ATWATER -- Alan Peterson is an imposing figure at 6 feet, 7 inches tall. With his new blue hairdo, he's even more attention-getting.
Peterson is in his fourth year as principal at Atwater High School. He fulfilled a commitment last spring to dye his hair blue if students did well on state achievement testing. Bright blue hair covers the top of his Mohawk and the outline of a Falcon, the school mascot, shows through the hair on the right side of his head.
"He looks like Avatar," said Nathan Braga, the school's activities director. "It was awkward at first, but I think he looks amazing."
The Atwater High campus is painted white with prominent blue accents. Peterson's water-soluble tempura paint is a bright blue that gets lighter day by day.
"This is probably a one-time experience," Peterson said. "I think every principal should try it. We set the bar high enough I didn't think it would happen. When it does, you have to follow through."
Peterson thinks fellow Merced High School Principal John Olson would look excellent with an orange Mohawk. Olson has other ideas.
"What little hair I have left would not look good in orange and black," Olson said. "He (Peterson) looked like three Smurfs standing on each other's shoulders. I had an incredibly good hair month and am not going to do anything to jeopardize it."
A week ago Atwater High held two welcome-back rallies for its 1,800 students. The Mohawk, hair and face-painting drills were conducted in two separate assemblies to accommodate all the students.
"Sometimes you say things that get taken to the extreme," Peterson said. "It started out as a joke. I promised I would wear a blue Mohawk for the month of August. I walk around campus like there's nothing different, and they get used to it."
Daniel Motz, a senior, is student body president.
"I think it's great," Motz said. "It put a big smile on my face and definitely amped up the school on Friday and made for a great rally."
Alexis Montoya, a junior, is student body treasurer. She said Peterson's transformation was a huge motivator and rewarded students for their hard work in bringing up state test scores.
Janis Edwards, who teaches sophomore English, has several blue streaks in her hair and it will take several weeks for the color to disappear.
"This is the first time I have ever dyed my hair," Edwards said. "The kids thought it was just temporary but it's not going away. They were impressed."
Lori Myers-Jantz teaches special education. She also is sporting blue streaks in her hair which should last for a month.
"A promise is a promise, and I'm sticking to it," Myers-Jantz said. "They (students) believe in us, and they know we believe in them. Mr. Peterson is an awesome leader."
Peterson said his 10-year-old daughter Olivia and 14-year-old daughter Sydney were embarrassed by the blue hair. Olivia was not thrilled about accompanying her dad to the grocery store last Sunday.
His 16-year-old son, Ben, an Atwater High student, gladly assisted with the painting during the rally.
Braga said about 20 teachers dyed their hair blue along with Peterson.
Peterson plans to wash the color out of his hair over the weekend, get his hair trimmed and expects to be back to normal Monday. When he attended a recent Central California Conference meeting at Buhach Colony High School, he said he took his share of ribbing from fellow principals.
While he admits he probably wouldn't do it again, Peterson thinks a Mohawk dyed in matching school colors would be a good look for his peers:
"Mr. Olson and Mr. Aguilar (Golden Valley High School's principal) both complimented me on how good the Mohawk looked. They wish they had one just like it."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.