My predecessor was a gentle man but he was an ultra conservative nineteenth century throwback, who was moved because he insisted that girls wear skirts even in freezing weather. Students were continually failed until they passed. I inherited two seventeen year-old Portuguese boys in my Grade seven group. They shaved regularly. They were men. I took a risk and arbitrarily promoted all my over-age students to the secondary school. There was consternation. John Wiens helped me make it stick. Staff dynamics were poor. Teachers didn't choose to come. Generally, they choose to leave.
I struggled to find a way to motivate the school. Then, the Superintendent Of Schools, Jake Longmore sent me to New Westminster to view project READ. Over lunch, I explained my situation to the principal. He told me I should visit Queen Mary Community School in North Vancouver and talk to Jack Stevens. He set me up and off I went for an afternoon meeting with Jack. As we talked a light went on. Stevens was a Mott Fellow. His Masters was in Community Education. The essence of the Community School movement spoke to me. It still does. I returned to South Park and with the District's agreement South Park Community School was born. I met with James Bay activist groups in a church hall at night. and with their help I was able to hire a Community School Coordinator and an Daytime Activities Coordinator through a Local Initiatives Grant held by the newly-formed James Bay Community Association. These staff were not teachers and they were green but they were committed. We simply threw open the doors and invited everyone in. It was visibly crazy but it worked. Soon, I had a small group of students being looked after by a parent with limited education who was on welfare . They formed the staff of Radio Station CKSP. We did not have a PA system so I called in a favour and a District maintenance worker patched a jack into the central radio system and we were good to go. CKSP broadcast through the Noon Hour. The kids loved it! The staff not so much.
All we had was a single gas burner in the staff room. But we started a hot soup program. Lynn Greenhough our Activities Coordinator organized the soup. Brian Wile was skeptical about the whole adventure and it came to a head one day when he brought me a plastic bag of dried material he had found in the staff room cupboard. He claimed it was Marijuana. I said it wasn't. He refused to listen and said he would report me to the District Superintendent, At that point The head of the Victoria Police Youth Detail arrived. I showed Peter Voth the bag. He said it wasn't weed. Just then Lynn Greenhough came to the office trying to discover who had walked off with the parsley for the soup that was kept in the staff room cupboard. Incidents like this were commonplace as our offerings expanded. Some were serious. Most were not. Today the magic that happened at South Park would not be allowed. We are institutionalized beyond belief. The seeds of such institutionalization were soon planted in James Bay and the magic died.
On the home front, The Walton family had reconciled with Lynn. In the mid 60's they had taken up residence on Galiano Island where father, Les ran the store with assistance from mother Dorothy. Frankly, the normalization of relations was a relief. Dorothy took an active interest in our lives. She bought Lynn a car. It was a loan. She paved the driveway, another loan. Her presence upset my mother. She was jealous. Then, I received a revelation. My wife took me aside and informed me that she had not graduated from high school. She wanted to go back to school and get the English she needed and then proceed to university to become a teacher. I was ecstatic we were on the same track, I thought. Then, the dysfunctional Waltons struck again. Dorothy left on a world tour. We had her itinerary. Shortly afterward, I was baby-sitting as Lynn was at. school when I received a phone call from Les. He asked if I knew where his wife was. Well, she had gone on her world tour without telling him. Shortly after she returned. Les torched the store, arson was never proved, and went to live near his sister in Parksville.
In my first year at South Park, I finished writing my Master's thesis. My wife was an excellent typist. I assumed she would type the thesis. Wrong! Like my experience with writer's block, she deserted me again. This was more than anger. It was complete dismissal. There was no concern for my success or failure. I might as well have been a stranger. I employed someone to do the work, defended my thesis and graduated in the Spring of 1972. To top my first year off. I was given the job of consolidating all the schools in James Bay. A new James Bay Community School was to be constructed as an addition to the Primary School at MacDonald Park. Beacon Hill and South Park were to close. Fortuitously, Dave Barrett's NDP government had replaced the long-reigning Bennett Socreds. Humanism was rising and I was asked to have lunch with three ministers: The Minister Of Education, Eileen Dailly; The Minister Of Human Resources, Norm Levi; and The Minister Of Health, Dennis Cocke. They liked what was happening in James Bay. The Minister Of Public Services, Bill Hartley enrolled his children at South Park. So did my old mentor, Bill Stavdal.
