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Our View: Bolde and life in the fishbowl at Saugus High

A perspective on the principal and the uniform controversy

Posted: March 7, 2009 10:04 p.m.
Updated: March 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

It had Jon Stewart (or Jay Leno, for you retiring baby boomers) written all over it:
A Saugus High School senior who graduated early and joined the Marines was told he can't go through his high school graduation ceremony in his dress blues - in Santa Clarita!

Say it ain't so. Surely that sort of thing can't happen in this red-white-and-blue enclave where every Fourth of July parade draws huge crowds and every partisan office holder is a conservative Republican.

OK - it ain't so. About five minutes after the school board and the local media caught wind of it, the decision was reversed. The young Marine will be allowed to join his classmates in the uniform of the country he has vowed to defend with his life.

But for those five minutes, all eyes were on Bill Bolde, the principal at Saugus High.

The decision resulted in Bill Bolde and his fine reputation, character and integrity coming under fire from individuals who never let the facts or truth get in the way of their obtuse comments and opinions.

This had nothing to do with being unpatriotic, but those who like to vilify spewed that Bolde "is a leftist commie that (sic) wants to weaken America."

Really? Talk about a misfire.

This is the same Bill Bolde whose dedication and commitment has turned Saugus High School into a bastion of academic excellence.

This is the same Bill Bolde who has earned a reputation as an innovative, charismatic leader and has earned the respect of peers and students alike.

This is the same Bill Bolde who, rather than taking some well-earned time off during spring break, takes a group of students back to Washington, D.C., so they can experience "the cradle of democracy."

This is the same Bill Bolde who encourages academic excellence and engages parents in their children's education.

This is the same Bill Bolde who has created strong partnerships with the business community for the betterment of his school.

This is the same Bill Bolde who, recognizing the increasing role China will play in the global economy and politics, has brought the Chinese language and exchange program (one of only two in the country) to Saugus.

This is the same Bill Bolde who initiated the Legacy Wall to commemorate students who have died.

This is the same Bill Bolde who was one of the top five picks from our community to fill a vacant seat on the Santa Clarita City Council when Cameron Smyth went to the Assembly. (Bolde was in good company; the other four were a police chief, the president of a water board, the current chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, and the top vote-getter for City Council in the last election.)

And this is the same God-fearing Bill Bolde who just last September defended his right to participate in a nationwide, on-campus prayer event called "See You at the Pole."

"I'm sure there are atheists out there saying, ‘Why is a principal praying?' but that's who I am," Bolde told The Signal at the time.

"I pray that the decisions I make are what's best for the kids, and I pray that God blesses our school and our community."

So how could this fine man say "no" in this case?

Well, Bolde knew what everyone else knew - he's human, after all - and "everyone knows" you have to wear the school's official cap and gown at a graduation ceremony.

Our schools even require students to sign a contract affirming that they'll follow the rules of graduation, including wearing the cap and gown.

You wouldn't really want it any other way. Graduations would turn into freak shows. Longtime Signal readers well remember judiciously cropped Signal cover photos of streakers at CalArts graduations - which is fine for a fine-arts college but isn't exactly appropriate at the high school level.

It turns out that what "everyone knows" isn't quite right. The requirement to wear a cap and gown isn't an across-the-board school district policy. Graduation ceremony decisions are left to the individual school principals.

So Bolde was in a fix. Say "no" to the Marine and the community vilifies you. Say "yes" and what's next? Eagle Scouts? Sheriff's Explorers? Hare Krishnas? Where do you draw the line? The decision becomes much more subjective, so you simply say "no" to everybody.

But Bolde didn't simply say "no." He turned to his peers for advice. How would they handle it? After all, if one principal blurred the lines, the others could be pressured to follow suit.

The consensus among the other school principals was to require all students to wear the cap and gown.

(Wearing the cap and gown over the military attire wasn't an option; the Marine could be court-martialed for defacing the uniform.)

Unwilling to take "no" for an answer, the Marine's mom exercised her fundamental American right to appeal to a higher authority.

She turned to U.S. Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose representatives started making phone calls. (Apparently she didn't go to the school board; at least some board members only learned of the situation a week ago.)

With the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon, Bolde drafted a new policy that would allow full-fledged U.S. military personnel to wear their uniforms during graduation if they so desire.

The policy would apply to all schools, and the school board seems only too eager to give its assent.

Hindsight is 20/20. How could Bolde have handled the situation differently - or better? His initial reaction was to invoke longstanding tradition. Then, rather than make a decision in a vacuum, he asked his peers for counsel.

When Mom didn't accept the verdict, he could have dug in his heels - but he didn't. He kept talking. He kept listening. Then he acted and in the end made the right decision, allowing this young Marine to walk with his class at graduation in his uniform.

We demand much from our school teachers and administrators, and by and large they deliver. School principals have a huge responsibility. Not only do they have a large organization to manage, but we entrust them with our kids. We expect them to have all the answers, and to make difficult decisions, and to do it in a fishbowl.

At the end of the day, on top of everything else, we expect them to keep our children safe and illuminate them with the lamp of knowledge.

Bill Bolde has consistently raised the bar for teachers and students at Saugus High. He has done this without fanfare or recognition. He would be the first to tell you he is only doing his job.

From the community, he not only deserves our thanks, he deserves our support.


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