Hughson High Set To Lose 3 Administrators Next Year

Alex Pearson, Staff Writer

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Principal Debra Davis, Assistant Principal Gary Larson and Athletic Director Andy Reese have all announced their intentions to leave their roles in the Hughson High School office next school year. Collectively they have over 109 years experience in education and 63 years as administrators at HHS.


Debra Davis, who has worked for Hughson Unified School District for 38 years, 32 of those years serving as principal, announced her retirement to the high school staff on January 23 at the high school’s late start meeting.


“When she announced her retirement there was shock at first; she was emotional.” Amy McAndrews, AP History teacher recounted. “People started to clap, then everyone started to stand and gave her a standing ovation.”


Davis, who has been the only principal any of the staff of Hughson High School has ever known, has been a driving force behind the school, its culture and its community.  Davis has dedicated much of her life to the school staying hours beyond the normal workday to make the school the success it is today.


“When I first started working with Debra, I remember how long her days were,” recalled Gary Larson, Assistant Principal. “She had a self-imposed end of workday of 9 pm. She wouldn’t leave until nine, making sure that she put everything she had into her work.”


In the 38 years that Davis has worked at Hughson High School, she has attended almost every football game the school has ever had, only missing three games in 38 years. She tries to attend as many of the other sporting events as she can throughout the year as well to support the students.


Davis herself was a coach for Hughson High athletics for many years coaching both basketball and volleyball. While coaching basketball, Davis had the opportunity to fly [in an airplane] to a game, play in both old Arco and the Oakland Coliseum, earn the first section championship in any sport – boys and girls for Hughson High School, and have her team be ranked third in the state for two years in a row.


“Ms. Davis was my principal when I was a student.  She was a great principal then, just as she is now.  As a student, I remember that she enjoyed coaching and athletics and was always fair and kind, “said Brenda Smith, Hughson Unified Superintendent. “As a colleague, I have enjoyed working with her.  She has always been willing to help me or another staff member in any way. She is very smart and has a wealth of knowledge about education, administration, and Hughson history.”


When she first started at Hughson in 1981, she was hired by then-Superintendent Dr. Marvin Stewart and then-Principal Randy Heckman, now currently the Hughson Unified School Board President to work as the coordinator of the independent study program.  Six years later, in 1987, she would secure the principal position that she still holds to this day making her one of the longest-running principals in California, not only serving as a principal but also remaining in one district for the duration of her administrative career.


“When Debra first came to Hughson, she brought her volleyball expertise and love of sports to the game, winning multiple titles and giving the sports program such a boost. When she became principal, she instantly took to the job putting students’ needs first and focusing on what was best for the kids,” said Barbara Rose, Davis’ former secretary for 27 years.


For many of the staff, Davis has not only been a champion and advocate for the students, but she has also become like a family member that the staff both love and respect.


“She is somebody who always seemed to have our backs and wanted to support us (the teachers on campus) in any way she could. She has been so supportive of the work I do here on campus and is always willing to hear us out. Her open door policy says it all.  We can walk in her office at any time and say anything we want,” said Jack Bland, photography and yearbook teacher. “For anyone who has worked with other principals, the open door policy is not a norm. Since she has been so overly supportive I never want to disappoint her.  She is the mother hen.”


As her legacy at Hughson, Davis hopes people will remember her as a hard worker who had the best interests of students always first in mind, and as a person who would look toward the future growth of the school without forgetting the great past that makes the school such a great place to be.  


Moving towards her own new future as a retiree, Davis plans to travel and finally get some rest and relaxation.


“I am both happy and sad,” said Davis. “Happy to look towards the next stage of my life, and sad to leave behind what for me has been my home away from home.”


For Gary Larson, Assistant Principal, his journey with Hughson School has been very similar.  Larson was hired in 1985 as the Hughson High School band director and served in that position until 1988.


“You may not know this,” Larson says with the smile that has come to be known to all students and staff. “But the band room that you know today is not the band room I taught in. The band room I taught in was room 34, Brazil’s classroom.”


After teaching band at HHS for four years, Larson then moved to work at Hilmar High School, where he served as Principal until his return to Hughson as an administrator in 1997.  His administrative time at HHS has been spent as a Learning Director, Athletic Director, and as Assistant Principal. He has worked alongside Davis all of these years and even announced his retirement at the same time she did.


“While there was a lull in the clapping [for Davis during the staff meeting] Gary announced his retirement too,” recalled Amy McAndrews, AP history teacher.


Larson is one of the first to arrive at Hughson High School every morning at 6:00 a.m. and meets every morning with Davis to discuss the day’s agenda and plan.  He is then one of the last to leave. Larson is responsible for activities at the high school such as all of the state testing, SATs, PSATs, ASVAB, Advanced Placement tests and school-wide testing.  He also coordinates all of the work-experience classes with students and is a learning director for all ninth and tenth-grade students.


“Mr. Larson has been a tremendous asset to HHS.  He has a great connection with students and really cares about our school, district, and community.  He has been a steady force working with Ms. Davis throughout the years,” Brenda Smith, Superintendent stated. “I have always felt that they made a great team.  His devotion to the school has been evident in the long hours he puts in every day. He is always smiling and is one of the kindest people I know.”


Larson’s positive demeanor is a common attribute that the staff and community mention when discussing him.


“Gary is the most pleasant disciplinarian you’ll ever meet.  In the few times where he’s had to correct something I’ve done, I hardly knew I was being reprimanded,” said Joel Bernard, AP Environmental Science teacher. “As a professional who cares about doing a good job, I really appreciated that.”


After retiring from Hughson, Larson plans to travel on a schedule that is flexible and no longer determined by the school year calendar.


“It has been an honor to work with Ms. Davis and Mr. Larson,” stated Brenda Smith. “They will be greatly missed and we know that it will be difficult to find two administrators that can fill their shoes.  I am very happy for them as they enter the next phase of their life. They have given so much to Hughson and I know that all of us will miss them very much!”


Although Andy Reese, current Learning Director as well as the Athletic Director, is also set to leave the HHS office administration, he will continue to work for Hughson Unified in a different capacity.  


Reese, for the past several years, has served as the acting Administrator-In-Charge for Alternate Education schools in the district and will now split his time continuing to be the administrator-in-charge there as well as a part-time biology teacher and AP biology teacher at the high school.


Reese is excited to be able to continue on at the alternate education site because as Reese stated, “I love seeing students succeed that many have given up on when facing difficult situations.  It is always exciting to experience graduation with them!”


He is also looking forward to his return to the classroom as a biology teacher. Reese volunteered to go back to the classroom after seeing a need when budget cuts forced Ken Rickard, the previous biology teacher to leave the district.  Since Rickard’s departure, HHS has been without traditional biology, instead offering only Ag Biology – also an A-G approved biology course.


Returning to the classroom will have a unique set of obstacles for Reese, but one he is optimistic to embrace.


“It’s a challenge,” Reese said about going back into the classroom. “But also a joy because I love the subject matter so much.”


The district is now challenged with finding replacements for the principal position as well as the assistant principal position. Reeses’ job will not be filled with another candidate to help alleviate some of the financial hardships the district is facing.


“We are looking for dedicated administrators who make great connections with students and staff,” Brenda Smith stated. “We hope to find candidates who love a small community such as ours and are ready to lead HHS into the future.”


Although Hughson High School will be moving into the future, it will not forget its past nor the contributions that this administrative team has made to Hughson High School.  Reese is just about to embark on a new chapter of his career, but for Davis and Larson they have created a legacy at Hughson that few will ever forget.