Su­per teacher left legacy of hard work at 13 Clo­vis schools

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CRESENCIO RO­DRIGUEZ-DEL­GADO cdel­[email protected]­nobee.com

Rock­ets, truck rides and a big heart.

Tony Petersen, who taught at 13 Clo­vis Uni­fied school sites and served as a prin­ci­pal twice in his 40 years as an ed­u­ca­tor, was a dif­fer­ent type of ed­u­ca­tor.

Through­out his ca­reer, his les­son plans were of­ten tied to cur­rent af­fairs that were re­ported in The Fresno Bee. His sev­enth-graders wrote high school-level term pa­pers. And his stu­dents and peers were never far from a lis­ten­ing ear with him.

Af­ter re­tir­ing from ed­u­ca­tion in 1993, Petersen re­turned to the class­room as a sub­sti­tute teacher for a few years be­fore an­swer­ing a call to launch a sec­ond ca­reer as a full­time teacher “where he re­ally made another im­pact,” his son Tony Petersen said.

Those who knew Petersen say he left a legacy of hard work and loy­alty to ed­u­ca­tion. He died March 15. He was 87.

WANTED AND NEEDED

Re­tired teacher and prin­ci­pal Scott Steele de­scribed Petersen as an as­set for Clo­vis Uni­fied.

Petersen hired Steele as a teacher in 1982 and they worked to­gether un­til Petersen re­tired in 1993. They re­united in 2000 when Steele, then prin­ci­pal at Cen­tury Ele­men­tary, filled a teach­ing open­ing at his school with his old boss who had shared that he missed the class­room. Petersen left re­tire­ment to teach once again while in his 70s and into 80s.

“Per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally, he’s one of the great­est guys that I’ve ever known. He was spe­cial,” Steele, now ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Cal­i­for­nia League of Schools, said. “He was def­i­nitely in it for all the right rea­sons.”

Steele got “two for the price of one,” he said, when Petersen be­gan his nearly 10 years teach­ing at Cen­tury be­cause his wife, Tina, came with him to teach in the class­room.

Steele re­mem­bers that on Petersen’s birthdays, the cou­ple would ar­range a birth­day party for Petersen at the school and all of his for­mer six­th­graders were in­vited. Some were in high school while others were long grad­u­ated, but still at­tended the party.

CON­TA­GIOUS SPIRIT

Janet Young, re­tired Clo­vis Uni­fied su­per­in­ten­dent, said she al­ways knew Petersen had a big heart for kids.

She got to know his “larger than life” per­son­al­ity when Petersen hired Young as a teacher at Nel­son Ele­men­tary in the 1980s. She said his pos­i­tiv­ity was con­ta­gious and “made us all bet­ter.”

“He was wanted and needed at dif­fer­ent sites,” she said. “He had a tremen­dous abil­ity to moti-

vate and in­spire.”

Young said Petersen pos­sessed one qual­ity that made him most lik­able: care. “His heart was for the kids. His care showed for ev­ery­one around him.”

LIKE A SEC­OND FATHER

On his last day of eighth grade at Pinedale Ele­men­tary in the late 1960s, Vince Bor­jas cried. No longer would he be Mr. Petersen’s stu­dent. So say­ing good­bye was hard, he said.

“I knew that was over,” Bor­jas said.

The poverty and set­backs in Pinedale were hard to ig­nore at times for stu­dents like Bor­jas. He said that of­ten con­trib­uted to lower con­fi­dence and the thought that he didn’t fit in with other kids. But Petersen al­ways en­cour­aged Bor­jas, and his class­mates, to strive for higher goals. Petersen en­cour­aged Bor­jas to go to col­lege. Now re­tired, Bor­jas at­tended Fresno State, played foot­ball and be­came a teacher.

Bor­jas de­scribed Petersen as a “su­per teacher” who al­ways cam­paigned to bring new learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to stu­dents.

