Back to School | Sierra High principal’s insight to alternative education
August 21, 2014
When Greg Wohlman read the job posting for principal of Sierra Continuation High School, named a Model Continuation High School continuously since 2000 by the California Department of Education, the description "spoke to him."
At the time, he was principal in Kalskag, Alaska, a position 400 miles into the remote bush, accessed only by plane and then another plane — weather permitting — the six-seaters delivering mail, medicine, food and people.
The description echoed a paper he wrote while studying for his bachelor's degree at Western State Colorado in 1996, nearly 20 years ago.
VISIONING THE FUTURE
"It was eerie, amazing, prophetic," said Wohlman, of the paper that emphasized finding an alternative way to teach, trying to reach not just that one kid, but all of them. "When I showed the posting to my fiancée, she looked up and said 'That's you!'"
Wohlman, whose tall and lanky frame belies a dabble in baseball and basketball, also survived the ins and outs of being labeled, perhaps not so positively, as a teen.
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"I was labeled more and more," he said folding his arms across his chest. "The more I was labeled, the more I said 'Sure, I'm not going to do anything.'"
His personal experience gives him insight into the turbulent times of middle and high school students. "I know what it's like to feel like quitting. I also know how it feels to push on through to success. I had an educational epiphany: 'Hey, I'm going to get this done.'"
In middle school, Wohlman's teachers told him he should become a teacher. "They saw something in me," he recalled.
His professional experience — teaching for 10 years from Minnesota to Las Vegas with at-risk youth, challenging youth, rural youth and inner city kids — also gives him that teacher's inner eye.
He applauds and emulates hard work, understanding it might be a drag to do the dishes, but hey it feels great when the kitchen's clean. Or, football practice may be tough and monotonous, but how about that fantastic feeling when you score a touchdown? Again and again, the equation works: Hard work + persistence = success.
Wohlman uses this perspective to reach students, essentially explaining there is a staircase to success. "What steps do you need to take to reach the top?" he asks.
While his students travel their academic journey, Wohlman also believes they deserve, and need, a sympathetic ear.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
"I understand … relate to … and can replicate an experience similar to theirs," he confessed. "I can make a connection, and it helps to have an adult's listening ear to vent feelings and emotions." Sometimes a clearing of the air is an essential ingredient to move forward with work and progress.
"We marvel at graduation when the students tell their stories," Wohlman enthused. "We remember those kids and look at what they can say for themselves now — which is rare to learn in a private setting."
Wohlman praised Tahoe Truckee Unified School District for making the decision a long time ago to provide an alternative setting for students. Not everyone fits the 9 to 5 bill, he said. Some are on the ski slopes competing, some are struggling, some students merely need to make up credits to graduate.
He also applauds the incredible Tahoe Truckee community support, from Measure A, to Excellence in Education, the partnership with Sierra College and of course the staff, parents and students themselves.
Wohlman replaces the retired Jane Loomis, whose work to develop alternative education began when the school's doors opened.
Born in Fargo, N.D., Wohlman moved to the area with his fiancée Jessica Keller. He looks forward to exploring the outdoors, in particular a tranquil river spot to post up and center himself. He enjoys travel, art, cooking and catch and release fishing.
Wohlman's greeting to the 2014-15 students?
"I welcome you — every one of you."
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