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Postscript: Marina Pep Rallies Aren’t the Same Without Mr. Berger

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Ever since Paul Berger, Marina High School’s popular principal, was ousted by the board of education two days before classes began last fall, students at the Huntington Beach school say their pep rallies have been anything but spirited.

“(Before) when we had pep rallies for the football games, he was the one who got on the microphone and got everyone jazzed up,” said Steve Spanovich, president of the Marina High student body.

“But this year, without Mr. Berger, it just wasn’t the same. A lot of the spirit was gone. It’s been rough without him. He really carried the school.”

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Berger, 62, now works as a consultant for Tobin Investment Corp., a real estate investment firm in Huntington Beach. The company is owned by Hal Tobin, whose two sons attended Marina High School and who counts himself among Berger’s admirers.

Berger says his relationship with Tobin is “a different one altogether” from the stormy one he had with former district Supt. Frank Abbott, who worked for Berger’s ouster shortly before leaving Marina himself to accept a position with the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in Contra Costa County.

During Berger’s five-year stint as Marina’s principal, Abbott clashed repeatedly with Berger, claiming the principal lacked leadership and administrative skills.

Berger resigned as Marina’s principal last June after, Berger said, Abbott told him he could either quit or be fired.

Two months later, parents of Marina students, convinced that Abbott held a personal vendetta against Berger, rallied to Berger’s side. On their urging, Berger tried to take back his resignation, but Abbott refused to rescind it.

Last-Minute Appeal

Then on Sept. 4, two days before classes began, hundreds of angry students and parents made a last-minute appeal to the Board of Education to rescind the resignation. The board voted 3 to 2 against Berger, however, sparking an immediate recall campaign against the three trustees.

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(Since then, recall petitioners have abandoned their effort after falling 4,000 signatures short of the required 14,000. Instead, they have vowed to take their campaign straight to the voters, since two of the three face reelection next November.)

Before he was ousted in September, Berger spent more than 17 years in education, 14 of those as Fountain Valley High School’s first principal. Berger says he will remain “officially retired” from education, which he fears has become “too political.”

“Too many people have used the board of education to launch political careers rather than improve education,” he said. “Education has become a political football. Politicians have discovered that it’s politically wise to support it.”

But Berger still misses the classroom.

“I miss the daily contact with students. That’s been the biggest adjustment I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “I do see them on occasion. I figure I’ve been principal to about 24,000 students, so I’m bound to run into them.”

Recently, students planted a silver maple tree in Berger’s honor at the high school.

“He’s well-liked by the students,” Spanovich said. “He went to the football games this year, and there was always a horde of kids around him. He has tried to keep tabs on everything even though he’s no longer here. Everyone misses him.”

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