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Bill Lynch: ‘Sass’ would have approved

The Sonoma Index-Tribune recently carried a nice story by Lorna Sheridan about Stefanie Jordan, Sassarini School’s new principal (“Meet the Principal: Sassarini’s Stefanie Jordan,” Nov. 17). In that story, Ms. Jordan said that one of her major goals was to maintain some sense of school community even though virtually all staff and students have been separated by the pandemic for almost an entire school year. She included supporting teachers as another major goal.

Her priorities triggered old memories of Calvin Sassarini, the man for whom her school is named, and whose leadership as the first ever principal of Prestwood School made him one of the most respected and beloved principals in the history of our community.

Prestwood opened as a brand new school in October of 1950 after Sonoma Grammar School (now Sonoma Community Center) was unexpectedly closed midterm in 1948 due to seismic concerns, bringing on an immediate local school crisis. All of its students from first to eighth grade had to be housed and taught in various buildings, church halls and storefronts around Sonoma.

The school board named the new school on East MacArthur Street in honor of Jesse Prestwood for his 42 years as a Sonoma Grammar School teacher and principal.

Calvin Sassarini, a graduate of San Francisco State College, who had been principal and district superintendent of the Forestville Union School District since 1946, became its first principal.

He had challenges similar to those faced now by Ms. Jordan. He spent that first year bringing together a staff that had worked virtually independently for more than a year. He began his tenure by throwing his faculty a Halloween party that included the spouses of the staff as well. He took personal responsibility for planning, setting up and hosting the party.

Throwing a party might not be considered a brilliant educational tactic, but it sent the right message about the kind of leader the teachers had in their new principal. From that evening on he and his staff worked as a team, and they all called him “Sass,” with both respect and affection. “He was our hero,” one veteran teacher remembers.

I was one of those displaced students who took classes in storefronts around town until Prestwood school was completed. I remember those first days in our brand new school and how warm, soft-spoken and friendly Mr. Sassarini was compared to the frighteningly stern Jesse Prestwood, the only other principal I’d ever known up to that point in my life.

Only a few years after Prestwood School opened, our community outgrew it. Prestwood School had to go to double sessions, forcing the school district to find land on the west side of town and pass a bond to build a second new school, which was completed in 1957.

Sadly, in 1958, Calvin Sassarini was killed in an auto crash on rain-slicked Highway 12 near Kenwood. He was in route to Santa Rosa with his young son, Dennis, to visit his hospitalized wife, Juanita, who was recovering from surgery. The much beloved educator, 46, was killed immediately. His son suffered only minor injuries.

The new elementary school was named in memory of him. I believe Sass would approve of the priorities set by Stefanie Jordan, his namesake school’s new principal.

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