“He’d get in there and he’d bat­tle for you,” Bor­jas said. He was “like a sec­ond father.” Bor­jas fondly re­mem­bers Petersen giv­ing stu­dents rides home in his old black pickup.

Petersen coached sev­eral sports along with teach­ing. Bor­jas said he played school sports pri­mar­ily be­cause Coach Petersen told him he be­lieved he could do it. “He just saw some­thing in me.”

Petersen’s own ath­leti­cism ear­lier in life landed him on a trav­el­ing bas­ket­ball team when he joined the Army dur­ing the Korean Con­flict. His pla­toon’s or­ders were shifted to other du­ties and Petersen stayed in the United States and en­ter­tained troops with bas­ket­ball.

Be­fore that, he played sev­eral sports at Washington Union High School and later at Reed­ley Col­lege. He was in­ducted into the Reed­ley Col­lege Ath­letic Hall of Fame and is in the sec­ond class of the Washington Union Ath­letic Wall of Fame to be hon­ored April 6.

Petersen’s teams de­liv­ered cham­pi­onships in flag foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and track. The hon­ors were as much for Petersen as they were for the kids, ac­cord­ing to Bor­jas.

“You wanted to win for him,” he said. “You didn’t want to dis­ap­point him be­cause you knew he cared.”

‘HE DID IT HIS WAY’

Petersen’s own grand­chil­dren got a taste of what he was like as a teacher. Nine of them, in­clud­ing two of Tony Petersen’s chil­dren, had the el­der Petersen as a teacher or went to the same school where he taught. Tony Petersen’s chil­dren said their grand­fa­ther en­cour­aged stu­dents to per­form high­er­level work than usual, but it was worth it.

Tony Petersen’s wife, Lisa, said Petersen of­ten went be­yond what a reg­u­lar teacher did for stu­dents. She ac­com­pa­nied Petersen and his wife on yearly trips to At­wa­ter, where Petersen’s com­bined fifth- and six­th­grade class at Cen­tury wit­nessed a mock space ex­pe­di­tion. The lead-up to the big trip was the class’ own rocket launch at school or­ga­nized by Petersen.

The kids re­cy­cled wa­ter bot­tles all year to raise money for the yearly trip. But Lisa Petersen said she be­lieves her father-in-law con­trib­uted most of the funds.

His “in­no­va­tive” ways of teach­ing were meant to give stu­dents a dif­fer­ent kind of learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, one that wasn’t di­rectly tied to a book. His stu­dents learned knit­ting, Span­ish and Shake­speare along with the reg­u­lar cur­ricu­lum items. Per­haps as a re­sult, test scores from his classes were of­ten among the high­est, his son said.

The li­brary at Get­tys­burg Ele­men­tary, one of two where he worked as prin­ci­pal, was named af­ter Petersen. In ad­di­tion to that honor, Petersen and his wife were given the Clo­vis Hall of Fame Friend of Youth Award. Petersen was also rec­og­nized with the Un­for­get­table Teacher Award at Alta Sierra In­ter­me­di­ate School.

Petersen’s out­look on ed­u­ca­tion? “If it was good for kids, do it,” his son said.

“He taught the kids how to learn. He taught them how to learn and suc­ceed,” Tony Petersen added. “He al­ways did what he loved do­ing. He did it his way.”

Spe­cial to The Bee

An­thony Petersen (far right), his wife, Tina Petersen, and his grand­chil­dren pose for a pho­to­graph when he was given an “Un­for­get­table Teacher Award” at Alta Sierra In­ter­me­di­ate School. Petersen is uni­ver­sally re­mem­bered as a car­ing teacher.

Spe­cial to The Bee

An­thony Petersen, pic­tured in a Clo­vis Uni­fied class­room, re­tired once and then re­turned to teach­ing seven years later. All told, he worked in ed­u­ca­tion for 40 years.

Spe­cial to The Bee

An­thony Petersen and his wife Tina Petersen stand near a plaque ded­i­cat­ing the Get­tys­burg Ele­men­tary School Li­brary, which was named for him.

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