First published in the May 6 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Former South Pasadena High School Principal Janet Anderson has long been a cheerleader for her students and her school community. But last week, she found the cheering was now for her — an applause she regularly received during her tenure.
Anderson’s 41 years of service to South Pasadena schools was recognized last Wednesday during the unveiling of the newly renamed Anderson Auditorium in her honor.
Uniquely, Anderson began and concluded her career working in the South Pasadena Unified School District, most recently retiring from her role as principal at SPHS, also her alma mater.
“If you’re willing to do this,” Anderson said about serving in a small school district like SPUSD, “you can really be a part of so many defining moments and learning opportunities, and I’m grateful to have been able to do that for so many years.
“It doesn’t seem like it was as many years as it actually has been,” she added. “I remember things from all aspects — from student to administrator — and so it just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be so many years since I graduated.”
Anderson worked at all five public schools in the city during her career, lending to a deep institutional knowledge of the district.
“A lot of the people who used to be my teacher were still teaching at the high school when I became principal and it deepened my appreciation for their devotion and love of the school and its traditions,” Anderson said.
Among Anderson’s various roles, she said being in the background to let the students shine was one of her favorite places to be.
“The staff and administrators are very important and do a lot of work, but the kids are so capable and have so many great ideas that we really do have to hear them and help them lay a foundation to see their dreams come true,” she said.
Looking back on her career after retiring in 2021, Anderson can now admire her time spent with students, fellow staff and community members over the years and their collective movement toward realizing their goals. One of those included championing anti hate trainings with the nonprofit organization Anti-Defamation League, as well as implementing the school’s partnership with Challenge Success.
“When you’re in it and doing it, you go from one thing to the next and you don’t really take the time, or at least I didn’t, to savor each small victory,” Anderson said. “It was great to be able to create a cohesive staff and work together to build something together. Teamwork, that’s what it takes.”
SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz recalled that Anderson especially loved when all the students were together, making the auditorium a perfect fit to bare her name.
“She committed so much of her free time attending student events, whether it was a play or a sporting event, that was one of the reasons why the school auditorium was selected,” Yantz said, “because it is a place where the whole school community gathers to celebrate and to perform.”
During the unveiling of the newly minted auditorium, SPHS senior Lulu Talesnick Lopez said Anderson’s pride in her school was infectious and rubbed off on her, especially her dedication to attending so many school events.
“Ms. Anderson’s love for our school and school spirit encouraged me to get more involved on campus,” Talesnick Lopez said. “I loved getting to see her in attendance at volleyball games and drama productions, and I was always met with a warm smile. … She was one of her students’ biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Her determination, kindness, work ethic and school spirit have made me proud to be a Tiger and to represent South Pasadena High School.
“I marveled at the fact that she could have so much on her plate yet still make time to have discussions with her students, always interested in what we had to say,” she added. “Her passion for helping her students was shown brightly during her time at SPHS.”
Yantz, who has worked alongside Anderson throughout the years, said while her contributions to the South Pasadena school system are invaluable, her personal connections and relationships she’s forged are just as special.
“I’m going to miss her friendship and sense of humor,” Yantz said. “Being a superintendent in a small district, there are some extraordinary experiences, and very sad and challenging experiences, and I couldn’t think of a better partner to have those experiences with.”
SPHS English teacher Mark Afram also recounted a memory from some years ago, when he had been attending an assembly with a new teacher. After Anderson finished speaking and left the stage, the students erupted into loud cheering. The teacher turned to him and whispered, “Do the kids always cheer like this?”
In answering her, it dawned on him that yes, for Anderson, they did: “She’s an administrative legend: intelligent, articulate, insightful and dedicated,” he said.
“I realized that the student reaction was enthusiastic, endearing … and weird. I’d spent my whole teaching career in South Pas, and frankly, I didn’t know any better.
“It’s easy to cheer for Janet Anderson. 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 said.
Many former and current faculty, staff and school families recently came out to honor former SPHS Principal Janet Anderson at the unveiling of the Anderson Auditorium.
In her 41 years of service to the South Pasadena Unified School District, including 21 years as principal of South Pasadena High School, she positively impacted the lives of many students by providing opportunities for them to learn, grow and actively serve the community.
She earned the love and respect of her peers by her “inclusive, supportive character and fun-loving spirit,” said SPHS teacher Mark Afram. “Ms. Anderson’s consistent student-centered focus to provide the best learning experience for each student is a testament to her desire to make a difference and a love of a profession to which she has dedicated so many years.”