If the Salt Lake City School District were a stage, Harold Trussel would be a top player.
He has received a performer's applause as teacher, a director's standing ovation in five principalships, and an executive producer's clout as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.Now, after 35 years in education, Trussel is taking his final bow.
"Part of good sense is having a sense of when to gracefully bow out and let others have a chance to grow and develop and get their ideas going," the 61-year-old Trussel said.
"Time has finally caught up with me. I think it's time to move on" - to Hawaiian vacations, Alaskan cruises or electric trains at home come July.
"I'm really happy for him, but it's been real sad. A couple of times in the past few months I've been in denial about it," said Superintendent Darline Robles, who will announce Trussel's replacement Tuesday.
The new assistant superintendent has big shoes to fill - Trus-sel's resume reads like district history.
Trussel taught at Southeast Junior High, now Highland Park Elementary. He was acting prin-ci-pal of Lincoln Junior High, 1300 S. State, which closed, and principal of Jordan Intermediate, which suffered the same fate. He led Bryant Intermediate, both the old and new schools.
Trussel stands out in school history as a strong but gentle leader with a great sense of humor, said Al Church, a rookie teacher at Trussel's Lincoln Junior High in the 1970s.
"It was a school where teachers had great compassion for the kids and high expectations for them to do well. And Harold set that tone, in my estimation," said Church, principal of Riverview Junior High in the Murray School District. "You had to be kind of tough and tender, I guess."
Trussel would leave thank-you or inspirational notes on teachers' desks and stay after school to place candy bars and notes in each student's locker. Some teachers pooh-poohed the gestures as "gimmicky." But the "Trussel Sprouts," as supporters were nicknamed, cheered the principal on.
"He would say, `No matter what you do with public relations in a school, whether it's candy bars or newsletters or awards, if you don't send a kid home every day who says, "My teacher likes me. I learned something new today," all the public relations and all the gimmicks are worthless,' " said Church. "That meant a great deal to me as a new teacher."
Trussel worked his quiet magic, modeling his favorite Montpelier, Idaho, high school teacher, in district schools.
At Jordan Intermediate School in Glendale, Trussel celebrated diversity with a multicultural hand-in-hand marquee logo. He opened his doors for a senior citizens meeting place, cultivating community relationships.
But West High would be his greatest challenge.
In the early 1980s, white middle-class students fled inner-city high schools West and South - now a satellite campus of Salt Lake Community College - to attend East and Highland. In 1984, the school board required students to attend neighborhood schools.
West's reputation reflected in its graffiti lockers, missing floor tiles and tobacco-spit-speckled ceilings and walls. Trussel led the school board and community coun-cil on a tour, saying "I wouldn't send my kid here."
That year, each high school received $40,000, inspiring the district's school improvement fund. Trussel painted, tiled, and decorated the school with sculpture and prints of famous artwork.
Trussel spent registration day confiscating knives and chaw, jest-ing with students that "there's a new sheriff in town." It was just what they needed.
"Students were hungry for it," Trussel said of his discipline. "Even today, students that I've known want to be successful and have something to contribute, be positive and have someone who cares about them."
From day one, Trussel played classical music over the public address system. Following three weeks of complaints, students gave in.
"Mr. Trussel, you got any Paganini?" a student asked, beginning a wave of requests.
Trussel took on lunchroom duty, usually reserved for rookie teachers, to get to know students. He and a group of parents and students gave the cafeteria a makeover one weekend, complete with red tablecloths made by home economic students and homemade centerpieces.
Under a new giant clock, Trussel created the "Principal's Table," where students displaying good deeds or academic excellence were invited to eat with him and his assistants. Student body officers acted as servers.
Trussel feared, however, that the school known for its burly athletes would label the decor "sissy." He anxiously awaited the first student, who walked in wide-eyed and hollered an expletive.
"He loved it. I knew then it was going to make the impression," Trussel said. Not to mention the tearful mother who asked, "You did this for our kids?"
He did that and much more. Trussel brought the International Baccalaureate program to West, where up to 50 graduates a year earn Ivy League scholarships. He handed out letter sweaters to high achieving students. He sent Christmas cards to each student.
To clinch school pride, Trussel, a former clarinetist, created the city's first high school marching band in decades. He got the $20,000 for uniforms by waiting outside the office door of a wealthy alumnus and pleading a quick case.
"He was never in his office. He was always in the hallway, in the cafeteria, all the baseball games, all the football games and activities," said school board president Karen Derrick, former West PTA president. "He loved the students and they seemed to know that."
Students would do anything for Trussel. When the school got "tagged" with black paint twice in a row, students asked if they could sleep at school and nab the bad guys. Other times, students would go hungry to donate lunch money to Sub-For-Santa.
Trussel set a goal to become one of the top 10 schools in the nation. In 1989, West High was recognized by the U.S. Education Secretary and received a flag of excellence from President George Bush.
That and other national awards for his expertise adorn his district office today, next to the crayon-colored artwork the special education students gave as a going-away gift. The thank-you message on the back, circled with student signatures, is a great pick-me-up on cloudier days.
Trussel's West High days ended in 1992, when he took his district job.
"I do miss the students, but it's exciting on a different level," he said. "It is a challenging job here, but the trouble with this job is you don't see the immediate results."
Rather than lending change for bus fare, Trussel focuses on better serving students and teachers. He looks forward to the schools' opportunity to find creative ways to improve, based on surveys for the Eccles/Annenberg Challenge Grant for school reform.
Still, he occasionally slips out of the office and into schools, taking in "bundles of love" in special education classes or the sounds of school choirs.
Soon, he'll take charge of his own schedule, which may result in volunteer time at the schools "whenever I feel my skills are needed" he said.
"But I don't want to do it for money anymore. If I want to do it, I want to just do it."