One aspect of working for three decades in the same school district is that eventually, you end up working alongside some of your former students after they become adults. It’s happened several times for Pam Mari.
School board trustee Gina Daleiden was a student in Mari’s English class at Davis High school as a teenager. Michelle Flowers, for several years the principal at Patwin Elementary, was a student of Mari’s as well. The same goes for school district safety coordinator Marc Hicks, and Lt. Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department.
“I do laugh when they (continue to) call me Ms. Mari,” she added.
Mari came to town as an English teacher at Davis High in 1983. She’d been teaching for several years in the Folsom-Cordova district on the other side of Sacramento, where she’d barely survived the staffing cutbacks that followed in the wake of 1978’s Proposition 13, which triggered layoffs in many school districts.
While working in Folsom-Cordova, “I taught five subjects in five schools in a period of six years,” Mari recalled, “and that included teaching P.E., while pregnant.”
Teaching high school English was “my greatest joy” as an educator, Mari recalled.
“My goal, with all my students, was to see the very best in them — even if they could not see it themselves — and then invite them to become that ‘best self.’ Every day was exciting, every day was different, every day was joyful.”
Her favorite texts included “Macbeth” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
“I taught those plays so many times that I still have quotes rattling around in my head,” Mari said.
Mari received a Rotary Teacher of the Year award, she announced the names of students receiving diplomas at two Davis High graduations and she was picked as a “positive role model” in a poll of female students.
“I was very into it,” Mari concedes.
Mari’s life changed in a major way when she was diagnosed with cancer, leading to surgery in 1990. She survived, but with some physical disability.
“I came to realize that my style of teaching was very physical, and (after the surgery) I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do,” she explained.
So the recovering Mari took a teacher leadership position, “and one day, I realized that the only other person going to as many meetings as I was was the principal.” So she decided to become an administrator herself.
She became a vice principal, serving at the Davis Adult School, Holmes Junior High and then Davis High.
When the school district decided to launch a small “new technology” high school, based on a project-based learning approach, Mari served as the new school’s first principal.
“I can’t tell you the number of people who asked me ‘Why are you doing this? Stepping away for a big high school to do something so non-traditional?’ And the answer is ‘Because it was the right thing to do for the future of our students.’ It was a compelling call to advance teaching into the digital age in the 21st century,” Mari said.
The new school was named Da Vinci High, and Mari served as principal during the formative years.
“We were trying to get parents to send their kids to a school like they had never seen or experienced,” she said. “And we were located in aging portable classrooms sitting on blacktop. Yet the concept was immediately appealing. And we had a fantastic team. We simply made it happen.”
After several years at Da Vinci, Mari moved to the district office as director of student services. The position involves a portfolio of responsibilities — “counseling, safety, nursing, climate, attendance and records, complaints and conflicts.”
That move coincided with the start of the state budget crisis, triggering administrative reductions at the district office, teacher layoffs, class size increases and other cutbacks. Mari’s decades of experience in the district led to her providing “institutional memory” on many occasions; she was also the only female administrator in some meetings.
Now she’s stepping down from the student services job. “Retirement was my family’s idea,” she said.
But she won’t be putting her feet up. “I want to continue in some other arena. There are still some opportunities I need to explore.” Even after 38 years in the business, “I’m not done as an educator,” she said.
Mari’s colleagues offered their own tribute to her savvy decision-making ability by distributing little rubber wristbands with the inscription “What Would Pam Do?” which they’ll use as brainstorming tools when they face perplexing situations on their own in the academic year to come.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.