Bob Frank was an average student with a slightly below-average attention span when he graduated from La Cañada High School in 1971, but he made the most of his education and eventually earned his teaching credential from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
A few years out of college, Frank was working a construction job when he caught wind of an opportunity to work with some students who’d been kicked out of his alma mater and needed some one-on-one attention if they were to graduate.
“I was young and stupid — I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he recalled in a recent interview. “I just felt I could do what I needed to do to get these kids through.”
Little did he know that teaching gig at what was then called Hillside Developmental Learning Center would set him on a career path that would span nearly four decades as Frank became director and grew the program into Hillside School and Learning Center.
Today operating from its own campus on Oak Grove Drive, an endeavor that took nearly a decade of planning and fundraising, the school has expanded to provide fully accredited dual enrollment programs and counseling services along with day school, night school and summer classes that serve some 1,000 area students each year.
Frank, 65, announced last month his plans to retire as director of Hillside School after 39 years of serving students with whom he has come to feel a kinship. His last day will be June 5.
“I’d been thinking about it for three or four years,” he said. “I don’t want to be that guy where you think, he should have left years ago. I’ve started certain traditions — it’s probably time to leave and let someone start some new ones.”
Frank has expressed an interest in continuing his column on educational issues that is published monthly in the Valley Sun after he retires.
Associate Director Cyndi Hatcher said while no one was surprised by Frank’s announcement, he will be greatly missed.
“He’s the one who started the Hillside movement. He’s done an excellent job of transferring his vision of Hillside to others, so we’re kind of living out the same mission,” Hatcher said, explaining that mission as helping all children, regardless of their challenges, find and reach their true potential.
“It’s a very well-deserved retirement,” she added.
During a brief tour of the campus Tuesday, Frank reflected on the accomplishments he and staff members have made over the years. The addition of a large patio behind the school allowed for the opening of the student run Owl’s Nest Café and the recent debut of nighttime student concerts.
Frank said he hopes to create “Hillside After Dark” on Friday nights, where kids can play board games, socialize or just be themselves in a safe, coffeehouse environment. He described possibly building out the patio to accommodate a basketball half court or recreational area.
Such plans might seem like mere amusements, but they’re part of a larger strategy of considering students’ needs holistically.
“Our philosophy is the whole kid,” he said. “You’re not going to get the educational side if you don’t look at the social-emotional side. You’ve got to keep kids in balance — if we focus on that, they do much better academically and generally.”
So far, the strategy seems to be working.
Frank admits one perk of his job is seeing kids who used to attend Hillside School come back with tales of how they’re studying engineering at UC Berkeley, or how they’ve opened their own businesses, raised families and bought homes.
Seeing how the attitudes of kids, many of whom remind him of himself as a teen, can be transformed when they’re placed in a smaller environment and given a closer level of attention is a motivating factor for the longtime educator and father of two.
“I’ve got kids who are coming to school now who never went to go school before, who would fight it. And we can do that because we’re small, that’s who we are,” he said. “That’s what I get excited about, and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”
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