John Lupini knows what it’s like to need a second chance.
“It took me straights A’s my senior year to graduate with a 2.0 (GPA),” the 58-year-old principal said. “And, I’ve told the kids that.”
Lupini will retire at the end of the month after 27 years in the Los Banos Unified School District — 26 of those at San Luis High.
For many locals, San Luis High carries a stigma — it’s where the “bad kids” go. That’s an undue reputation, Lupini said. Before the housing development expanded north of town, San Luis High sat at the city’s edge.
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“We were the school at the end of a dead-end street on the other side of the railroad tracks, literally,” Lupini said, adding the stigma has been around since day one.
Alternative education is for students who for whatever reason — issues at home, substance abuse, foster care or legal issues, to name a few — have fallen behind and need a chance to catch up.
“(In) alternative education, as I usually tell people, the highs are higher and the low are lower,” Lupini said.
Los Banos Continuation School, what San Luis High was previously called, was formed in 1968 and moved to its Seventh Street location three years later.
Since 1988, 1,812 students have graduated; that includes local business owners, a teacher on the San Luis High campus and a member of the Los Banos Police force, among others. The numbers previous to ‘88 were not immediately available.
“I look at this as 1,800-plus kids that were given a second chance and they deserve it, they got it and they beat the odds,” Lupini said.
Lupini has also overseen the expansion from one to seven classrooms, the addition of a library on campus and the offering of San Luis’ first music class, a guitar course.
The campus was recognized as a “model school” in 2003 and carried that label until the district could no longer maintain a 20-1 student to teacher ratio.
Lupini’s father, who worked in the aerospace industry, was constantly on the move. So, he knows what it’s like to be shuffled into a new school.
Lupini said he grew up all over California — San Diego, Sacramento, Altadena and Pasadena — and never spent more than two years at any one school.
When Lupini took a teaching job in 1988 at alternative education school San Luis High, his only co-worker was the principal. Lupini said he knew he wanted to teach high school.
“This was a chance to teach kids who were similar to me, in a way,” he said.
Lupini passed through a Regional Occupational Program, a form of alternative education, to finish high school.
He enlisted in 1972 in the Navy, where he was a drug-abuse counselor.
“I always started out training and education, even when I was in the service,” Lupini said. “Then I got into teaching ... you end up where you need to be.”
San Luis High is up to seven full-time instructors, as well as Lupini, an administrative assistant and part-timers.
A new principal will have to fill his shoes before students return for the coming school year. He advised his successor to know his or her population, give them a chance and “fight like hell to make sure they get it.”
“I am typing a letter that I’m going to leave on my keyboard for the person that replaces me,” he said. “I thought I could cover it in a page — it’s on page five now.”
Lupini, who rides a Triumph Bonneville, said he has plans in mind for his retirement, including stepping up his role in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“I’m going to focus on veterans affairs, the VFW in town, travel with my wife,” Lupini said, “and see if I can wear the tires off my motorcycle.”