Sunday, January 3, 2016

Longtime family connection for Balboa High Principal Susan Ritter

Principal parents: This 1936 student photo, taken in front of Balboa High, shows the parents of now-principal Susan Ritter. Ritter’s father is behind the four girls, Ritter’s mother is at the far left. Above her mother’s head is where Principal Ritter’s office is today.
Hanging on a bulletin board outside the principal's office is a class of 1936 photo, taken on the front steps of Balboa High.

And it's not just for nostalgia's sake (in fact there is a room at the school dedicated to memorabilia): Two of the students in the photo are the current principal's parents.

"Yep, they met here and got married a few years after graduating." Principal Susan Ritter points out that her current principal's office window can be seen right behind her parents in the photo.

While they continued their courtship, Ritter's parents lived and worked in the Excelsior and the Bayview, and after her father served in World War II, they married and moved to San Carlos.

"But I remember summers in the Bayview (known back then as 'Butchertown' because of the many slaughterhouses) at my grandmother's house on Hudson Avenue."

Further back, Ritter's great-grandfather ran a saloon and boarding house on Fairfax Street and took in several people left homeless after the 1906 earthquake.

Long journey takes her back to Balboa High


Ritter married after graduating college, and her husband's career as a newspaper editor took her to several locations, including Nevada, Colorado and Washington D.C.

"I went to the White House for dinner a few times during the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations and have sat with Joe Biden more than once for dinner," says Ritter. "He really is as nice as he seems."

But when her three children went off to college, Ritter wanted to return to her roots. In 2001, with her teaching credential, she found work at SFUSD as a teacher at Burbank Middle School (where June Jordan School for Equity is now located, in the Excelsior district). Ritter chose the school not only for being close to her family's old neighborhood, but also to serve the students who went to school there.

"Burbank was struggling, and I wanted to work with those kids."

Ritter also taught summer school, which brought her to the Balboa High building. Soon after that, Ritter was teaching social sciences at Balboa High and worked her way up from assistant principal to principal.

The Balboa 'Whisper Yell'


When Ritter started working at the school, Principal Patricia Gray was orienting new staff. Gray started to teach them the special school chant.

"She began, in a whisper, 'B- A -L...' BA-BA-BAL RAH! and I chimed in 'B – O- A.' BO-BO-BOA RAH!" remembers Ritter. "The principal was startled and asked me how I knew the chant."

Ritter told her that she heard it all the time growing up. "My parents' friends had all attended Balboa. That chant, the "Whisper Yell" was sung every time they all got together!"

Homecoming


Ritter is happy her life led her back to her mother's old neighborhood, and to her parents' alma mater. "This side of town is not the one you see on postcards, and it doesn't get all the tourists. This is the part of the city that opened its arms to my grandparents when they immigrated here."

On being a principal


She loves her students, and keeps an important mindset that she shares with her staff:

"First and foremost, even though some high school students look like adults, they still are children. Not only are we their teachers, we are caretakers during their last four years of childhood," says Ritter. "They deserve the best our school district has to offer."