As a boy, Keith Dolan (M.ED ’52, EDD ’61) attended Boy Scout camp where Pauley Pavilion stands today. Before the Southern Branch of the University of California moved from Vermont Avenue to its Westwood campus in 1927, the open fields and hills that are now home to UCLA served as the site of Camp Periee, where boys from all over Southern California spent their summers.
“It was all open territory back then,” Keith explains, “and the camp featured a 14-mile hike through [the hills above Sunset].”
According to Keith, in those days all of Los Angeles looked much different than it does today. He grew up in a house on the corner of Bagley and National, not far from the MGM Studios.
“There were a lot of empty lots back then,” Keith says. “My friends were in some of the ‘Our Gang’ comedies and ‘The Yearling.’” Keith himself was an extra in a few MGM movies in the 1940s, making $10.50 for each gig, which he says was “lots of money then.”
Keith graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in 1945, at the height of the United States’ involvement in World War II. Joining the U.S. Navy, Keith attended three separate colleges – Occidental, Cal Tech, and USC – for one semester each as part of the V-5 training program before being sent to Chicago in the spring of 1946 for pre-flight training.
Considering his decision to join the Navy, Keith says,
“It was the thing to do. Several people I knew growing up had gone off to war and had been killed, but you didn’t really think about [not enlisting]. It was a national effort.”
By the time Keith had completed his training in Chicago at the Great Lakes Boot Camp and then in Washington D.C., the war had ended. Desiring to finish his college education, Keith followed the recommendation of a high school friend and enrolled at Pepperdine University on the GI Bill, where he majored in sociology, minored in math and business, and played on the college’s first football team.
It was at Pepperdine that Keith also began to consider a career as an educator. Looking back over his professional aspirations at the time, Keith says, “My father and brother were both bankers, but I had no desire to follow their path. I had had a lot of good high school teachers, who were great models for me.”
Having loved his high school journalism teacher, Keith says, “It was [originally] my intent to follow a career in journalism, as I had been editor of my high school newspaper and had written numerous articles for the Culver City Daily News before joining the Navy. But during my freshman year at Pepperdine, two of my classmates encouraged me to join them in a teaching methods class during the following summer. Even though the class was centered on the elementary level, I was bitten.”
Deciding to pursue a Master’s in Education, Keith was accepted to both UCLA and USC after his college graduation in 1950. He chose to enroll at UCLA, primarily because of its proximity to his childhood home, where he continued to live while earning his advanced degree. Commuting to campus each day was “no problem. There were always plenty of parking spaces back then,” Keith says, laughing.
Keith enjoyed returning to the campus where he had had so much fun as a child. “I remembered the Gully from my days in Boy Scouts,” he says, referring to the deep trench that ran parallel to Hilgard Avenue and has since been filled in. “The community around UCLA had grown tremendously from when I had been a kid. There had been essentially nothing between Westwood and Miracle Mile when I was growing up.”
As Keith’s grandmother and Corinne Seeds were cousins, Keith was already somewhat familiar with the quality of the UCLA Education faculty before he began his graduate studies there. Having enjoyed his courses in sociology at Pepperdine, Keith enrolled in a couple of classes in sociology at UCLA as well, but quickly found that the education courses were more challenging and engaging.
“I enjoyed my time at UCLA a lot,” Keith reflects. “I had some great professors, including Jesse Bond, who taught secondary curriculum courses and used to sing in his classes. He had a great voice.”
Receiving the highest grade in the class, Keith became Professor Bond’s T.A. In this role, he was responsible for reading fifty papers at the end of the course and grading all of the tests in the class. Bill Briscoe, then the Superintendent of the Santa Monica School District, was also a part time professor at UCLA when Keith was a student.
“He was a great teacher and one of the most wonderful parts of my UCLA education,” Keith recalls. “He was really hands-on and went around to all of the different schools where his former students were teaching to visit us. He was also fun. We would go out after class for a drink, and he smoked terrible cigars.”
Keith had a girlfriend at UCLA, whom he met on the very first day of his Master’s classes.
“She ultimately broke my heart,” he sighs jokingly, “but we had a good time.
“We went to all of the football games at the Coliseum. We sat in the stands and performed card tricks,” he says, describing the section of the stadium where fans raised large colored cards above their heads to create an image or pattern.
“Those were also the days prior to John Wooden, when there was so little interest in basketball that you couldn’t even give your tickets away,” Keith chuckles.
Keith spent much of his time at UCLA at the library, as he loved conducting research in what he describes as one of California’s most beautiful buildings. “I loved the feel of the library,” he says, “I would get there right when it opened and would stay until they turned the lights off.”
By his second semester of the one-year Master’s program, Keith began student teaching at his alma mater, Hamilton High. There, he taught journalism and science classes a few days a week as well as government to seniors. Upon his graduation from UCLA, Keith interviewed with three different school districts and was hired by La Mesa Spring Valley in San Diego County to teach at the middle school level. He taught mathematics and history there for three years while also teaching GED students at night in the San Diego City Schools.
“It proved to be a rapidly growing and innovative district with outstanding leadership,” Keith says.
