Grover Beach Elementary School’s International Festival kicked off Friday morning with a special tribute that Principal Juan Olivarria didn’t expect.
The school’s teachers filed onstage, unfurled a large banner dotted with students’ signatures and sang, “Mr. O is wonderful,” to the tune of “It’s a Small World.”
“I had no idea that was coming,” Olivarria said later. “It was a big surprise.”
Olivarria — or Mr. O, as he’s widely known — is one of two dozen teachers, principals and other credentialed and support staff who will retire from the Lucia Mar Unified School District at the end of the school year.
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The list of retirees includes 10 teachers: Cosima Hopper of Dana Elementary; Alma Quesnel of Fairgrove Elementary; Jacquelyn McChesney and Stephen Scudder of Harloe Elementary; Cathy Dahl-Kunkel of Lopez High; Linda Brichetto and Mary Treinen of Nipomo Elementary; Ben Davis of Nipomo High; Mike Turner of Shell Beach and Branch Elementary; and Robyn Metchik, drama teacher at Nipomo High and Paulding and Mesa middle schools.
Lopez High Principal Christine Granados is also retiring after 11 years with the district, including the past five at the high school. She’s spent her career working with “at-risk” youth, first at county court and community schools and then as the Lucia Mar district’s at-risk coordinator.
At Lopez High, she’s “maintained the school quality that already existed,” including retaining its accreditation status from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. In 2010, the high school was recognized for the third time as a model school by the state Department of Education.
“Lopez is a family; the kids feel that from the day they walk in the door,” said Granados, 61. “The school as a whole does a great job for students and the community.”
Nine of the outgoing employees have worked more than 20 years for the district, and three, including Olivarria, Dahl-Kunkel and Treinen, have spent more than three decades there.
“I look back at my years, and I’ve never had a bad year,” said Olivarria, who started teaching in 1976 at what was then called Grover City Elementary and later was principal of Dana and Harloe elementary schools.
“There’s something rewarding about seeing a school community come together and work together for the benefit of children,” he added.
Olivarria, 61, has been principal of Grover Beach Elementary since 2008, where he’s supported efforts to beautify the campus with murals; worked with staff to pull the school out of “program improvement” status (which happens when a school doesn’t meet federal growth targets for specific groups of students); and overseen the beginning of an international baccalaureate program, which will incorporate more technology, fine arts and Spanish into the students’ curriculum.
The Grover Beach City Council recently recognized Olivarria with a proclamation for his 36 years with the district.
“Juan is the complete package,” said Andy Stenson, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum. “He’s great with kids, great with staff, great at school culture. If you stand next to Juan when school is letting out, he knows every kid’s name.
“He makes those personal connections with kids that you can’t train into a principal.”
Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.