Principal's Acid Test: 'Hippie High'

Casual is the word as Principal Frank Haltiwanger talks with Andrea Rivera, 18, a senior at H-B Woodlawn Secondary school in Arlington.
Casual is the word as Principal Frank Haltiwanger talks with Andrea Rivera, 18, a senior at H-B Woodlawn Secondary school in Arlington. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2005

It felt like getting a new pet to replace a beloved old dog.

That's how David Soles, a chemistry teacher at H-B Woodlawn Secondary school in Arlington, described the unsettling experience of getting a new principal nine months ago. "You're going, 'We don't want a new dog,' " he said. " 'We want Muffy back.' "

But no dog lasts forever, and last year, 33 years after principal Ray Anderson founded the middle and high school that eschews such establishmentarianisms as class bells and mandatory attendance, the guy everyone called Ray retired, leaving some students and faculty terrified.

A replacement principal, they feared, might do away with free periods and insist on hall passes; might tell kids they couldn't leave their backpacks unattended in the halls; might decide that student-led "town meetings" were not the best way to make decisions on curriculum and policy; might try to turn their beloved school into something -- gulp -- normal.

Enter Frank Haltiwanger, a gangly 56-year-old with boyishly cut gray hair and a beat-up 1953 Gibson guitar.

Haltiwanger had been H-B's middle school administrator for four years. Before that he was assistant principal at Williamsburg Middle School in Arlington, where he was rumored to have been strict. So how would he deal with the kids sitting on skateboards in H-B's halls, or crashed out on couches in the cafeteria at 11 a.m.?

Strolling one recent morning down the halls, which have been colorfully painted by generations of departing senior classes, Haltiwanger called out to a tall boy.

"Hey, Patrick!"

"Good morning, Frank," the boy said.

"Just going to hang out?"

He was. And that was fine with Haltiwanger.

Any principal not okay with the culture of what has been dubbed "Hippie High" -- conceived by Anderson in 1971 as an alternative to more traditional schools -- would not have lasted long. Anderson, who was a teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington at the time, began the school with a small group of Arlington teachers and students who felt stifled by conventional schools and sought a more creative approach that would give students greater input and responsibility.


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