In 1954, two critical developments occurred in Keith’s professional career. The first was his being offered the position of Vice Principal of La Mesa Junior High School. The second was his return to UCLA, where he began his doctoral studies with a focus on student counseling. By day, Keith served the junior high school as the youngest school administrator in San Diego County. By night, Keith commuted to Westwood to take courses at UCLA. Other courses were on the weekends or over the summer, and in some cases he was able to take UCLA classes down in San Diego County.
“It was a busy time,” he reflects, “but I loved it.”
Considering the faculty in the EDD program, Keith says, “Malcolm MacLean was a fantastic human being. He taught teaching and guidance and was considered kind of a maverick in the department. But he was always available to his students and so open, anytime you wanted to talk. He was a great teacher and a great influence in my life.”
MacLean was Keith’s doctoral dissertation advisor. For his dissertation, Keith conducted research on how counseling and guidance can positively affect students’ reading scores, a research interest that he applied throughout his career.
“Had I not been in administration, I would have gone into counseling,” he reflects. “It was really my strength as a principal.”
Keith received his EDD in the spring of 1961. In 1956, he was promoted to principal of Spring Valley Junior High, where he served until being offered the principalship at San Bernardino High School in 1960. He would be the school’s youngest principal, serving there for seven years.
“Sociology was a wonderful background for me as a principal,” Keith says. “There was so much diversity at San Bernardino, and my studies in sociology taught me early on that access and equality in education are most important. Your race and your background should never preclude you from getting a quality education, and I carried that commitment with me as an administrator.”
At San Bernardino High School, Keith says he was able to try some of the ideas he had embraced during his doctoral studies at UCLA. He became known as “the guy without a desk,” as he removed the desk from his office to be able to meet with students, parents, and teachers on a more informal basis. Explaining this decision, Keith says,
“The desk was a barrier, and I wanted to be able to connect with students and show them that I was invested in them and in their futures.”
Having begun a program in Spring Valley in which he visited with parents and family members in their homes, Keith continued this program at San Bernardino to better understand the background and influences of his students.
While at San Bernardino High, Keith also taught secondary curriculum and administrative credential classes for both the University of Redlands and the University of California-Riverside. At Redlands, Keith met Dr. Robert West, then the Dean of the School of Education. When Cal State-San Bernardino opened in 1965, Dr. West became its Dean of Education and asked Keith to join its staff as a full professor starting in 1967.
Keith served as Professor of Education at Cal State-San Bernardino for twenty six years, helping to create and coordinate the programs of Secondary Teacher Training and the initial administrative program. In 1986, he was honored with the university’s prestigious Meritorious and Professional Promise Award.
Throughout his career, outside of his day job, Keith was involved in various education evaluation and research projects. At Redlands, he was asked to complete an evaluation of a research program about reading achievement founded by the state. During the 1970s and 1980s, he served as a consultant to 30 different school districts in California, writing and evaluating state and federal projects.
While he officially retired from Cal State-San Bernardino in 1993, Keith quickly realized that he “couldn’t stand a sedentary life.” Reapplying to the San Bernardino City Schools, he taught GED classes four days a week for unmarried mothers who wanted to complete their high school education. Keith says this was one of the most satisfying positions he ever held.
In 1995, Keith relocated to the San Diego area and spent the better portion of the year writing two books, a textbook titled “School–Community Relations,” and a book featuring 365 days of key moments in American sports history titled, “Sports Almanac USA.” Coincidentally, Chapman University adopted “School–Community Relations” as one of its administrative texts, and when Keith applied for a part-time position there, they were already familiar with his work. Chapman University offered him the position, and for ten years he taught curriculum and administration courses to future school principals.
Keith also served as an interim principal in four districts before his full retirement in 2005.
Resisting a sedentary life, Keith has spent his retirement traveling around the world with his wife, Linda, and participating in speaking engagements around the state. As an amateur sports historian, most of his speaking engagements are about “Sports Almanac USA,” but occasionally service clubs invite him to talk about his experiences as a teacher and administrator.
Looking back over his career, Keith sees UCLA as critical to his success.
“I had a wonderful career,” he says. “UCLA made it richer. I had outstanding teachers and learned how to be effective as an administrator.”
While Keith says that he enjoyed teaching, it was his administrative positions, particularly his role as a high school principal, in which he felt most able to make a difference. “I had very high standards for my teaching staff,” Keith explains.
“I was always in the classroom, observing them and working with them on how to improve.”
Keith also believes that being fair, honest, consistent and hard-working is critical to the success of a principal in any school.
“It’s important to be active and involved,” he says. “Bad administrators are one of the biggest problems with schools today. You can have great teachers, but if they aren’t getting the support they need then they can’t be very effective in the classroom.”
As a principal, Keith particularly enjoyed mentoring students and helping them succeed. He remembers one student in particular who struggled in school but was an excellent athlete. Keith worked closely with him and got him to stay in school after the football season had ended by transferring him into baseball and working with him and with his teachers to improve his grades. Taking great strides to improve their learning and life outcomes, Keith was committed to realizing the potential of each student.
“If you can help a kid out who is about to drop out of school, you make a difference in [his] life,” he reflects. “So many teachers aren’t willing to invest in the troubled kids, but they [are the students who] need positive role models the most. They need someone to believe in them. The best educators do.”