When students and teachers were given an opportunity to describe Janet Anderson, they chose words like dedicated, funny, generous, driven, passionate, hardworking, caring, and kind.
South Pasadena High senior Lulu Talesnick Lopez, among a group of speakers at a dedication last week celebrating the official naming of Anderson Auditorium on campus, worked with fellow ASB members to create a video of teachers and students depicting Janet Anderson, the retired SPHS school principal, in a word or two.
The choices made by the students sum up their feelings about Anderson who left a lasting impact on so many during a long and distinguished career in education. Fittingly, because she spent countless hours inside, the school’s auditorium will forever be named in her honor.
Anderson, who educated students in South Pasadena Unified School District for 41 years, including serving as principal at SPHS for 21, encouraged many like Talesnick Lopez to find their passions in life.
And for someone like Talesnick Lopez, Anderson’s support and inspiration will carry her a long way.
“My first vivid memory of Ms. Anderson reminds me of her warm, welcoming, and friendly attitude,” she told a large gathering outside the auditorium on April 27 for the special occasion. “She encouraged me to participate in the two-day Anti-Defamation League training she brought to our school, which ultimately sparked my love for social justice, inspiring me to begin the Anti-Bias Club at our school, where she served as our advisor. Ms. Anderson inspired the rest of the district to continue implementing these trainings to both students and teachers.”
Talesnick Lopez said Anderson showed her the importance of standing up for what she believed in and being resilient during difficult times. “When the BLM mural I am helping to commission with other Anti-Bias Club members was faced with roadblocks by the South Pasadena city government, Ms. Anderson was by our side to encourage us to keep moving forward, always providing helpful, goal–oriented solutions and guiding us towards the future. She has continued to support our project, spending countless hours working with us on Zoom, even though she is retired and no longer our advisor. Whenever I speak with Ms. Anderson, I am always welcomed by her care, patience, and understanding.”
The event featured the unveiling of a bronze plaque recognizing Anderson’s illustrious career with SPUSD. In another tribute, the words Anderson Auditorium are now emblazoned across the building’s front entrance. Taking part in the ceremony were past and present faculty, administrators, students and staff. The school’s jazz band, under the direction of Howard Crawford, a longtime educator in his own right, performed during the evening reception before the ceremony guests learned why the building was chosen to honor Anderson. Joining Lulu Talesnick Lopez in making remarks were SPUSD Superintendent Goff Yantz, Board of Education President Zahir Robb and SPHS English teacher Mark Afram.
In the days following the unveiling, Anderson took some time to reflect on what it means to her to be remembered in such a positive way.
“Having the auditorium named in my honor seems like a dream come true, except that as a student, teacher, and administrator, I never would have dreamt that such a wonderful thing would ever be in the cards,” she said. “Over all of those years, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the auditorium, and I am so deeply grateful to the school board members, Dr. Yantz, the vetting committee, and everyone who so enthusiastically made this a reality. I loved the relationships I was able to have with students, staff, and parents at all five schools, and I’m proud of the things we were able to bring to students in SPUSD; this is the icing on that cake!”
About ten years ago Afram, telling a story to the crowd, attended an assembly “in this auditorium, and Janet Anderson had just left the stage. As the curtain closed, a new teacher turned to me and whispered, ‘Do the kids always cheer like this?’”
The highly respected SPHS instructor and fan favorite of students, was caught off guard, saying: “Uh, yeah?”
“My colleague’s question prompted a moment of reflection, and I realized that the student reaction was enthusiastic, endearing…and weird,” Afram told the gathering. “I’d spent my whole teaching career in South Pas, and frankly, I didn’t know any better.”
Continuing the description theme, Afram said Anderson is “kind of an administrative legend – intelligent, articulate, insightful, and dedicated. For these qualities—and others—it is fitting to honor Janet and christen the auditorium with her name. It is my hope that events in this building will embody Janet’s best traits: inclusive, supportive, and fun.”
Afram added: “It almost goes without saying that Janet is inclusive. She has a big heart, and she loves deeply. Whether it was a staff meeting, assembly, or PA announcement, she’d always end with, ‘I love you all.’”
Anderson’s love, he pointed out, has embraced generations of students, “despite the fact that some are less lovable than others. I’ve specifically observed the ways she’s advocated on behalf of students – especially students of color and the LGBTQ community – a testament to her inclusive spirit.”
Robb said he was fortunate enough to have Janet Anderson as his teacher attending school at Monterey Hills while he grew up in the city. “When I think back to this formative time, I recall her kindness and generosity of spirit and that she was able to connect with all of us as individuals,” he recalls. “As an educator, it has been my philosophy that teaching is inherently relational, and that without being seen and heard, it is hard for students to truly learn.”
Like others, he said Anderson had a caring demeanor “that let us know that we were safe in her presence which facilitated our learning process,” he said. “While I would not see her again until I was a student in high school, her ability to translate her skillset to a new audience of students was remarkable. I would witness this again as I returned to the district to raise my own children back in the schools that provided me with so much. Her presence was felt in all corners of the school, and while it is easy to become siloed in your work as you move through the administrative ranks, Ms. Anderson’s deep and meaningful connection to her community was clear.”
The school board president says education has changed quite a bit over Anderson’s career in the district, “but the core pieces of her craft have remained the same – leading with passion, care, and consideration of all the stakeholders in her community,” he continued. “Ms. Anderson’s commitment to student success is unquestionable, but not at the cost of their well-being, a balance that is hard to find, but one she navigated as well as anyone. Over her 41 years within the district, Ms. Anderson was an advocate for students, teachers, and the community of South Pasadena and is well deserving of this recognition.”
