Twenty-five years as a Falcon

October 8, 2015 — by Spring Ma and Charin Park

Walking into assistant principal Kerry Mohnike’s office, students are greeted by a tall brown bookshelf filled to the brim with student-signed screenplays, props from past English simulations and candid photos of Mohnike’s 2011 drama classes — all mementos of her 25 years at Saratoga High. 

Walking into assistant principal Kerry Mohnike’s office, students are greeted by a tall brown bookshelf filled to the brim with student-signed screenplays, props from past English simulations and candid photos of Mohnike’s 2011 drama classes — all mementos of her 25 years at Saratoga High.

“There’s a whole bunch of crazy stuff on this bookshelf,” said Mohnike, smiling. “Most people would have educational stuff because they’re assistant principals, but for me, I just like to have things that remind me of what I love.”

Although a lot seems to have changed during Mohnike’s  journey from journalism teacher to assistant principal — some of the quad’s towering redwood trees were once mere saplings, and the students who donned corduroy overalls have long graduated and now have their own kids — Mohnike said that the ingrained aspects of the Saratoga High community have remained the same.

“The population demographics have changed and the college pressures have intensified, but the community really loved and still loves SHS,” Mohnike said.

When asked about the aspect of the school that has kept her here for 25 years, Mohnike responded that “of course, it’s the students” without hesitation.

“The energy and individualism of the students keep me young at heart,” Mohnike said. “A quick trip somewhere outside of Saratoga always reminds me that we work in a beautiful, supportive and intellectually stimulating place.”


Twenty-two years of classroom legacy

Although initially hired as a journalism and English teacher in 1991, Mohnike taught a variety of humanities courses during her first years at the school, including every level of English except the AP English courses.

When she first arrived, the school impressed her as a place where students learn “not only how to read, but also how to read between the lines” and understand the text on a deeper level.

Mohnike said she was warmly welcomed by the teaching staff, and she often discussed teaching strategies with former English department chair Genevieve Palace, longtime English teacher Catherine Head and others in the department..

In addition, many of the school’s founding individuals such as Benny Pierce, former P.E. teacher and football coach, were still on campus when Mohnike arrived.

“[When I first started,] the school was old, but not that old, in that the people who founded the school were still around,” Mohnike said. “I really felt like I was connected to something that was building tradition but also [already] had tradition.”

When current journalism adviser Mike Tyler was hired in 1996, Mohnike transitioned to teaching English full time. During her time in room 002, Mohnike taught drama teacher Sarah Thermond, guidance counselors Eileen Allen and Alinna Satake, music teacher Jonathan Pwu, attendance secretary Mandy Armes and many other current staff members.

Mohnike said she became so connected with her students that they seemed “like [her] own kids.” One of Thermond’s favorite memories from high school occurred when the students in Mohnike’s English 11 Honors class tried Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” in a mock court hearing.

Thermond said she always arrived to the lively classroom wondering what Mohnike “had up her sleeve” for the day’s lesson. According to Thermond, Mohnike always managed to “rein [her students] in and get students to speak up without making [the atmosphere] awkward,” a skill Thermond now aspires to achieve as an English teacher.

Even after Mohnike assumed an administrative role at Saratoga High, she still valued teaching as the “highest calling.” To this day, Mohnike still establishes the same student connections that she treasured as a teacher when she gets the “lucky chance” to talk to students that approach her in the office.


Transitioning to the role of assistant principal

A day in the life of an assistant principal starts early when the occasional teacher, stuck in traffic, leaves students standing idly outside their empty classrooms. Mohnike often steps in for these teachers before conquering a daily downpour of meetings, parent phone calls, classroom visitations and student events.

Mohnike quickly assimilated to this hectic schedule in 2012 when she was promoted to the role of assistant principal after 22 years in the classroom. Aligning with the work of her predecessor, former assistant principal Karen Hyde, Mohnike took over the role of activities director in addition to overseeing the special education department.

“One of my children has special needs, so I really empathize with people who try to overtly look like they are like everyone else but are struggling with [internal] issues,” Mohnike said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect kid — all kids are unique.”

As activities director, Mohnike applied her approach of “letting students make events and activities their own” to a wide spectrum of student activities. From co-founding the MAP program with History teacher Mike Davey in 2009, to supervising the first Speak up for Change week in 2013, to initiating the Facebook photography page “Humans of Saratoga High” in 2014, Mohnike was and still is involved in events and programs on every corner of campus.

When the school secured funding to hire Spanish teacher Rebeca Marshburn as the full-time activities director in 2014, Mohnike was able to focus her efforts on other parts of the school, including planning the “complex puzzle” of the school’s current and future goals with her fellow administrators.

The diversity of her job often keeps Mohnike at school long into the afternoon and evening. Nevertheless, Mohnike said she loves the variety in every workday. From sports events to problem-solving with parents and students, her work keeps her on her toes.

“If I didn’t love [working with] young people and school, this would be horrible, right?” said Mohnike, chuckling.

Mohnike said she will never forget the 25 classes of SHS students she has watched grow up and become “professionals in their own field.” From attending countless drama performances by Class of 2012 alumnus Jay Lee to hearing talented band members such as Class of 2015 alumnus Joowon Lee play clarinet in the McAfee Center, Mohnike said she cherishes opportunities to see students achieve “not only academically, but with extracurricular activities at a high level.”

For Mohnike, going to student performances is similar to “watching professionals or semi-professionals do their thing,” but she says getting to “do it for free, and see kids do great things all day long” is the highlight of her days.

Mohnike’s 25 years at the school have been an inspiring ride for teachers and students alike: from fostering school spirit to planting the roots of a flourishing MAP program, Mohnike has left a permanent mark on the school’s culture. Her signature orange hair, square glasses and cherished legacy will roam Saratoga High’s halls for many years in the future.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Mohnike said. “If you ever have the chance to just float in and out of classrooms to see what a stellar education the students are receiving here, you’d never want to leave.”

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