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Now that the foundation is firmly in place, two of the key architects of the Petaluma City Schools innovative Sixth Grade Academy are turning the program over to new builders. Petaluma Junior High Principal John Lehmann and Danny Bever, one of the two founding teachers of the program, are retiring at the end of the current school year.

Lehmann said the search is already moving rapidly along for both a new principal and a new academy teacher. "I've had such a great long career here that I wanted to give the search committee a chance to get the pick of the crop of new administrators," he said. In the summer, there will be many districts looking for top principals."

The Sixth-Grade Academy is a school within a school. It is a charter school for sixth graders located on the Petaluma Junior High school campus. The school is technologically advanced, with every student using I-Pads and Smart Boards in both classrooms. An important aspect of the academy is community involvement, and students make many trips to observe in real life what they learn in the classroom.

"It has been fantastic to help design such an innovative program," Lehmann said. "You don't often get that opportunity."

Bever was one of two teachers brought in to implement the program. He concentrated on math and science, while his partner, Dana Rocca, teaches English and social science.

"The chemistry between the two of them was phenomenal," the principal said. "They created a lot of the lessons themselves."

Response to the academy has been strong. Registration for its third year is now underway, and Lehmann said the program is nearing capacity with almost no advertising.

"A lot of the heavy lifting has been done," Lehmann said. "Danny will be hard to replace, but with Dana still here, I don't see anything but success."

Lehmann, who has been principal of the junior high school for the past 15 years, will stay through the end of June to help familiarize the new principal with the school and allow him or her to be in a position to get to know the school faculty and staff at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

Lehmann said that he has thoroughly enjoyed his career, and especially his time at Petaluma Junior High School, but now is the right time for him to retire. "I've always said that when the family, the finances and the health all lined up, it would be time," he said. "Right now is a good time for me."

Lehmann turned 60 last August.

While much is being made these days about dual immersion language schools, Lehmann started his professional career at a Spanish duel immersion school in Southern California. Among other stops on his professional journey were tenures at Petaluma High School as both a Spanish teacher and assistant principal.

He said of all his educational experiences, being at Petaluma Junior High School has been the best. "Junior high school students are the best age for me," he said. "I find them invigorating and rewarding. I've had a chance to use all the professional experience I've ever had at the junior high school."

For Lehmann, Petaluma Junior High School has been a family affair. His eldest daughter started the seventh grade at the school the year he became principal, and three years later his youngest daughter joined him as a student.

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In his years at the school, Lehmann has seen many changes in education, both nationally and locally. The biggest, he said, was the national No Child Left Behind legislation. "We (educators) have a love, hate relationship with it," he said. "We have to deal with the data collection and all that goes along with it, but it has required us to reflect on the performance of everyone. For the first time, we had to look at how every group is doing. It forced us to bring everyone's standards up."

He has also seen some major changes at his own school, including renovations to the quad area, a new library and a complete re-doing of the school office, all made possible by the passage of a district bond measure. Block scheduling and allowing students to study as teams has also been a major positive change, according to the principal.

But the biggest change, according to the principal, has been in the attitude at the school. "When we began paying attention to the educational needs of all the students, they become more confident and that makes them calmer, more courteous and productive," he said.

Now he is leaving that community with fond memories. "A bad day at Petaluma Junior High School is better than a good day in 80 percent of the other school districts," he said.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@ar guscourier.com.)