Guest Editorial: Jensen Should Continue as Benicia High Principal

Benicia High needs steady leadership and some continuity.

Once upon a time, there was a principal who showed tremendous interest in her students and their families. She was extremely caring and showed genuine compassion when dealing with every student. Every student mattered. We knew we had someone very unique when we spoke with parents of children in the other schools. We didn’t care if she was a “good administrator” in the paper pushing sense and I imagine that if the District had tried to remove her, we would have fought vigorously to prevent it because every student knew that they mattered to her and that’s what was important to us as parents.

In the 4 years my son was at BHS, he had 3 principals. In the 5 ½ years I’ve been on the BHS Site Council I’ve worked with 2 of them. During Dr. Holland’s tenure as principal I often wondered what his role was supposed to be. He didn’t communicate with us very often and he sure didn’t seem to connect with the students either so when he was told in February ‘09 that he would not be back the next year, there was no public outcry but he pretty much disappeared for the rest of that school year.

Gary Jensen was apparently told last May that he would not be principal at BHS beyond this school year. I worked with Gary during registration in August and every month since regarding School Site issues. At no time did I ever suspect that anything was amiss. He went to work every day as if nothing had changed. He got Link Crew and freshman health classes reinstated and running again. He worked with the community regarding upgrades to the sports complex, put out fires about Christmas trees, attended just about every event his students were participating in, and worked with the Benicia Police to try to find ways to keep our more troubled kids, out of trouble. He never gave any indication that whatever policies he put in place last year or was trying to implement this year, might be moot next year because he wouldn’t be here. I never heard about Gary’s situation from him until I confronted him directly last month after hearing rumors.

I’m sure things have fallen through the cracks or there have been problems with communication, but when you have the wreckage left by 7 principals in 11 years, that’s a lot of turnover and turmoil to unravel while making sure everything else runs smoothly on a day to day basis for your 1,650 students. I’m sure the district could probably find a great paper pusher. Well maybe not, since 7 principals in 11 years doesn’t say much for the district’s track record, but you can teach someone how to fill out forms or schedule meetings, things that many people even have assistance with in the outside world. But you can’t teach someone how to care about other people. You can’t teach someone how to be compassionate and truly concerned about the students they are responsible for. You can’t teach someone how to make every kid feel like they matter. You can’t teach someone all those things that I was so fortunate to have in a principal at the beginning of my kids’ school years and hope to have for the remainder of her school years.  Please do the right thing and keep Gary Jensen as principal of Benicia High School.

Robert Livesay March 01, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Karen was there any reason given why they did want him to continue as principal? I have seen nothing. Do the teachers like him? From what you are saying the parents and students appear to like him. There must be something that the board is not telling everyone. I do know this ia a very delicate and confidential issue. It sure sounds strange. I do hope it works out for the best.
Karen LaRiviere March 01, 2012 at 07:39 PM
There haven't been any "earth-shattering" reasons that anyone has heard about. No one doubts that there may have been administrative shortcomings but what doesn't appear to be getting the attention is should is the fact that those administrative shortcomings may pale in comparison to everything else Gary has done in the 2 years he's been there to make BHS a better school both socially and academically. Even teachers who disagree with him philosophically support keeping him as principal. That could be simply because there has been so much turnover that they just can't handle another new person, but morale has always been an issue at the high school for one reason or another. I don't think this is doing anything to improve it at all. Teachers want to teach and there are some great ones at the high school, but every time there is a new principal, they bring with them, new energy (or not), new policies, procedures, styles that teachers, staff, students and parents have to start all over again getting used to. After a while, you just throw up your hands and say, "Why bother." If everyone knew this was a 2 year gig, I don't think people would have as much of a problem. They would be able to process the changes, but that is not the case. Absent horrendous misconduct, which doesn't appear to be the case since they were going to reassign him, I say at least give him another year with proper support.
Jessica March 01, 2012 at 10:28 PM
"He(Mr. Holland) sure didn’t seem to connect with the students". I must say as a student at the high school during the time Mr. Holland was Principal he sure did connect with us students. Unlike other principals, he showed us his personality and all the students loved him. He was really funny. But I know that a lot of the teachers didn't really care for him and his sense of humor, but us students did! Favorite Principal by far. He even gave our whole graduating class a card of inspirational words before graduating. Can't say other Principals were that thoughtful.
Karen LaRiviere March 02, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Thank you for pointing that out Jessica. I'm glad that he was able to connect with some of the students while he was there. A good example of how different people can have varying experiences by those in charge.
Kathy March 02, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Karen, This is an excellent article! Thank you for your, as usual, well thought out words!
Greg Elwell March 02, 2012 at 05:55 AM
I came to know Gary through Benicia Kiwanis. He joined our club and immediately began taking part in service projects and fund raisers. I came to know he loved the game of baseball, but even more was his passion for students and elevating the academic standing of BHS. There were times he would show up for late for Kiwanis meetings because he had a school matter or student activity to attend to, we understood. Quite consistent with Kiwanis' mission of serving the needs of our children, youth and community. From what I know, Gary Jensen has served Kiwanis, Benicia and BHS with a lot of heart, I thank him and wish him the very best. It seems to me it's the board of trustees that needs to get its act together. Too many principals over too short a period. Greg Elwell President, Kiwanis Club of Benecia, 2008-2009
John Rodgers June 22, 2012 at 06:06 PM
It is sad to see good people being treated poorly...sometimes people are threatened by the people below them and do not take the right steps to properly keep these employees. when it comes to children's education you need the right people and it definitely sounded like he was one. i remember my first grade teacher was very pivotal towards my progress in school. she even taught my little bro how to ride a bike. and we ride our SE Road bike from http://www.2wheelbikes.com/lager-11-fixed-gear-single-speed-bike.html all the time. but when she went to apply for a principal position they denied her that opportunity even though she was well qualified. they never explained to her the reason either and she just decided to retire. its unfortunate because i owe my success to her. she was the one who believed in each of her students and if you have a principal that is good you must learn how to keep that person.
Stephanie Colon July 28, 2012 at 04:33 AM
I'm very disappointed to see Mr. Jensen go, he was shaking things up... and some folks in town don't like things to change much. Let's just keep things nice and calm. We have lost many amazing, progressive teachers in the last few years, and our students have clearly paid the price. I was so impressed to see Mr. Jensen care about each and every classroom at the high school. He is a "good egg" and our district will lose him as well.
Jason July 28, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Exceptional people can only produce exceptional results if they do everything themselves from the ground up. They are at an inherent disadvantage in life. By the nature of being exceptional, they are above the majority in their respective area of talent or ability. More often than not, that majority feels threatened and colludes to cast the exceptional minority down in order to preserve the culture of mediocrity pervasive in the public sector, the private sector, and society in general which has allowed that majority to persist.
Kenny July 28, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Stephanie, I am curious as to what you consider a "amazing, progressive teacher" to be. I've had 3 children go through the Benicia school system and am amazed at the differences of opinions I hear as to what is a good or bad teacher/administrator.

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