As a journalist I've had the chance to work with people who knew better than me. Dr. Jacob Rankin was one of those people.
Rankin died on Wednesday at the age of 84. He was the superintendent for the Porterville Unified School District for 27 years before retiring in 2001.
My first full-time job as a reporter was with The Recorder when I began as the education reporter in 1989. I've tried to think of a fitting word to describe Rankin and while I have to admit I'm not entirely satisfied with the word, the word that keeps coming to mind is professional.
Nobody ever treats everybody exactly the same but when it came to how he cultivated relationships, Rankin came about as close to achieving something like that as anyone I've ever known. I'm sure he basically treated me, an inexperienced reporter, exactly the same way as say a grizzled veteran of a teacher who had been teaching for decades.
Rankin was never condescending to me as an inexperienced reporter. But he didn't coddle me, either. Whenever I interviewed him I'm sure he talked to me in the same manner as if he was talking to that grizzled veteran of a teacher when that teacher came to his office.
A few years later I was obviously more experienced and had a lot better handle on the education beat and the education terms that were used which I referred to as “educationese.” (I do remember asking administrators like Rankin, “OK explain this to me like I was 2,” and that was a time when he understood he did have to coddle me just a bit).
Rankin knew I was a Strathmore High graduate and he had a dream. He wanted to establish some kind of advanced, charter-type high school and thought Strathmore was the perfect place to do it.
So eventually while still keeping our relationship professional, Rankin felt comfortable enough to ask me if those in the Strathmore High School community would consider joining the Porterville School District.
This is the one time I was condescending to Rankin and arrogant. I mean I was from Strathmore after all, so I would certainly know more about this than Rankin. But even though I'm sure I came off condescending, Rankin remained professional.
I violated the rule of never say never. I said it would never happen. Never would Strathmore ever join the Porterville School District. Those in Strathmore have too much pride in their community and too much pride in their high school, I told Rankin.
Rankin took it all in stride. Again he remained professional but I did detect a slight grin as if to say “I'll show you.”
Again, I wished I could come up with a better word, but Rankin eventually did lead the way for Strathmore High School to join the Porterville School District. And it was because of his professionalism.
Because of that professionalism, Rankin was able to negotiate a lot of actions that I don't think is an overstatement to say have transformed the Porterville School District. I hate to think what the Porterville School District would be like without Rankin's professionalism.
And of course there would be no Harmony Magnet Academy — which consistently ranks among the best charter schools there is — without Rankin's professionalism.
Of course he proved me wrong. He wasn't the first person to prove me wrong and he won't be the last. I don't think I'll ever learn.
And of course Rankin knew better than me. He was the professional and I wasn't. Of course he knew Strathmore would be more than willing to establish some kind of advanced high school and join the Porterville School District because Strathmore knew it would become a better community because of it.
You would think someone like me who was from Strathmore would have known that, too. At least would have been more professional about it. Like Rankin.
I will forever be grateful for what Rankin did for me. For my community, Strathmore. Because he knew better.
Charles Whisnand is the Porterville Recorder Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 784-5000, extension 1048.