One former Tiger, Mark Langill, a graduate of South Pasadena High back in 1983 and the current historian for the Los Angeles Dodgers, will remember Anderson as more than an educator. “You knew how much she cared for the students and the school community,” he said following the dedication. “Her career evolved in a special era for South Pasadena.”
Yantz, in his address, won’t forget Anderson for her devoted decades of “developing SPHS into an elite public high school with opportunities for all students to find a place to grow and learn,” adding “Ms. Anderson embodied the definition of educator, and above all else, always placed student interests and learning first in her decision-making.”
Further, he said Anderson cultivated “a highly-qualified team of teachers and staff who consistently went the extra mile with curriculum, programs, and awards that made up the Tiger Nation we all know and love.”
In an odd twist, Anderson was not initially supposed to work in the South Pasadena Unified School District. She was recruited by the Los Angeles Unified School District, but a contract dispute forced the district to cancel all new hires. “That’s how I ended up here,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier that things worked out that way. In a small district, if you are so inclined, you can become very involved in a lot of aspects of teaching, learning, and other endeavors. I value all of the opportunities I had to write curriculum, be part of the first team to enter into Interest-based Bargaining (which became her problem-solving model in all of the years since), take on committee work, and experience professional and personal growth.”
Anderson likes the idea that she was “able to teach some students several times at different levels, and now, many of them have come back as parents,” she said. “It was always fun when ‘kids’ would come back to town and know that they could come and visit me at SPHS. I’ll miss that accessibility.”
Along her career path in the city, Anderson found herself at the grade school level teaching at Arroyo Vista and Monterey Hills elementary schools, the middle school in the days when it was known as a junior high, and she served as principal at Marengo Elementary School for three years in the days leading up to taking over the same role at SPHS in 2000.
Asked how her time at Marengo, starting in 1997, paved the way for the 21 years that followed at South Pasadena High, Anderson talked about making the leap and her approach to make it happen.
“First, I have to be clear that I have had wonderful mentors and role models over my career from whom I learned a great deal,” she said. “When I got to Marengo, there was a terrific staff, and I was able to hire people who were dedicated and added a lot to the mix. The staff was ready to embrace change, and their input, along with the parents’ input, really gave us direction for that first year. We were a cohesive staff with the goal of always doing what was best for our students. After that very positive experience, one that I thought I might continue until retirement, I was reassigned to SPHS and I knew that I wanted to create the same kind of teamwork and transparency that we had at Marengo. Having been in the district for quite a while and teaching at various grade levels, I had relationships with many of the teachers and other staff; some were even my own teachers when I was a student. Knowing people and honoring their strengths while moving together toward defined and refined goals was a good mix. Also, hiring some very talented and caring people helped us on our path of continual growth and improvement. At both schools, we had camaraderie and fun, and that had a positive impact on our students.”
After more than two decades on the job, Anderson who retired in August 2021 said some might think that 21 years overseeing South Pasadena High “might seem repetitious,” she said. “It was anything but that! Things changed, we brought new programs to the school, student perspectives changed along with massive social change, and we really made an effort to highlight the important traditions while practicing continual improvement and growth.”
Anderson, a graduate of South Pasadena High, said she will miss the activities, the problem-solving, and the interaction with the students, staff, and support groups.
“To paraphrase retired SPHS teacher Lou Howorth, I really didn’t go to work each day; I went to school,” she said. “Yes, there was hard work, but the context was really invigorating. At SPHS, there is a tradition of a student-centered environment. A colleague just reminded me that I shared my philosophy with teachers that the kids can really flourish when we get out of their way. I see the adults as the facilitators who can help students develop their own ideas and projects. So many times, students would come to me with an idea, from how to reinvent the Tiger Patio to the creation of the Aquaponics Garden and the organic gardens, and much more. I found it important to start with ‘yes,’ and work with the students to flesh out their ideas whenever possible.”
Watching the maturity of students as they grew from freshmen, finding their place on a new campus, to becoming well-seasoned seniors, was something Anderson truly enjoyed. “A few years ago, I had shirts made for the staff that said ‘Never.Give.Up.’ to remind us of why we were there,” said Anderson. “This was based on having just graduated a group of young men who had been some of the toughest kids when they first got to the high school. Over time, we invested in them, and they all turned things around. At the student awards assembly, I was able to honor them. I didn’t use their names, but each one came up to me afterward and was so proud of what they had accomplished.”
Following her retirement, Anderson helped with the transition to the next school year while the district searched for a new principal, ultimately deciding on John Eldred. She and another SPUSD retiree have a routine of working out four mornings a week at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center.
In other words, life is good.
“Beyond that, avoiding the Omicron variant kind of gave me permission to take things easy which has been great for decompressing after 41 years of long hours and multiple daily activities,” said the former principal. Soon, I do want to start exploring, traveling, and also giving back through some of the job offers I have had for temporary assignments and mentoring administrators in schools.”
She works daily on learning Spanish and “I’m beginning some anti-voter-suppression and voter turnout efforts,” said Anderson. “At home, I’ve been on a mission to simplify my surroundings!”
Talesnick Lopez, chosen among the speakers to represent the student body, shared in her message what many will always remember about the former principal. “Anderson’s love for our school and school spirit encouraged me to get more involved on campus,” she said. “I loved getting to see her in attendance at volleyball games and drama productions, and I was always met with a warm smile.”
Sitting in the stands, either home or away, was a way of life for Anderson, who took in a wide variety of Tiger events over the years. “She was one of her students’ biggest supporters and cheerleaders,” enthused Talesnick Lopez. “Her determination, kindness, work ethic, and school spirit have made me proud to be a Tiger and to represent South Pasadena High School.”