Bijou School founder/principal to step down after this year

       Wayne Hutchison, who helped start the Bijou School (then called EOP East) in 1995 and has been its principal ever since, will step down after this school year.

Notorious for (and happy with) his messy desk, Bijou School founder/Principal Wayne Hutchison sits behind it in a recent photo in his office. He will retire when the current school year ends in May.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “It's sort of been my baby,” he said in a recent interview. “We've been through four name changes and five locations.”
       Most recently - at least until this year - the alternative high school he heads had been on North Walnut Street (in the original Bristol school building). District 11 moved it to the Whittier School in 2009-10 as part of a district-wide closure/ consolidation plan.
       Whittier will also be the site of a going-away barbecue “luau” for the retiring principal Friday, May 21 from 10:30 to noon. It is open to students, staff and “all of the incredible people that I have had the pleasure to work with through the years,” he said.
       A new Bijou principal has not yet been hired.
       Hutchison's 21-year career in education has focused on “alternative” students - kids who for different reasons (sometimes “normal” school regimentation, sometimes personal problems, sometimes the potential to learn on a faster track) choose a less structured style of learning.
       He himself is a Coronado High graduate who went on to earn a biology degree from Colorado University. He had experiences in his post-college years that helped shape some of his ideas. These included working with VISTA in barrios and ghettos in Houston and, from 1977-88, investigating sexually transmitted diseases through the Center for Disease Control, chiefly out of Seattle. “I was the cleanup guy,” he said. “It was kind of fun.” He also met a wide variety of people. One recollection involves riding in a car with a client who, when asked about his background, remarked, “I killed a couple of guys.”
       But Hutchison missed Colorado and started liking the idea of a teaching job with, as he put it, a “three-month-off gig.” So it was that in 1989 he could be found as a part-time science teacher in District 11's alternative school program that was then on North Walnut Street. Simultaneously, he also taught part-time night school in Englewood.
       Otherwise, all of his educational employment has been with District 11, except 1994-95, when he started an alternative high school in District 20. “I fell in love with that [alternative education],” he said in a recent interview. “I loved the whole informality of it.”
       One of his favorite features, in fact, is being known by his first name only. “My name was 'Wayne' from Day 1,” he said.
       After seeing Hutchison's District 20 work, District 11 asked him to start an alternative school in fall 1995. He was not given a lot of lead time. Hutchison recalls the saga vividly: “There was a push for District 11 to have an alternative school on the east side. We had five days to find 2 teachers and 50 students.”
       The first location for EOP East was an “empty building with broken furniture,” with [at first] no phone and no secretary. Yet somehow he met the deadline, finding kids mainly from school waiting lists and teachers from applications at the administration building. “The district wasn't willing to put money into the school until it was sure it would work,” he said. “But within six weeks, we had it going, and kids were earning points.”
       The district still has the other alternative school. Located at the North Walnut site going back to the early '70s it moved in 1999 to the new Tesla Educational Center on the older east side.
       Meanwhile, Hutchison's EOP East was moving also. One of those moves, in 1997, put it in a building on East Bijou Street. That was when he decided to change the name to “Bijou Alternative.” He also liked the idea that bijou is another word for a gemstone.
       When the Tesla Center opened, the district perceived a need to bring an alternative school back to the Westside. So, ironically, the school that had started as EOP East geographically “switched places” with the Tesla program and moved into the North Walnut site in 2001. Hutchison gave the school its current name in 2003.
       Age 56 now, he gave three main reasons for retiring after this year: one, the district pension plan is being revised and may not be as remunerative to retirees next year; two, he would like to spend more time with his family; and three, once he leaves the district, he is considering working with alternative education “in a different way.”
       He does have concerns about the district's future, considering the multi-million-dollar budget issues being faced this year, with more of the same anticipated next year. He is even concerned about the survivability of the public school system. “I hope that Dr. [Nicholas] Gledich [the district superintendent] can steer us through these stormy waters,” Hutchison commented.
       But as he departs, he said he is relieved that, at least for the coming year, “I've been assured that Bijou will remain where it is. There is a need for an alternative school on the Westside.”

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