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Question & Answer: Monterey High School’s new principal believes in second chances

David Geyer
New principal David Geyer in his office at Monterey High School in Burbank on Thursday. Guyer is taking over this year for 20-year veteran Ann Brooks, who retired.
(Tim Berger / Burbank Leader)

It was an aloha of sorts for new Monterey High School principal David Guyer on June 7.

The former Burroughs High School and John Muir Middle School administrator began his first day as leader of the district’s continuation school that Friday, which also happened to be graduation day.

So, as 26 students from the school whose motto reads, “A Second Chance for Success,” picked up their diplomas, Guyer, the assistant principal since 2017, officially took over for retiring principal Ann Brooks, who was head of the school for 20 years.

Although Guyer had been acting principal on campus since April because Brooks was recovering from surgery, he was still in awe of the task.

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The ability to lead a school dedicated to helping students rebound in their educational endeavors was what Guyer, who began teaching math in Boyle Heights in 2007, had admired.

The only bad news for Guyer is that while his fellow administrators are still on vacation, Monterey’s year-round quarterly school was back in session on July 15.

Even so, Guyer took time to sit down for an interview, and here are excerpts from that discussion.

Andrew J. Campa: You take over for Ann Brooks, who had been here in charge of students here for 20 years. What’s that like?

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David Guyer: They all know who Ms. Brooks is. She was in charge of kids who were children of her former students. Some of the transferred students would come over with their parents and they would say, ‘Ms. Brooks used to be my principal.’ I was like ‘wow.’

AJC: What is your goal this year?

DG: Our theme this year is, ‘Better than ever.’ It’s this idea that, as educators, part of what educators do is that they’re rigorously reflective. We put our heart and soul into our job and it’s like our job is our baby. Today, that lesson you delivered, that was your baby. But tomorrow, you have to look back at your baby and see where the hairs were out of place. Monterey is an amazing school, but as we continue to refine and look at our program, we ask how do we help the students who are not making it here.

AJC: At the front of the school you have a motto that says, “Second Chance for Success.” There are people who don’t believe in second chances, even for kids. What is it that some in this community don’t understand about your school, its mission and these students?

DG: Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it, too. I say to those people, ‘C’mon, we’ve all made mistakes.’ I mean I’ve got a master’s degree and have been in education for years and I’ve made mistakes, including today. So, I think and I almost wish and maybe I shouldn’t say this, because I love all our high schools, but maybe some of the other schools should embrace second chances, third chances and fourth chances. This is about accepting that we’re all in different stages of growth. I don’t know how to say this best, but I think the community has this idea about Monterey, you know, and the kind of students we have here.

When I transfer students over here, the parents always express reservation. Then the kids get here and tell me, ‘Oh my gosh, this place is wonderful and the staff is super kind.’ It’s not what a lot of people expect of us. People say that these kids have issues, when it’s not true. For whatever reason, they’ve fallen behind in school. But you know what, these are Burbank kids and they’re good kids and they’re kind and smart and funny and they just need a place to go that’s smaller and where they can get more attention and they’re able to recover and believe in themselves.

AJC: Is it the responsibility of schools to build self-esteem?

DG: Yes, in fact, to peek a little behind the curtain, this is a district initiative. Research has shown that kids are successful when they have one adult in their life, outside of their parents, who is a combination of warm and demanding. So, what that means is you communicate to kids that you care and they trust you, because you’ve demonstrated that warmth. But you don’t sacrifice the demanding part, which is to have high expectations. So, I will be warm, I will cheer for you, but I want you to do well because I believe in you. The beauty of Monterey is that we’re small, we’re flexible and we’re the mom-and-pop shop of education.

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You come here for personalized attention and a fresh experience. Burroughs and Burbank highs are like Home Depot. Hey, Home Depot is great; it services a lot of customers and does excellent. But sometimes, you know, you can get lost at Home Depot.

AJC: You’re a Chicago transplant, a Chicago guy, right? Yet I look at your office, on your desk, and I don’t see any sports memorabilia. How is that possible? What’s going on? That’s unlike a Chicago guy.

DG: I’m a huge sports fan; I just haven’t moved anything in yet. But you want to know something?

AJC: Sure.

DG: My youngest son is named Wrigley (the home stadium of the Chicago Cubs). That’s what you need to know.

AJC: I stand corrected.

DG: I have three kids: Wrigley, 3, Levi, 4, Harmony, 6, and my wife is Michelle. They are my pride.

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