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'I never drove a bus, but I have swept the floors'

After 36 years, Brandon schools assistant principal stepping down

May 26, 2010 - By Susan Bromley

Staff Writer

Brandon Twp.- Within a 90-minute span on a recent afternoon in the high school office, Jerry Warner explains the finer details of the school dress code to a cheerleader, suspends a student sent to him for having his cell phone out in class for the second time this school year, and comes to the rescue of an ill teenager, grabbing a chair for the boy to sit in before he falls down.

Warner has become accustomed to detecting which kids are about to faint, as well as hearing all the excuses from ones who are in trouble for one infraction or another. It's all in a day's work for the Brandon High School assistant principal, but not for much longer. He will retire in a few weeks, after 36 years with the district.

"Whenever we've gotten a new superintendent or new principal, I've always said, 'I was here when they got here, I'll be here when they leave,'" said Warner, who has worked with seven superintendents and six principals in his time here. "That's not true anymore."

Warner was a teacher in the Flint Public Schools for one year when his twin brother Larry, a chemistry teacher at BHS, told him of an opening there for a teacher. He joined the district in 1974 when the high school was still in the building that now houses intermediate school students. He taught biology for 31 years, was a driver's education instructor for 11 years, coached football for six years at the freshman/jv level, was the varsity softball coach for 10 years, and coached varsity girls golf for four years until he became the assistant principal five years ago.

"I never drove a bus, but I have swept the floors," Warner laughs. When he started his career in Brandon, the high school had 600 students. He has seen that number double to its current 1,240 students, perhaps the biggest change in his time here.

"You can't know every kid now like you did in the old days," Warner noted. "I've gotten older and the kids stay the same age, but they keep you young. They have so much energy and enthusiasm. They keep you up on all the trends."

Another change is technology and all the electronic devices now used. When Warner started his career as an educator, slide rules were still used for math. Calculators have been the norm for many years now, of course, as well as computers. While the new technology is a blessing, it can also be a curse in the case of iPods, cell phones, and social networking sites. Warner notes that kids post things on Facebook or MySpace that they would never say to someone's face, and it can cause issues at school.

Still, the kids themselves haven't changed and Warner treats all of them the same when they break the rules— firmly, fairly, and consistently, as he works at his number one goal, keeping the building safe for all students.

Warner also evaluates and monitors the teachers and handles any issues that comes up between the teachers and students, as well as any emergencies. As an administrator, he doesn't have a typical day, and while he may have an idea for what he is going to do, it is sure to change with a medical emergency, fire and tornado drills, or "some big disaster with the kids."

The worst part of Warner's job is suspending students and breaking the news to parents that their child misbehaved. Kids are still getting in trouble today for the things they got in trouble for years ago— tardiness, skipping school, and dress code violations.

Warner keeps 4-inch wood blocks in his office and if a student kneels and her shorts or skirt hemline doesn't touch it, she's in violation of the dress code. Students breaking the dress code can put on one of the famous t-shirts Warner supplies, that proclaim "I'm one of Jerry's Kids."

He notes he has seen a lot of styles come and go, and come back again.

"I tell the kids, 'We quit wearing those for a reason,'" laughs Warner, who adds that he has learned not to judge a student by their clothes, hair or piercings, but by who they are.

Warner has kept one fashion for himself through the years— his mustache, which he grew in college so people could tell him apart from his twin. He shaved it one time in the '80s, when he lost a bet with the sophomore class that they couldn't win the spirit competition. When they won, he shaved it off in front of the class and stayed clean-shaven for about one week, until his wife, Lynne, asked how long he planned to keep shaving, because she had seen enough.

Lynne already has a list of things for her husband to do once he is retired and Warner also has his own plans— he loves golfing, hunting, and fishing. The father of two sons (Bryan, a Western Michigan University graduate, and Phillip, a WMU junior) will continue to do volunteer work with his church and the Boy Scouts, and is looking forward to taking vacations where he doesn't have to fight crowds because all the school-aged kids are going on vacation at the same time.

Warner said he will miss interacting with the kids and the staff at school. In his years in the classroom, he taught biology, and as an assistant principal, he taught life lessons. He learned a few things along the way as well, including patience, a sense of humor and perhaps most importantly— "never let them see you sweat."

He hopes to leave with the respect of the Ortonville community.

"I've been here so long, I bleed blue and white," Warner said. "I'm a Blackhawk."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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