As things progressed, I had a phone call from the District Superintendent. After a brief inquisition. I was told that Superintendents, Board Chairmen, Mayors and the like meet with Ministers of the Government. Elementary school Principals do not. I had violated protocols. I realized immediately the control mechanisms of institutions were a clear threat to me and a threat to meaningful change. I had arrived in a Political world. I was out of my depth. After all, I let unauthorized people into the school. Anna Banana (Anne Long) a hippy counter culture artist had been thrown off many school grounds for trying to reach kids. She showed up at South Park and much to her surprise I invited her in and gave her use of a room. The Anna Banana Club was born.
Now, I encountered a small book by Richard Bach, Jonathon Livingston Seagull. Regardless of the literary value of the book. It struck a chord with me. After all who would not like to be a 242 mile an hour seagull. I was hooked. I was a Jonathon Livingston Seagull. I always resisted compliance. I still do. What I failed to understand was that Jonathon was thrown out of the flock and he had no choice but to transcend, "Aye there's the rub!" Learning how to transcend ain't easy! Within a short time I reached terminal velocity and then shit hit the fan.
I was a political liability, a loose cannon, a rebel with a cause! To my surprise, I discovered that many were only in the movement for political gain, They weren't interested in transcending. They were interested in gaining positions within the flock. School and children and community were simply a means to an end. The worst among them were those who never questioned what they were doing. They never questioned the status quo.
I later became part of a four man Provincial Community School Consulting Team. The School District supported my participation. One of the first events we attended was a School Trustees Conference in Parksville. There was immediately a pecking order established within the team aimed at political gain. Jack Stevens and John Talbot got to rub shoulders with political power, Jack was determined and John was smooth. Gary Pennington helped out. I was relegated to the ash heap. That was sitting in a room helping selected high school students rehearse their banal politically-correct speeches for the morrow, They were uncomfortable, I suggested they get together and make like Jon Seagull. They leapt at it. They worked into the wee hours formulating their presentation on how students could help to improve their high school. I was thrilled. I had been the catalyst. The next morning they dove through the flock at 242 miles an hour. They were great. I expected praise for liberating their minds. Instead, the Trustees were dumbfounded. The Victoria Board Chairman, my supporter, never spoke to me again. None of us transcended. Instead we crashed and burned.
Earlier in the Summer of '72, My mother-in-law, Dorothy Walton who continued to live on Galiano Island lent us her truck and camper for a family vacation. Lynn and I and the two boys headed for Big Sur. I was seeking Nirvana. She was putting up with 3 males, all of them children, in a confined space. Afer all, what woman wouldn't love to spend an afternoon at SeaTac airport watching the big jets take off. She had finished high school and had enrolled at UVic. She was meeting with success.
She was developing a social life that did not include me, Again, the spectre of infidelity rose. We managed all the way to the Redwoods. She was obviously struggling inside. But the mood was hopeful. Then, I made a blunder. I chose to go by way of Highway 1. It was spectacular, It was tortuous. It was slow. It was lonely. I found a place on an isolated beach to stay. She freaked. I drove on angry and disappointed. She sulked in the camper. In the parking lot on the San Francisco end of the Golden Gate she exploded. She was leaving us. She demanded a bus ticket home. Fear numbed me. I took the two little boys on a tour of Fort Point not knowing if their mother would be there when I returned. She was. She was getting over the hysteria that always accompanied these episodes. We struggled home stopping off in Eugene Oregon where I enrolled for my doctoral studies to start in the Summer of '73. In the words of John Fogerty, "I just kept on a choogling."
As September dawned, things appeared to settle down at home. Craig and Mike were enrolled in highly-regarded preschool, "Goosey Gander". I drove them to school every morning on my way to South Park. I was also their chauffeur home at night. I drove the VW Beetle and Lynn had commandeered the MGBGT to take her to UVic. I was proud of Lynn's initiative. That October, Brian Wile and Dave Johnson (a parent) built a huge orange plastic covered pumpkin and the Great Pumpkin Festival was born. I was always taken with Charles Schulz's insight conveyed through the eyes of children. Linus's wonderful belief that the Great Pumpkin descends on a pumpkin patch on Hallowe'en to give gifts. The catch is to find the right pumpkin patch where "sincerity and integrity were as far as the eye can reach!" The Victoria Fire Department hoisted the Great Pumpkin to the top of South Park where it was lit. All ages and all walks of the community gathered. The community owned the night.