Education

Longtime principal closes career at Fresno High

Principal Bob Reyes is looking forward to retirement -- but not to saying goodbye to Fresno High School.

"I'm close to these kids," he said. "I am at the front of the school every morning greeting kids. At the end of the day, I'm ... saying goodbye."

Reyes, 62, said it's difficult knowing his greetings and farewells are over.

He has been principal at the city's namesake high school for 13 years, longer than any other in its history. Only two other Fresno High principals have passed the decade mark, each holding the post for 11 years. His replacement is Adrian Palazuelos, who most recently served as principal of Hueneme High School in Oxnard.

Reyes said it was a difficult decision to call it quits, but he wants to spend more time with his family.

One family member he will be spending a little less time with is granddaughter Mikena Powell, a Fresno High junior who once worried about whether she should refer to her grandfather as "Mr. Reyes" or "Grandpa," before settling on the latter.

Reyes already has asked district leaders whether he can return next year to hand Mikena her diploma at graduation. "I tell the kids, you know I will be coming back," he said.

Retirement doesn't mean Reyes plans to take it easy. He has accepted a part-time job with Fresno Unified overseeing its International Baccalaureate programs after launching the district's first IB program at Fresno High in 2003. A second IB program is at Wawona Middle School and a third is planned for the former Dailey Elementary School.

He also will devote more time to the Community Food Bank, where he has been a volunteer board member for nine years.

Reyes will temporarily replace outgoing chief executive officer Dana Wilkie until a permanent replacement is hired.

Those who know Reyes describe him as friendly and down to earth. They say he has been devoted to the school and its students and has earned the respect of parents and the community. They say he has considered his role as principal as more than just a job.

"His ties to the Fresno High community and his dedication will be greatly missed," Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said.

Carol Mills, a Fresno Unified School District trustee who represents the Fresno High area, said Reyes' dedication was obvious to everyone.

"He is not just at school functions, he is at community meetings, alumni association meetings, Fresno neighborhood association meetings," Mills said.

Dr. Charles Curry, whose daughter Mara graduated this week and whose son Charles graduated two years ago from Fresno High, said Reyes has CEO-like qualities and got things done. But, he was always approachable and personable.

Reyes has seen and done a lot during his time as Fresno High's leader.

He was instrumental in creating the school's first alumni association 11 years ago. Even though Reyes never attended the school, the group made him an honorary lifetime member last year.

Perhaps one of his biggest accomplishments was the prestigious IB program he pushed for and then launched in 2003 as part of an effort to keep neighborhood students from leaving for more academically challenging programs at other high schools.

The program began with eight students and now has more than 600 enrolled -- nearly 25% of Fresno High students are taking at least one IB class.

Reyes also oversaw $24 million in modernization projects at the school, including upgrades to sports facilities. Most recently, the school celebrated the opening of a new 35-meter pool. And to the amusement of spectators, Reyes took a dive, fully clothed, into the pool to help launch it in April.

There also have been challenges.

In early 2002, Reyes was placed on paid administrative leave; sources said he was accused of sexually harassing a female staff member. At the time, district officials would not discuss what they labeled a confidential personnel issue. He was reinstated a month later.

Later that year, the roof and south wing of the school's historic Royce Hall -- built in 1922 -- burned in a fire. Renovating the building cost more than $2.2 million by the time it was completed a year later.

In 2004, students protested the condition of the school and overcrowding, insisting the school was not receiving the same attention as other schools in more affluent neighborhoods.

But the school entered the national spotlight as the backdrop for one of the largest political rallies ever held in Fresno when Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop in late 2007.

Reyes became slightly emotional as he talked this week about leaving and what the students and the school have meant to him.

Students and teachers have given Reyes cards, letters, hugs and gifts in recent weeks. One student gave him a handwritten, two-page letter that he keeps tucked in a folder with other keepsakes.

Other accolades have poured in: He has been recognized by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and Fresno City Council. He was the center of attention at a retirement dinner Friday night that his staff organized.

Reyes clearly relished all the memories as he reread some of the cards and letters from students. He said they have affected him more than they know: "They give you hope."

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