From retirement, educator adds principal of his alma mater to a lengthy resume
A shaggy-haired, boyish-looking Beaverton High School freshman approaches a tall, imposing man with short, gray hair in the cafeteria and asks where he can find his Spanish classroom.
'Go down that hall there, and I believe it's the second door on the right,' says the man, gesturing toward a corridor beyond the staircase.
'Thank you,' the student shyly replies as he ambles in the suggested direction.
Len Case, the school's interim principal and veteran Beaverton School District educator, retired in 2002.
So what the heck is he doing giving directions to freshmen on day one of the 2011-12 school year?
'It's fun,' he says. 'I love to work with kids. I really enjoy that part of it.'
He also gets to work at his alma mater.
'I went to high school here and graduated in 1964, 47 years ago,' he says.
Man about school
Case has mixed interim employment with relaxing, retirement-based joys since leaving the full-time work world nine years ago.
His latest gig, as Beaverton High's interim principal through June 2012, means he's worked - in one capacity or another - at every comprehensive high school in the district since his first full-time social studies teaching job, in 1970 at Sunset High School.
The latest appointment marks Case's fourth time as a school principal. He was head honcho at Mountain View Middle School as well as the founding principal at Westview High School. He most recently worked as the interim principal at Southridge High School. Case also served as vice principal at Aloha High School, taught at Southridge High School and worked in the Beaverton School District offices.
'I'm old,' Case says with a sheepish grin.
The veteran educator seems well at ease on an opening day notable for having only freshmen roaming the halls. Case says the approach is an effective way for younger students to get their bearings without being intimidated by hordes of upperclassmen.
'This is new, having only ninth-graders come in. The positive thing is it gets them off to a better start,' he says. 'They can familiarize themselves with their schedules and be introduced to those who can help them assimilate.'
This time, Case rejoins the world of secondary education to fill a void left by former Principal Janice Adams' retirement.
Rather than open a full-on search for a replacement during a time of serious budget constraints, district officials instead chose to call on good ol' Len.
'The bottom line is, they felt they couldn't find someone in the district to do the Beaverton High School administration,' he says. 'They had a limited number of people to choose from, so they asked me.'
Though back in the leadership saddle only since July, Case says he's enjoying his latest post-retirement adventure.
'It's kind of fun to come back,' he says.
Fortunately, Case's wife, Robin, who retired in 2003 as principal of Beaverton Acres Elementary School, has taken a similarly reluctant path away from the public education world.
'She's gone back twice to fill in at two different schools,' Len Case says. 'We've kind of gotten that reputation, of people they can call. When your career's been positive, and you leave with a good taste in your mouth, it becomes fun.
'They could call somebody else, you know? So it makes you feel good.'
Jim Meuwissen, Beaverton High School's athletic director, says he's glad to have a fellow graduate and district veteran in the driver's seat, even for one school year.
'He knows the traditions and has a unique perspective of Beaverton High School,' says Meuwissen, a 1979 graduate of the school. 'Janice Adams was here for eight years, and she did a great job. It's good to have someone like Len follow that and not miss a beat.'
Case says he strives to be accessible and as open as possible to listening to students.
'I have three words: respect, honesty and cooperation. And honesty is at the top of the list,' he says. 'My goal with students is, if you make a mistake, don't make it again. I want you to take risks. Just own up to it.'
The levels and nature of gang activity as well as students' drug and alcohol use are among aspects of school life that have changed since Case's days as a student and young educator.
Colors and signs identified with gangs are not tolerated at Beaverton High School.
'Anybody who says we don't have gang issues is blind,' he says. 'Kids are aware we're watching it. We're not going to put up with them displaying their stuff.'
'At school, we're only as safe as we're all willing to make it,' he adds. 'The kids have a role, too.'
Case says experience shows him that even the biggest troublemakers in school have the potential to lead exemplary lives - once they gain some maturity.
'The positive thing about being in high school is you see kids in trouble, and five to 10 years later, it's amazing how successful they are,' he says. 'I try to see the best in what they're doing. I'm sure there were some teachers I had in high school who said, 'Ah, he'll never grow up.' And I have.'
Kevin Sutherland, Beaverton School District public safety director, says he's admired Case's openness and problem-solving skills while working with him through the years.
'He's a good mentor. He's a good person to go talk to and knows how to get something done,' Sutherland says.
Despite their willingness to take on work assignments when necessary, Case says he and his wife have traveled extensively and otherwise taken advantage of their retirement years.
'People make fun of me for not being able to retire,' he says. 'I think I'm handling it very well.'