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Assistant principal offers authenticity in actions

By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Gary Pantaleoni credits his father for getting him into education. “I have a real love for the outdoors, and I was a fishery biology major and a water polo player,” Pantaleoni said. “When I was at Colorado State and getting my degree in biological sciences, my dad told me I was going into the wrong field – I should work with people. It was the first time I took his advice, and it worked out.” Pantaleoni, 60, is an assistant principal at Placer High School and is this year’s recipient of the educator of the year award. Pantaleoni is also retiring June 6. In 1975, when Pantaleoni was 24 years old, he became a teacher. “I started in the art department as an art teacher and swimming and wrestling coach,” Pantaleoni said. Before moving to Auburn in 1997, Pantaleoni worked at Kerman High School for 21 years. He taught art, leadership and became a counselor. He was also an athletic director. As an artist, Pantaleoni has worked with watercolors, metal works and small sculpture creations. He has been teaching welding at the Placer School for Adults for 10 years. Pantaleoni said there are several things he enjoys about working in high school education including seeing students grow up and working on smaller, community-minded campuses. “I have always liked working with students and, at the high school level, seeing them grow and mature from a junior high kid to a young adult when they leave,” he said. “One thing that is really special about Placer is there is so much history here, and the campus is embedded in the community.” Pantaleoni said one of his biggest accomplishments has been helping to guide three generations of students through the public education system and seeing the majority of them turn out very well. One of his greatest challenges is connected to this accomplishment, Pantaleoni said. “The biggest challenge is getting students to realize they are responsible for their own futures,” he said. “And it’s our education (system’s) job to guide them, in conjunction with their families, to be successful members of the community once they leave.” As assistant principal, Pantaleoni has a number of responsibilities. “On a daily basis I deal with student guidance and discipline,” he said. “The big overall things that I do, I’m the area administrator for art, industrial technology, the sciences and student government.” Pantaleoni also oversees school safety and facilities, and is the first staff responder to any incidents that occur on campus. Dave Horsey, superintendent of the Placer Union High School District, said Pantaleoni is a caring person who tries to work with a student to change his or her negative behavior rather than focusing on punishment. “He is approachable by probably any level of student or parent of any means or background,” Horsey said. “I think a word that comes to mind is authentic. He’s just real. What you see is what you get. There is no pretense about him.” Peter Efstathiu, principal at Placer High, said Pantaleoni is always willing to help, no matter what the job. Efstathiu said keeping programs such as woodshop, metal shop, visual arts and student government alive at the school is one of Pantaleoni’s greatest accomplishments. “At a lot of schools, those are the programs they are cutting to save money, because they require fees,” Efstathiu said. “But I think with his work with those teachers we have been able to maintain those programs. I just think that Gary is going to be impossible to replace as a person. We will fill the job, but we won’t replace the person. You can’t replace what he’s been doing here for the last 14 years.” Pantaleoni and his wife, Christine, have been married 39 years and they have two daughters, Sabrina, 31, and Lauri, 25. Pantaleoni said he knew when he came to Placer High he would be there until he retired. “I’m very much a homebody,” he said. “I go outdoors and stuff, but once I get to a place I set roots. I like change, and I will build new things and I will do new things, but every time you do that it creates a tie to remaining. I plant a tree, and I like to pick the fruit from it.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------- The State of the Community Dinner When: 5:30 p.m. April 15 Where: Sierra Building at the Gold Country Fairgrounds Cost: $37.50 Reservations: Call the Auburn Chamber of Commerce at (530) 885-5616, ext. 223 ------------------------------------------------------- Fast Facts about Gary Pantaleoni 1.Favorite movie: “The Jerk” with Steve Martin 2.Grew up in Belmont, Calif. 3.Likes to hunt, fish, weld, barbecue, garden and mountain bike 4.Has kept a framed quote on his classroom or office wall that says, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way,” since he began teaching. 5.Mentors: his father and grandfather