El Estoque

A new role

Principal Ben Clausnitzer shares his short-term and long-term goals to improve MVHS

Hannah Lee and Shuvi Jha

Correction 10/17/18 1:25 p.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Diana Goularte’s name.

He walks around campus with a smile on his face, greeting students and teachers with a friendly nod or a quick hello. At one moment, he is in the MVHS office, conversing with Diana Goularte, his executive assistant, regarding his latest scheduled appointments. Soon after, he is in the cafeteria, pausing here and there to greet students and the cafeteria staff. A few minutes pass, and he’s on his way again, now maneuvering through a throng of students to exit the Student Union.

Principal Ben Clausnitzer always tries to present himself in an approachable manner as he makes his rounds on campus. Each wave of the hand, each smile and each gesture of acknowledgement comes easily to him, made possible perhaps due to what he calls the “positive” and “friendly” atmosphere of MVHS, as well as his previous role as the school’s assistant principal.

Clausnitzer is not new to the MVHS community. From 2011 to 2016, he served as the assistant principal at MVHS. Prior to that, he was a math teacher at Homestead HS serving as the department lead and dean of the school. The 2018-19 year marks his 19th year in the Fremont Union High School District, and while his roles have changed over the years — from teacher to admin to principal — Clausnitzer says his principles have remained constant, which is why his positive, outgoing attitude hasn’t changed.

Clausnitzer loves working with students — the human-to-human interactions fill him with joy and an intense sense of gratification. His initial venture into teaching was when he was a high schooler growing up in Pullman, Wash., and later at Washington State University, his alma mater. During this time, he worked as a lifeguard, teaching children’s swim lessons. Born in a family of educators, Clausnitzer had a deep appreciation for education, but it wasn’t until he began teaching these lessons that he realized that education was his future.

“As I was teaching swim lessons, I started recognizing that I can have an impact on students’ lives in a good way,” Clausnitzer said. “Some people are drawn to content. I wasn’t necessarily drawn to content; it really was more about students and having an impact in their lives.”

I just wanted to make sure that I was showing them that I cared and not just having it be left to chance, that they were not just guessing, ‘I don’t know, does Mr. Clausnitzer care about me as a person? I don’t know.”

— Principal Ben Clausnitzer

In this way, Clausnitzer focused on building meaningful relationships with his students when he was a teacher at Homestead HS. He wanted to make sure that he was more than just another authority figure in the room – he wanted to be an adult that his students could trust and rely on.

“I just wanted to make sure that I was showing them that I cared and not just having it be left to chance, that they were not just guessing, ‘I don’t know, does Mr. Clausnitzer care about me as a person? I don’t know,’” Clausnitzer said.

This sense of inclusion has translated to every aspect of Clausnitzer’s career. In fact, one of Clausnitzer’s biggest goals for the new school year is to perpetuate the idea of cooperation among students and staff members. Even when he was a math teacher, Clausnitzer made sure to emphasize this idea of working together, whether that meant inclusiveness among staff members or inclusiveness in the classroom.

“How do you as an educator help students feel empowered enough to be able to say, in that moment, ‘Hey, we haven’t heard from you yet. What are your thoughts on this?’ and actually have students who say, ‘Hey, come on in, you’re part of this as well. You’re included.’”

According to Clausnitzer, it is crucial to recognize the impact that comes from working together to achieve a common goal. When he worked at the district office in the human resources department, he explained that he gained a new perspective on how to serve the FUHSD community. By overseeing 11,000 students and over 1,000 employees within FUHSD, Clausnitzer gained a newfound appreciation for the work that each student and staff member contributed.

“We have a whole host of folks that are doing amazing things in terms of supporting students in ways that are not always visible to others,” Clausnitzer said. “You start saying, ‘Gosh, the work our food service folks are doing, the work that our custodian folks are doing, folks here in the office are doing pretty amazing work, and it’s work that, without being done, the students aren’t getting the support they need, so it’s pretty incredible.”

Clausnitzer hopes to further this student support by providing professional development for staff members to listen to students’ opinions and build positive relationships within their classrooms. By establishing these connections, he believes that MVHS will be able to embrace a more encouraging environment.

“We want to hear that student voice and we want our staff to hear what students have to say,” Clausnitzer said. “The other piece to it is, ‘What are teachers doing?’ Asking teachers, ‘What is it that you’re doing, the first day of school, the first week of school, and beyond, what is it that you’re doing to maintain positive relationships?’”

We want to hear that student voice and we want our staff to hear what students have to say. Asking teachers, ‘What is it that you’re doing, the first day of school, the first week of school, and beyond, what is it that you’re doing to maintain positive relationships?”

— Principal Ben Clausnitzer

In addition to his position as the new principal, Clausnitzer explains that he strives to maintain a balance between the role he plays at MVHS and at home with his family members. In order to spend time with family with his busy schedule, he frequently explores different places in the Bay Area with his wife, a teacher at Homestead HS and his son Owen, a kindergartener at West Valley Elementary School.

“We go down to Monterey [Bay] Aquarium quite often, we go up on Santa Cruz Mountains and we go to the beach. And for me, I [like to] golf and go out with my friends, [although] I’m not that good at it. Or, rather, I should say I’m working on it and with hard work and effort, I will get to where I want.”

Overall, Clausnitzer feels positive about the upcoming year. He wants students to recognize that he too was once in their position, and while academics are important, it is imperative that school be a place that also fosters creativity and exploration. And although it has only been a few months, Clausnitzer thinks that MVHS is already on its way to achieve this goal.

“I think we’re off to a great start,” Clausnitzer said. “It seems like people are smiling and that’s good. I don’t have any data to show that people are feeling good, but it feels like people are having fun and we want to keep that going.”

About the Writer
Hannah Lee, Entertainment Editor

Hannah Lee is a sophomore at MVHS and the entertainment editor for multimedia. She enjoys listening to music, trying new dessert places and pursuing business...