by Mitch Lehman
It’s almost comical to think that Loren Kleinrock began his educational career in San Marino thirty-nine years ago as a “long-term substitute.” “Long-term” still fits but the “substitute” tag has been “long-gone” for quite some time.
From his [supposed] one-year World History gig in 1975, ‘The Rock’ earned a permanent post and also taught American Government, Current American Problems and special education, where he participated in a resource specialist program. In July, 1986 he was named Assistant Principal for Activities, Discipline and Attendance until July, 1992, when he was named principal of Huntington Middle School. Back to SMHS as principal from 1994 – 2011 when he was kicked upstairs for his three-year stint as superintendent where he will retire on Monday.
Since informing the school board in December of his intention to call it quits, Kleinrock began memorializing his final months in terms of the remaining number of Mondays for which he needed to wake up and face the twenty-three-and-a-half mile one-way commute between his home in Van Nuys and office on West Drive. His final day – appropriately – next Monday.
The Tribune asked to sit down again with the man who recently calculated that he has spent the last sixty years at school…
San Marino Tribune: If you had to do this all over again, would you stay so long in the same district?
Loren Kleinrock: “There is absolutely NO question that I would not change the experience of having had the privilege to work in this community for as long as I have. Having grown up in a big city and having attended big schools, to me San Marino feels like a small town. Over the years I’ve met and worked with so many great people, many of whom are still around town, that almost everywhere I go I run into someone whom I’ve known for a long time. Catching up on what is happening in their lives usually brings smiles and fond memories. I am amazed at the number of parents in town who were students while I was teaching. Being able to see these ‘kids’ with their own children and getting to hear about what their lives are all about is truly special. Since I began at San Marino High School in 1975, I’ve honestly never wanted to work anywhere else.”
SMT: What motivated you to first enter the field of education?
Kleinrock: “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up until about my junior year in college. There was a lot happening politically and socially in the country and in the world at that time, and in my college courses we would discuss some of those issues. I was fortunate to have a couple of professors who were captivating, even in a 300 student lecture environment. I had never experienced discussion about political or social issues when I was in high school and I questioned why high school students couldn’t meaningfully engage in the same kind of discussions. Hence, the motivation to become a high school social studies teacher.”
SMT: You once told me that you challenged your students by saying ‘When this course is over, you will not know if I am a liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican.’ In today’s hostile political environment, is this a lost art?
Kleinrock: “My goal was to force students to have reasons for why they thought and felt the way they did. Rather than ‘parrot’ what they heard from others, I wanted them to prove to me they understood why they were holding the positions they did. The end of the phrase you quoted above that I delivered to my government students was, ‘…all you will know is that whatever position you take, I will be on the opposite side.’ In other words, my goal was to play devil’s advocate and challenge whatever a student claimed was a correct position on an issue. I would only half-kid them with the argument that within a year, their vote was going to count the same as mine, and they didn’t know much at all about issues. I would tell them if they voted on the opposite side of how I voted (of course, they didn’t know how I voted) that was fine IF they were making a justified choice that was consistent with their true understanding of their own best interests. If, however, they were voting without that understanding and randomly cancelling out my vote, that was not okay. I don’t think the ‘art’ was ever lost. In fact, I’d submit it is actually a skill, and that skill will become even more important with the Common Core emphasis on deeper levels of questioning that require deeper levels of knowledge to answer those questions.
SMT: Is there a ‘secret’ to finding success as an administrator?
Kleinrock: “Well, I don’t think it’s any secret. To be successful as a school administrator, ideally one truly enjoys working with people, and I do. Above all other qualities or skills, working with people is at the heart of administration. It’s also very important to keep things in perspective, to know what truly is a problem and what’s just part of the daily challenge. Being able to stay poised and demonstrate positive leadership when things get challenging is essential. As with any career, loving what one does certainly increases the prospects for success, and I’ve definitely loved what I was blessed to be able to do for my life’s work.”
SMT: Is it possible to condense your educational experience down to one single memory?
Kleinrock: “No. In general, the most important memories have been those that involved working directly with kids.”
SMT: You also spent many years in the district on the sideline. What was your favorite sport to coach and why?
Kleinrock: “I’ve enjoyed them all, but football would be at the top. When I was on the sidelines calling plays throughout the game, I felt more a part of the actual game than when coaching soccer or baseball. The nature of football lends itself to more communication with players during the game, making adjustments, seeking the player’s thoughts about what was working and what was not. For me, the game was more of an ongoing chess match that one could control to a greater degree than in the other two sports.”
