Steve Kessler bleeds purple and white. The 57-year-old math and physical education instructor has been a Horace Mann Husky since he started teaching in 1976. Now he's the school's next principal.
"To be given this honor of becoming principal is the greatest thing that I've obtained in my professional life," Kessler said. "I liken it to a baseball player that never got traded. I kept my batting average up, and now I'm the manager of the team."
Kessler will succeed Dr. Dawnalyn Murakawa-Leopard on July 1. Murakawa-Leopard was promoted to director of human resources for the Beverly Hills Unified School District.
Kessler is taking over a school that has achieved high test scores in the face of district-wide budget cuts. He is confident that Horace Mann can move past the budget issue, which has forced the district's K-8 schools to operate without full-time librarians.
"The budget is a tough thing, but I have been here for so long that I have gone through this two or three times," he said. "The teachers and administrators still keep our standards high. We still teach the same way, do the same things regardless of the economic climate."
As an educator he prefers to avoid politics, but Kessler knows that will be more difficult as principal especially in light of the recent BHUSD Board of Education decision to ban most out-of-district students.
"It's my duty as an educator to stay out of that and just accept those kids that are here and deal with them," he said of the vote. "I don't have any strong opinions other than I have made bonds with kids that won't be coming back."
One of Kessler's first goals as principal is to make sure students are properly disciplined. Eight percent of the student body received suspension notices during the 2008-2009 school year. "I think in general that society in many ways has gone a little lax with discipline," he said.
Kessler also plans on making his presence felt on the playground where he often observes kids getting into trouble.
"When the cats are away, the mice will play," Kessler said. "When they see their principal physically out there consistently, I really truly believe that I'm going to cut out that a lot."
Kessler had wanted to teach since he was a fifth-grader at El Rodeo School. After graduating from Beverly Hills High, he enrolled at Pacific University's College of Education. Now after more than three decades in the classroom, Kessler understands that as principal he must support the teachers.
"I have learned—being a classroom teacher for 34 years—that you have to ensure that your classroom teachers are as strong as possible," he said. "You have to empower those teachers and let them know that you're behind them."