Worden playing Teyve, 2010
There’s a line in “Fiddler on the Roof” where Reb Teyve says to God: “Sometimes I think, when it gets too quiet up there, You say to Yourself, ‘What kind of mischief can I play on my friend Tevye?’”
One can only wonder if that line is playing back in Mammoth Middle and High School Drama teacher Kevin Worden’s head these days.
Worden, who played Reb Teyve in Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre’s 2010 production of “Fiddler,” is at risk of losing his job over a pair of incidents which have occurred this school year, incidents which Worden himself describes as “stupid.”
He was pink-slipped by the school district on March 15, indicating he would not be invited back to teach next year.
On Thursday evening, March 22 MUSD’s Board of Education met in closed session to deliberate employment, resignations and/or reassignment of various “pink slipped” Certificated and Classified employees, presumably including Worden. No action was taken and the matter will likely be taken up again during the Board’s April meeting.
The fundamental question is whether or not Worden built up enough goodwill during his first 25 years as Mammoth High’s Drama teacher to warrant a mulligan for what’s happened in year 26.
The two incidents which have occurred were described by Worden as follows:
1.) In a typical acting exercise for class, Worden has students leave the room, create a character, and then return to the room to present that character to the class. With Worden’s knowledge and consent, one of his middle schoolers decided to portray a porn star.
Worden said he cut the presentation short after about twenty seconds once he realized that it wasn’t such a great idea. The lapse of judgment, however, earned him a suspension.
2.) Worden owns a prop gun which shoots blanks. The gun was broken. A student told Worden he thought he could fix it, so Worden gave it to him to bring home for repair.
The gun was then displayed in a later class. The student told Worden that a fellow student had spotted it in his knapsack and pulled it out.
Mammoth Police were summoned but ultimately determined the matter was not criminal and best resolved by the school district.
In a phone conversation this week, Worden, 60, said that he hoped to teach five or six more years.
He currently is a part-timer, with one middle school and one high school course.
He also directs all the high school plays. The spring musical, Leader of the Pack, is set to open April 5.
“My kids are currently in 9th and 11th grade. I want to be here to see them finish. If I’m let go, I wouldn’t be on campus. That’s what’s killing me. It’s not about the money. I don’t make any money.”
“I’m not mad at [Superintendent Rich] Boccia. I’ve had good, civil conversations with him.”
But what Worden wants most of all is his job. Without it, he doesn’t know what he would do.
“I think I deserve maybe a little bit of a break,” he said.
As for Boccia, he had kind words for Worden. “To me, he’s such a talented guy, connected to so many kids, but he does things once in awhile that make me scratch my head.”
Boccia’s concern is that the multiple events which have occurred of late could expose the district to legal liability should another event occur.
“How do I know a lesson has been learned?” asked Boccia rhetorically, who added a little maxim of his own in parting. “Don’t step in the same hole twice.”
Former students of Worden’s have started a letter writing campaign on his behalf. One of eleven such letters (thus far) is printed here.
TO: The Board of Directors of the Mammoth Unified School District
I am a 1998 Mammoth High School Graduate. I now live in New York City, and work in Television as a Technical Director and Director.
I recently learned that the board has decided not to have Kevin Worden return to MUSD next year.
While I know the board must have its reasons, I wanted you to know that as a successful product of the Mammoth School system, I am dismayed by the board’s decision.
I owe much of what I’ve accomplished in my life to Kevin. I’ve been a student of Kevin’s since I was a very young kid; he was my drama teacher, as well as a physical education teacher. And, I continue to learn from Kevin today when I return to Mammoth to work with him on various Mammoth High School theatre projects.
Kevin’s teaching style may not be traditional, but as teachers goes he is one of the best I’ve had throughout all of my years in school, including my college education at Chapman University. Kevin teaches not only about theatre, but about life in a sense that who you are matters much more than what you know. He stresses the importance of trust and being reliable. Reminding students that how you carry yourself defines you much more than how many math problems you can solve or how many dates you can memorize.
As a youngster, I was faced with many challenges due to my vision (Ed. note: Thompson was born with cataracts and had to have his lenses removed at a young age). Apart from my parents and a few other teachers, Kevin is the one person that I can say truly made me who I am today: a three-time Emmy Award winning Technical director, freelancing at both Fox News and MSNBC. I believe that speaks volumes of not only the great work of my parents, but the kindness and knowledge that I attribute directly to Kevin Worden.
Kevin’s drama classes are much more than just the nuts and bolts of theatre. They are classes that promote real life interactions. And in this day and age of social networking and email, I believe what students in Mammoth gain from Kevin and drama is an invaluable part of their education.
I strongly urge the board to reconsider its decision to end close to twenty-five years of such education in Mammoth and have Kevin Worden return to MUSD.
MHS Class of 1998