The morning after the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board decided to close Miraleste High School last week, Principal John White knew pretty well how to handle the reaction at his campus.
He has broad experience at the helm of doomed schools, in addition to what colleagues call a fine sensitivity to the feelings of others.
White was the principal at Lawndale High when it closed in 1981. Then he was reassigned to Lennox High--two months before it joined other South Bay schools sinking into a sea of declining enrollment and subsequent closure.
At Miraleste, knowing well the emotional reaction to the loss of a high school, White scheduled a faculty meeting early Tuesday.
"We all needed a chance to cry a little together so we would be ready to help the kids get through the first day," White said. "I asked the teachers to let the kids ventilate their feelings, too, in the first period."
Midway through the period, White spoke on the school's intercom system. He talked about "grieving for what once was and shall never be again." Then he talked about "getting on with life and making this the best year Miraleste has ever had."
The main thing, he said, was to keep the students from getting so depressed that their academic work suffered, which in turn could affect their chances in college and in future careers.
White said his own emotional reaction to his first two school closings drove him out of education for awhile. But after three years in the custom furniture business, he got bored and took an opening in the Peninsula district.
What's next? White said he will be open to any offer he can't refuse, either in the Peninsula district or elsewhere. At 51, he said, "I'm ready, willing and able to take on the next challenge."
He hopes that won't include another school closing. But, come to think of it, he said, "having become such an expert, maybe I could be a consultant. . ."