Altimira Principal William Deeths—Fun But Firm

Structure, consistency and love are important, he says, but students can relax around his music collection.

Anyone raised with any British background knows that the same small ritual often punctuates important events, as well as everyday chilly mornings.

That's how it is for Altimira Middle School's principal of two years.

"I'm a tea drinker," William Deeths told Patch on Thursday, as he headed toward a pot of hot water in the staff kitchen, carrying his big green Altimira wolves mug.

Then, back in his office, he sat down—in a bright orange shirt and tie—with a backdrop of old vinyl "45s" from the 1950s and 60s and chatted about amazing bands, awesome concerts and the wonders of sound captured in grooves. It's still superior to CDs, he said.

Deeths can be fun to talk to. (If you're not in trouble.)

"I like to make kids feel comfortable when they come in here," he said. "Some kids are already crying when they come into the principal's office. They say, 'I've never been in trouble before.' I like to set them at ease—and then make them cry," he joked.

What's with all the vinyl on the wall?

"When I was 12 years old, I could buy the 45s for 10 cents a piece at garage sales and thrift stores," he said. "It was cheaper, so I could discover more artists that way."

He still enjoys looking through the racks of them at thrift stores.

"You get the hunt down," he said, while acknowledging that his wife, Tawnya, sometimes wonders if enough is enough.

"There are some amazing songs out there on 45s," he said. "Some bands produced one 45 and then they were never heard of again. I call 45s 'little broken dreams,' because, for a lot of bands, it was their one shot."

Deeths said there are people paying "incredibly obscene amounts of money for some of these little 7-inchers" on e-Bay.

His best find ever?

"It was a promo version of a 45 that was just for radio stations—David Bowie's Memory of a Free Festival—Part I and II—from his first album. He redid it off the album with a new guitarist, Mike Ronson."

Deeths said finding that was like finding the Holy Grail.

"Bowie was huge. Someone once said about the album Ziggy Stardust, 'Whether you know the album or not, it changed your life.' Bowie was a brilliant artist."

Deeth's office has a different atmosphere than you might expect walking into the average principal's domain. It's a mixture of order, color and fun, with the school's mascot—the wolf—found here and there

What does he think middle school kids need the most these days and what should parents know?

"Structure, consistency and love are what kids this age need," he said seriously. "Kids at middle school are going through more physiological, social and emotional changes than they'll go through the rest of their lives. They tend to push parents away at this age, but they need them more than ever. Kids here love rules and structure. They love to point out when someone isn't following the rules and they say, 'It's not fair.' They know this is a safe place to learn and they're expected to work."

Tea in hand on Thursday, Deeths set out to greet students on a break.

"Hey, pull that hoodie down," he reminded a couple of boys.

"It's a safety thing," Deeths explained to this reporter. "We have kids here who are six feet tall. I don't know who they are from behind. I need to know who's on campus."

As young people greeted each other in the center quadrant, Deeths stood smiling.

"This is my favorite place at the school. I just enjoy standing here watching everyone."

Kids and teachers approached him with quick questions.

"I love my job and I love my school," Deeths told Patch. "I bring a certain passion to the job. And the kids are fantastic. They've been wonderful to me here. Switching to administration was the hardest decision to make, because I love the classroom," he said.

Deeths said Sonoma is "a great town to be in."

"The people here put their money where their mouths are, in terms of their time and resources too."

He is relieved that Prop. 30 passed, never-the-less.

"It means things will stay status quo here. Otherwise, we would have had to make deep cuts. Some districts I heard of were thinking about cutting out the entire month of May. Personnel costs are 70 percent of our costs."

Altimira has 489 students.

"Our job here is to prepare them for high school and their careers," Deeths said.

He did his student teaching at Sonoma Valley High School and was a sub at Altimira in 1998. He taught at Petaluma Junior High and was vice principal at Petaluma High and Kennilworth Junior High before coming to Sonoma.

"I hope to be in this community a long time," he said.

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