Catalina High School, Tucson, Arizona, USA

    Thanks to the detective work of Pam Morris, we have the following story from KVOA-TV, Channel 4 News:

Longtime Sahuarita mayor/principal to retire

May 20, 2006, 

Principal Charles Oldham walks into a kindergarten class at Sopori Elementary and a swarm of students rushes him.

Most of their hugs are brief and accompanied by a cheery "Good morning, Mr. Oldham."

But one girl grabs his waist and holds on for dear life. She stares up with affection as she patiently waits for him to hug back.

Some principals get this daily. But Oldham is arguably a bigger figure than most of his peers in Pima County.

As mayor of the town of Sahuarita, he has two jobs that put him in the public eye, and it appears he's been handling both responsibilities well.

"He's a peach," said fourth-grade teacher Eric Heesacker. "I wanted to teach here because of him."

In a few weeks, the daily number of hugs could drop dramatically, though.

At the end of the school year, Oldham, 65, will reach the end of an era: 13 years as principal of this rural school, just this side of the Santa Cruz County line.

He'll remain mayor, an 11-year job he says "starts at 4 p.m. every day," though he admits he does receive frequent mayoral calls in his school office.

Oldham's departure will be the first of some major changes at the school, which is part of the Sahuarita Unified School District, in more than a decade.

The school is building two classrooms to start a sixth-grade class in August, a decision officials say will ease the transportation costs of busing sixth-graders to Sahuarita Middle School.

A community center is going up on campus, too, and school officials are working to buy a neighboring park and help renovate it.

There is academic work, too.

Last year, the school was labeled "underperforming" for the first time in Arizona Learns, the state's school-ranking system. The label is given to schools that don't improve on such criteria as test scores.

Teachers say the label was given because not enough students improved on AIMS and Terra Nova scores, which had been high for many years.

One of Sahuarita's hallmarks is its high achievement rate, extending to the "highly performing" high school.

From the look of things, being called "underperforming" hasn't put the school into a frenzy, though.

"The law puts that thought in the front of our minds every day," said Heesacker, who started teaching at Sopori two years ago. "We're focusing more on language skills and reading, and because of that, we have to go the extra mile."

Going the extra mile is something a current sixth-grader may have to do, literally.

Some sixth-graders ride as much as 61 miles to get to school, said district Superintendent Jay St. John, who started his job the same year Oldham became mayor.

"It's a pretty significant length of day even for a high school student."

The student population is 75 percent Hispanic and largely bilingual. It's one of the smallest elementary schools in Pima County, with about 215 students, and an average class size of 20.

Many Tucson elementary schools struggle to keep their classrooms below 25 students.

Because Sopori is about 18 miles from district headquarters, teachers and administrators feel less pressure and more autonomy to continue doing what has helped the school thrive for more than a decade.

"The demands of being on the Sahuarita campus are great," Oldham said. "We only have about 200 kids here, but at the main campus you have to worry about 3,500."

Its relative isolation has created a close-knit community.

Oldham said he taught or oversaw the parents of many of his current students, which puts parents at ease.

As for the students, the small class sizes seem to allow them freedom to learn and enjoy what they're learning. Some classes have as few as 12 students.

Oldham often is found peeking into some of these classes and participating in lessons. He says he won't miss the hectic schedule.

The kids, however, are a different matter.

"I think I'm ready" for retirement, said Oldham, who was principal of Sahuarita Middle School for 17 years before moving to Sopori. "Except for a few years, I've been going to school every workday since I was six."