Charlene McKowen said she never intended to work anywhere as an educator for 25 years.
“I think teachers become better instructors when they don’t get stale, I guess,” McKowen said.
McKowen started off as a teacher herself at Anzar High School a quarter century ago – instructing in English, Spanish and some film – but she moved into the principal role 20 years ago and found a home at the budding school.
Over time, she became the face of Anzar High School. At the end of June, McKowen will officially retire from the role she helped create, a position from which she oversaw the evolution of the San Juan Bautista school from a work in progress to something truly unique in local education.
Much of the Anzar experience is different than most traditional public high schools, from the hiring process to the advisory relationships and graduation exhibitions that are a hallmark of this campus.
A close-knit environment was particularly enjoyable for McKowen and a reason she stayed so long
“Being on site here also allows me to be amused by students on a daily basis, and I just think teenagers are hilarious,” McKowen said in a recent interview.
She just never had an interest to take that traditional career step toward administration, either.
“That’s not at all why I’m in education,” she said. “If it weren’t for students, I’d be doing some other job.”
She went on: “The staff here, the teachers, are so amazing and continue to be amazing because we have this super stellar hiring process that includes students and teachers.”
She said the job has spoiled her.
“I’m not burnt out right now,” she said. “I’m not anxious to be done. I feel it’s such an exciting time for Anzar. It’s a miracle – a miracle – that we got Angela in for next year.”
She was referring to new Principal Angela Crawley, who had been a teacher for the past five years and gradually took on more administrative responsibilities recent times.
Looking back, she said she’s proud the school has held onto its hiring process that involves a variety of players, including students. She lamented how most recently, the school hired high-quality teachers for science and math, which are crucial areas.
“The teachers are the key,” she said. “To me if you have the right teachers, then you don’t have to worry about students.”
Overall, she said she doesn’t take it for granted that she had the opportunity to help start a school from scratch and nurture it.
“That’s part of the labor-of-love thing,” she said. “We didn’t have to duplicate the things that we knew weren’t working, which is what happens a lot in education.”
Editor’s Note: San Benito Live Editor Kollin Kosmicki, the author of this story, is the football coach at Anzar High School. Look back for an interview story on new Principal Angela Crawley.
Below is video of McKowen’s speech at the 2019 graduation: