SPHS Principal Announces Retirement | Janet Anderson Reflects on 41 Years

The former administrator, teacher, and soon-to-be former head of SPHS, will stay in her position until August

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | South Pasadena High Principal Janet Anderson

South Pasadena South Pasadena High School Principal Janet Anderson has announced that she will be retiring this upcoming August, 2021.

In a letter written by District Superintendent Geoff Yantz on Monday, it was stated that the head of SPHS would be leaving the school district she has duly served for 41 years — 21 of which were as the high school’s principal and, prior to that, 20 assumed as both a teacher and administrator.

“We are so grateful for Principal Anderson’s service to the students, faculty, and staff of SPHS and the greater community. She has devoted decades to developing SPHS into an elite public high school with opportunities for all students to find a place to grow and learn,” wrote Yantz.

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For many students, Anderson’s path paralleled their own, whereas oftentimes she seemingly followed them throughout various chapters in their educational journey. Whether they be Lions, Roadrunners, or Wildcats (formerly Unicorns), at Marengo — where she served as principal for 3 years — Monterey Hills, or Arroyo Vista Elementary Schools respectively; Tiger Cubs at SPMS; or fully-fledged Tigers at SPHS, Anderson has worked at and made imprints — or pawprints, so to speak — on virtually every conceivable corner of the South Pasadena Unified School District.

A driven educator-at-heart, whose relationship with SPHS dates back to her own time as a Tiger in the 1970’s, Anderson told the South Pasadenan in an e-mail that part of what makes this district so special to her is “hiring a great group of teachers and creating a family [and] supporting students in their endeavors and being present to watch them shine.”

Over the duration of Anderson’s tenure as Principal, SPHS racked up several accolades, earning lofty titles that include the California Distinguished School Award (2014) and the California Gold Ribbon Award (2017). In 2019 the school was also ranked #1 in California’s 41st District — being officially recognized by Assemblymember Chris Holden — #87 in the state, and #622 out of 17,000 public high schools in the U.S., putting it in the top 5% of schools nationwide.

On top of that, the outgoing Principal highlights some other accomplishments that she herself deems noteworthy, “Starting the Anti-Bias program (through the ADL [Anti-Defamation League]) that is now District-wide,” a step taken by both the students and faculty, concurrent with the societal progression taking place around them. She also notes, “…helping students and their families set priorities for a healthy, balanced life through our partnership with Stanford’s Challenge Success”, a research-based program initiated in 2007, driven by creating alternative success models for child-development in response to the educational and emotional issues adolescents face. Anderson states that she implemented this ideology though “creating a space for a myriad of elective, academic, and other programs that provide outlets and possibilities for students of all interests; and, of course, facing challenges with resilience and helping others to do the same.”

Not one to miss out the more festive aspects of campus life, Anderson adds to the list, “Creating some award-winning Color Day costumes and instituting the annual staff Color Day dance routines were fun highlights, as well!”

Additionally, Anderson oversaw or witnessed many of the more striking changes to the school’s campus, with the major campus renovation in 2000-01, the construction of a new STEM building in 2018, and most recently the athletics department’s overhaul of numerous facilities in 2020-21.

Reflecting on the myriad of changes on campus over the years, Anderson reckons that the old campground adage, ‘Leave things better than you found them’, holds true, especially in this case.

Yantz also praised Anderson for her dedication to making the ‘Home of the Tigers’ a school par excellence, ensuring both educational and social aspects of student life were strived towards. “[Anderson] always puts students’ interests and learning first in her decisions,” noted Yantz, continuing that, “She also has overseen and grown a highly-qualified team of teachers and staff who consistently go the extra mile with curriculum, programs, and awards that make up the Tiger Nation we all know and love.”

“South Pasadena High School has a long tradition of having adults help as facilitators for students and their ideas,” Anderson corroborates, “To explain, we are very open to hearing student thoughts and initiatives and then we work with them to help make their ideas a reality. In my time at SPHS, I am proud that we have continued that student-centered focus.”

Anderson’s administration also was responsible for the first-ever — and possibly last, crossing fingers — drive-thru graduation ceremony in 2020. For the ‘COVID Class of 2020’ though, it went without a hitch as graduates and their families paraded through the faculty parking lot while teachers, administrators, and school board members waved and applauded seniors who unwaveringly took on an unusually taxing school year. As is tradition, Anderson, accompanied by Assistant Principals Janet Wichman and David Speck, still personally hand delivered diplomas to eager graduates — cap, gown, and mask.

“I think SPHS seniors have experienced a lot of surprises during their junior and senior years with the changes brought by COVID!” Anderson commends. Always putting the students first, she demurs any notions that her retirement be a key part of the upcoming June 2 graduation ceremony. “Actually, it is very important to me that the seniors remain the key players in their graduation. I’ve always loved that we keep the ceremony all about students, so we will honor the Class of 2021 in the traditional way rather than shine the light on anyone or anything other than the graduates.”

According to Yantz’ letter, the district will be begin the process in finding a successor who “who shares the same passion for enriching the lives of SPHS students” immediately, with a projected timeline of 4-8 weeks, announcing they will “be posting the principal position, conducting application screening, and completing a series of interviews and reference checks.”

Although Anderson has confidence in whomever is next in line, she emphasizes, “What is more important is that the next principal fills his or her own shoes. In other words, being genuine and true to oneself is probably the best thing a person can do to be successful in this position. I trust that the District will select someone who can bring added strengths and who is as enthusiastic as I am about kids and supporting their development into capable, healthy, and kind adults.”

For Wednesday’s commemoration, which will take place in-person with limited attendance, Anderson will be serving up diplomas amongst those she calls her family one last time. While the farewell to SPHS may be bittersweet, Anderson’s ties to the school district she loves will be eternally inextricable, with Yantz bestowing her as “Forever a Tiger!”