SMT: What is your best memory from coaching?
Kleinrock: “There are many positive memories, but two stand out above the rest. One was winning a CIF championship in football in 1988 as the offensive coordinator for that team and a trip the team took to Jackson, Mississippi in 1989 to play Jackson Academy, a game we won 44-20. It’s important to know however, that as with the above question, the most important memories are of working with the kids towards a positive goal and trying to instill in them the ideals, attitudes and skills to make them successful long after their educational and athletic experience would be over.”
SMT: Has there been anyone in our school district you have considered a role model?
Kleinrock: “Wow! There have been so many amazing people with whom I’ve worked that I would hate anyone to feel slighted by not being mentioned, but if I had to pick one, it would be Mickey McNamee. His commitment to doing things the right way, his not taking shortcuts in trying to achieve excellence on the athletic field, his interactions with colleagues, his dedication to the school, the positive things he would do for the school that he did not make known and that sometimes only I in my role as principal would know about are all part of the reason why I would select him. But I have been blessed to work with many, many wonderful people.”
SMT: What do you see as the greatest strength of the San Marino educational community?
Kleinrock: “As I’ve said for a long time, what makes our schools the amazing places they are is the incredible partnership between staff, parents and the general community. All of those participants understand the importance of working together to perpetuate the excellence of the school district. Although it is unfortunate that the state’s financing mechanism continues to woefully underfund San Marino’s schools, parent and community members step up to fill that vacuum. The upside is that our parents and the community are more connected to and literally invested in the excellence of the schools. It brings a different level of camaraderie and teamwork than what exists in most communities.”
SMT: Is there a parting message to the community you feel would improve the experience of the students in San Marino?
Kleinrock: “It’s important for folks to understand that the goal of our schools is not to prepare students for ‘more school,’ but to prepare them for ‘life.’ Most of life’s truly important lessons are not found in textbooks. To prepare for life, students should balance their lives between their studies and participation in activities, be those athletics, the arts, or simply club activities. It is in those endeavors that students more directly learn, among other critical life skills, teamwork, leadership, resilience, commitment to others or to a bigger cause than just themselves, communication skills AND, it is where they have the most fun. Mickey McNamee used to tell parents that, ‘There is no ‘rewind’ button for the high school experience.’ You only get to do it once, so don’t miss the opportunities that won’t come again. This is true for the whole K-12 continuum. Students should be allowed to LIVE life while preparing for their future lives. It should not be an either/or choice.”
SMT: What are your “plans” for retirement?
Kleinrock: “The fun is not really having anything specific and just seeing what comes up. Since I was 16, I’ve worked every summer, with the exception of two, and even in high school and college I worked through the school year, so I’m very much looking forward to not having someplace specific I have to be or something specific I have to do. Sandy and I want to be able to spend more time with my older son and grandkids who live up north and with my younger son who lives locally. After awhile, I want to do some community service work. My wife and I will enjoy having at least an extra day or two of the week to do whatever seems like a good thing to do together on those days. We’d like to do a bit more traveling, or at least travel at a different time than when everyone else is traveling. I’d like to play golf once a week with some of my SMHS colleagues who have preceded me into retirement. I’ve truly loved my career, but one never knows how much gas is in the tank, and it’s just time to see what else there is.”
Cutting Room Floor: Kleinrock graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1968 and earned a Bachelor’s degree from UCLA in 1972 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. He earned his teaching credential from UCLA in 1973 with administrative credential and Masters, later, from Point Loma.
Began his teaching career at Morningside High School in Inglewood. Curriculum included Remedial Reading, World History and Current American Problems. He coached two years of freshman football at Morningside, and a year each of frosh and junior varsity baseball.
At San Marino High School, Kleinrock coached seven years of frosh football, one year of sophomore football and twenty years of varsity football – eighteen years as offensive coordinator, two years as assistant.
His wife, Sandy, recently retired following a long career in education with brief respites following the births of their two children. Sandy Kleinrock graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a degree in Anthropology, followed shortly thereafter by a teaching credential from CSUN.
Their son Scott Kleinrock is manager of the Ranch Project at The Huntington and currently coordinates the landscaping effort for the new Education and Visitor Center.
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