Long the Top Tiger, SPHS Principal to Retire

Photos courtesy SPUSD
Principal Janet Anderson (center), pictured with Assistant Principal Janet Wichman, Assemblyman Chris Holden, Superintendent Geoff Yantz and then-school board member Jon Primuth, receives a California Distinguished School award on behalf of South Pasadena High School.

Anderson continues to put the finishing touches on a school year that began with all of her students sitting at home, using computer screens to attend class remotely because the coronavirus pandemic had shut down traditional instruction nationwide. As spring arrived and California began to emerge from the winter holiday surge in the disease’s spread, SPUSD began gradually bringing students back into the classroom, provided their parents allowed it.
After scrambling last year to throw a drive-thru graduation ceremony, SPHS aims to have an in-person commencement on this coming Wednesday.
“I like problem solving, the kids and the parents,” Anderson said. “There are always new challenges. Sometimes things are difficult, but just keeping an eye on a positive outcome has made it fun to stay.”
In making that statement, Anderson was not speaking just about the coronavirus. She recalled being summoned for jury duty, around 10 years into her leadership at SPHS, and explaining to the judge that she could not serve on a long-term case because of her job.
The judge apparently scoffed and said that after 10 years, she ought to have a good enough handle on the job to be able to take a leave of several weeks. Anderson corrected the jurist.
“I don’t think that they realize it’s a very dynamic situation,” she said. “There are always new things going on and it’s not just repeating the same year all over again.”
Among such goings-on more recently has been a series of capital improvement projects at SPHS. During the pandemic, crews put the finishing touches on a revamped athletic facility, which student-athletes were able to enjoy when all sports began their abridged seasons this spring.
From a programming point of view, Anderson highlighted a pair of what she saw as victories for her school in recent years. One was the implementation of anti-bias training for the school staff and the founding of an anti-bias club for SPHS students.
“Seeing that the kids have responded so well that they’ve created a really successful club that has done so many service projects in the name of anti-bias work” has been gratifying, Anderson said. “Now it’s going districtwide. That’s something I’m very pleased about.”

Janet Anderson served as class vice president as a senior at South Pasadena High School.

Another victory was working with the Challenge Success program developed at Stanford University, an effort that encourages schools to take a second look at the conventional definition of academic success and refocus on the mental and emotional wellness of students balanced with their studies.
“It takes awhile to get that groundwork to be accepted more widely. We are now turning that corner and people are starting to really understand, listen to and embrace more of the ideals of Challenge Success. That, to me, is part of a wellness campaign and I’d like to see that go districtwide,” Anderson said. “To see a districtwide program that is proactive and to help kids make decisions about choices they make, academic selections and self-worth would be great.”
After graduating from SPHS, Anderson earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from UCLA, finishing up in 1980. She did her student teaching with Los Angeles Unified School District, where she planned to begin her career until a union issue prohibited new teacher contracts that year.
So she came home, started off as a substitute and went from there.
“It just stuck,” Anderson said.

At Monterey Hills Elementary School, Janet Anderson is pictured with her 4th-grade class in the 1983-84 school year. The outgoing administrator said she moved around the district enough so that she sometimes had the same students in high school whom she’d taught in elementary school.

After teaching for around 11 years, Anderson then earned her master’s degree and administrative credential from the University of La Verne.
Anderson recalled a particular highlight from her teaching years, when she was president of the teachers’ union here. To defuse a teacher strike in the early 1990s, she said, she helped shepherd interest-based bargaining between the parties, a practice that was adopted for continued use.
“That really was so beneficial in creating a great relationship between the teachers, the district and the board,” Anderson said. “We were all kind of moving in the same direction — not that we didn’t negotiate — but it gave us a platform for great decision making and healing. I’ve actually used interest-based bargaining as the basis for making a lot of decisions and working with people since then.”
In a letter to parents this week, Superintendent Geoff Yantz lauded Anderson for her work in shaping SPHS and the rest of the district. The state and other organizations and publications routinely recognized SPHS as being among the county’s top public high schools.
“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,” Yantz wrote. “Ms. Anderson embodies the definition of educator, and above all else, always puts students’ interests and learning first in her decisions. 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.
“SPUSD will feel this loss deeply,” Yantz added, “but we support and encourage Ms. Anderson as she explores her next adventure.”
Although the new school year begins on July 1, Anderson pledged to remain on board through August to assist in the administrative transition. She will not be directly involved in the search or hiring process.
Anderson described her roles with the district as being a really good fit, but added she never felt complacent as a result. She admitted that in her moves around the district, she did not always necessarily want the changes but ultimately ended up embracing them. At the end of the day, she will have been involved at all five SPUSD schools.
“Every time I have changed positions in the district — sometimes because I have initiated it, other times because the superintendent in place suggested it — I realize that every time I’ve made a switch, it’s been good, and that every time I leave a position, I love what I’m doing, and that’s what I’m doing now,” she said.
“It has been very fun to meet up with people time and again,” Anderson added. “My 1st-graders were also my 4th-graders, and many of them have been my 10th-graders. And now, some of them are parents here. When I say we’re a family, I mean it, because we just keep meeting up with different people in different ways and it’s just wonderful.”