So long, farewell

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So long, farewell

Soumya Kurnool

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This fall, when students will be going through the Running of the Bulls, Plaza will be "running with the bulls in Pamplona" during his vacation in Spain. After an 11-year long career at MVHS, Plaza will be retiring this fall. Photo illustration by Margaret Lin.

It was assistant principal Dennis Plaza’s first day on the job at MVHS. He was pushing a cart  through the school, and when a few things fell off, Plaza remembers, he began picking them up, not expecting any help.

“In other schools,” Plaza said, “you can walk across campus and people will stare at you and not want to have anything to do with you.”

He was surprised when a group of students ran up to help him. Over the years he has realized that that one incident was no fluke.

MVHS is different.

“It’s the students that have just overwhelmed me,” Plaza said. “They’re just incredible. They’re positive. They’re vivacious. They’re stressed, but they’re involved and they take on these incredible tasks not just at school but outside of school … This is just an incredible place to come to every day.”

And in the 11 years since that day, he has continued to see the same spirit at MVHS. However, this year is Plaza’s last with the school administration. Next August, instead of preparing for the school year with his former colleagues, Plaza will be traveling around the world as Dean of Students Michael Hicks takes his place. In the fall, he will be in Spain, running with the Spanish bulls in Pamplona and touring Spain as students take part in Running of the Bulls at home.

A man of history

Plaza began his 27-year long education career as a Biology teacher at Miliptas High School, inspired by the childhood teachers who sparked his interest in working with students. Eleven years later, he moved to the FUHSD, where he has worked for 16 years. Since coming to the district, he has worked as a teacher at Homestead High School, an administrator at Cupertino High School, and, of course, an administrator at MVHS. To principal April Scott, his extensive experience in education and administration has been key to the staffís success.

“He has seen a lot of changes, and there’s something about the legacy that’s important,” Scott said. “And the nice part is that he’s not locked into institutional history, but it’s a good thing that he can tell us about it so he can give us a sense of perspective.”

Plaza has played an integral role in assisting the administration to help and inform students by bringing a more personal approach to the administration-student body relationship, making the administration more approachable.

“From my position in terms of guidance,” Plaza said,  “I think we’ve evolved a great deal in terms of trying to get as much information out to kids so that they can make good decisions about their choices. I think we’ve moved from thinking that we have all the answers for students … [to finding] that we need to support students, not just dictate them.”

‘Accidentally’ inspiring

The level of respect he has for MVHS students has gained him the reputation of being a student-centric administrator.
“There’s no question about it that students are at the heart of what he does. He’s committed … to making choices about the school decisions with the students in mind,” Scott said. “He truly loves the students he works with.”

In Plaza’s opinion, working with students has not only been a wonderful opportunity for him, but also an opportunity for mutual growth in a symbiotic relationship.

“Students have touched my life,” Plaza said.  “And by accident, I may have impacted a few others.”

District superintendent Polly Bove, on the other hand, believes that his influence on the student body is no accident.

“He cared so passionately about every kid when he was teaching science,” Bove said. “He believed every kid in his class could learn [Biology] and learn it well. And they believed it, too … I think he’s left behind a legacy of thousands of students who have benefited from their experiences with him.”

To senior Sarah Kelleher, Plaza’s emotional support since freshman year has made him a constant source of encouragement throughout her high school career.

“I was having [bullying] problems with a friend and didn’t know how to deal with it,” Kelleher said. “It seemed that she wasn’t being a friend to me. He told me, ‘In life you need to know who your friends are.’  … He helped me realize that what other people said didn’t matter. He was really instrumental in building my confidence. No one can bring you down except yourself.”

Junior Stephen Kim also feels that Plaza’s impact on the student body is overwhelming.

“There is no [MVHS] without Mr. Plaza,” Kim said. “He’s been a friend, a teacher, counselor, an assistant principal, a principal, too … He’s just been such a big part of almost every aspect of this school and every kind of activity there is.”

Plaza has supported Kim’s passion in violin by helping him explain to teachers his frequent absences due to performances.  Because Plaza also guided his elder siblings, Class of 2006 alumnus Andrew Kim 2006 and Class of 2009 alumnus Veronica Kim, the assistant principal is almost a part of the Kim family.

“You can feel his ability to sympathize and understand his encouragement,” Kim said. “I’d basically miss him not only as an assistant principal, but on a personal level, too. Like how you would miss someone in your family when they go off to college.”

Kelleher believes that the encouragement Plaza embodies will be the aspect of his personality that will be missed the most.

“I’m going to miss his constant positivity, his willingness to help in any situation,” Kelleher said. “He [always tells] you that everything’s going to be fine. A lot of people feel that they donít have that kind of person in their lives. He made everything okay. I don’t think I’ll find anyone quite like him.”

Model human being

As Plaza retires this year, he will be remembered by Bove as “a model of what life ought to be.”

“If there is truly St. Peter of the Holy Gate when you go to heaven,” Bove said, “then I truly hope one of the people holding the gate is [Plaza] because he sees the good in everybody, and he would be able to convince St. Peter that [everybody has] some good … and I’ll tell you, there is no greater gift to anyone who knows him than that.”