For Steve Carlton, the Robert Bateman Secondary 20th anniversary celebrations this weekend felt a little bit like a family reunion.
Carlton, currently the assistant superintendent of schools in the Abbotsford School District, was the first principal at Bateman and held the post for 10 years.
“Coming back this week, it’s kind of like seeing how it all turned out,” he said with a smile.
“And how’s it going, 20 years later? Better than we could have imagined.”
Launching Bateman Secondary was a project close to Carlton’s heart. As a teen growing up in Burlington, Ont., he attended the same high school where Robert Bateman, prior to his rise to fame as a wildlife artist and naturalist, served as an art and geography teacher.
Years later, Carlton was in his second year as principal at W.J. Mouat Secondary when the school board decided to name the new high school in northeast Abbotsford after Bateman – a nod to the campus’s proximity to Bateman Road.
“I applied, and the board said, ‘Why would you want that job? You’re already the principal of a big school,'” Carlton recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t really want to leave Mouat, but I really do want to work with Robert Bateman and cultivate that relationship.'”
The school’s namesake artist had a great deal of influence on the building and philosophy of the school. His painting “Clear Night – Wolves” inspired the choice of both the Timberwolves mascot and logo, and the school’s motto: Eye to eye with respect.
Bateman also designed and built the waterfall that greets visitors inside the main entry.
“His notion was, as soon as you’d enter the school, you’d have an experience with art,” Carlton explained.
“He created that (waterfall) – he mortared it, he cemented it. I carried the rock.”
Carlton still rates spearheading the start-up of Bateman Secondary as his greatest career highlight, and the school honoured him on Friday by naming their track and football field “Carlton Oval” after him.
“It’s probably a sign that you should retire when they start naming things after you,” he joked.
Bateman himself came to the school on Friday for a series of assemblies with students to mark the 20th anniversary.
“It was really motivational for our kids,” said Linda Pollastretti, the school’s vice-principal. “His sort of paradigm is, he wants kids to be one with nature.
“The kids were talking about it all afternoon.”
Saturday’s festivities included tours of the school for visitors, alumni basketball and rugby games, and a barbecue. In the evening, the event wraps up with an adults-only dance and silent auction in support of the school’s outdoor education classroom.