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Longtime Principal of Award-Winning Santa Monica Continuation School Retiring

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By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

May 27, 2015 -- Teens credit her with turning their lives around, but after 11 years leading the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s last-chance campus for struggling students, Dr. Janie Gates has announced her retirement as principal of Olympic High School.

Gates will be succeeded by Anthony Fuller, whose appointment as the new principal of Olympic was approved by the SMMUSD Board of Education last week, said Gail Pinsker, district spokeswoman.

A teacher since 1994, Fuller has been teaching history and science at Olympic since 2002, but he also had organized student field trips, parent and community meetings and fundraisers for the campus, said Pinsker.

“I’m honored to be chosen as the leader of Olympic High School, a school dedicated to the non-trational learner,” said Fuller. “Equally, I’m excited to be working with a collaborative and dynamic staff to build on the achievements of my predecessor, Dr. Janie Gates.”

Along with guiding Olympic High to several academic achievement awards, including recognition by the California Department of Education last year as a Model Continuation School, Gates is credited by students with creating a welcoming, respectful atmosphere that fosters success at the 140-student campus.

One of those students was Chynna Summers, whose father emailed The Lookout in 2012 praising Gates and the school’s staff for helping his daughter transform from failing student to college-bound freshman.

“There is such a powerful human story behind this kid's life and were it not for Janie Gates and (Olympic’s) support staff, I would have lost this wonderful daughter to the streets,” Summers wrote (Santa Monica’s Olympic High Offers Second Chance, May 14, 2012).

Although she spearheaded several ongoing fundraisers and campus improvement projects Gates is leaving Olympic at a time of transition.

One project in which she was heavily involved in but will not be on the job to see completed is a $5.5 million modernization project involving four buildings at the continuation school.

Set to begin this fall, the project will bring a new music classroom, an updated library and a new computer lab to the campus, Pinsker said.

Gates also spearheaded a drive to replace an aging mural outside Olympic with one that she said would better reflect the school today.

The “Muir Woods” mural, originally painted in 1978 by artist Jane Golden, has been the subject of controversy after local preservationists launched an effort last year to save it.

Gates wanted to the replace the mural with a more modern one created by local artists.

At a meeting last year, Gates told Santa Monica Parks and Recreation Commissioners that times have changed, Olympic High is no longer the elementary school it was in 1978, and a mural depicted redwood trees no longer accurately represents the school, its students and the surrounding community

“We’re now Olympic High School and we’ve been Olympic High School for close to 20 years,” she said, according to City records. “We now really want a mural that reflects our students and our school or our community.”

Although $62,000 in local transit funds are available for a new mural, Pinsker said Tuesday that district officials are still meeting with community representatives about the future of “Muir Woods” and no formal decision has been made yet.

Earlier this year, the district announced Olympic will begin offering a nursing assistant program, and the campus also offers ESL and other classes for adult learners.

More than 67,000 teens 16 and older attend the state’s 479 continuation schools, and while most of them are struggling academically, many teens also work and attend alternative high schools because the campuses offer flexible schedules.

“People have such misperceptions about Olympic,” Chynna Summers told The Lookout during a 2012 Food Truck Night fundraiser at Olympic.

“We’re really just one big family here,” said Chynna. “Here, everyone knows each other. They come here and see the atmosphere, and they totally get it.”


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