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From the Pentagon to NU

John HartMargaret Christensen, the new principal at Nevada Union High School, talks in her office at the school Tuesday morning.
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After three months, Margaret Christensen knew that not working was not going to work for her.

Nevada Union High School’s new principal had taken a leave from her post as an assistant principal at a Santa Barbara high school to live in St. George, Utah.

“After three weeks, I was starting to go crazy,” Christensen said about her leave from Dos Pueblos High School. “I had nothing to do besides go to the gym every day.”



So Christensen got on the Internet looking for a post as principal. “I felt I was ready to be principal,” she said.

She discovered a job posting for Nevada Union and checked out the school’s test scores on the California Department of Education’s Web site.




“I thought, ‘How can it be that this wonderful school has an opening for a principal?'” Christensen thought.

Others here asked the same question when former NU principal Marilynn Keeble’s replacement, Don Beno, a middle school principal from Truckee, quit after two days.

A 16-member panel, including teachers and two parents, considered about 40 applicants and invited three for campus interviews. Christensen was chosen and started work Sept. 16.

Christensen received her doctorate in education from the University of California at Santa Barbara in June, her master’s degree in English from the University of Utah in 1973, and her bachelor’s degree in English in 1969.

But her chief qualification for managing a place full of youngsters may be the fact that she’s the eldest of 11 children.

Christensen began teaching in her native Wisconsin in 1970 at Butte des Morts Junior High School in Menasha. She has also taught in Bismarck, N.D.

After teaching several years, Christensen joined the Army. A 1990 graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College, her 20-year military career included serving as a plans and operations officer at the Pentagon.

That meant making sure units were prepared and qualified to battle in Desert Storm.

She retired from active duty in 1995 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

“One kid I passed on campus said he was scared of me,” the nearly 5-foot-3-inch Christensen recalled about the reaction to her military background. “I think he was joking.”

Christensen said she loved working at the Pentagon.

“I did things I never imagined I’d be able to do,” she said.

“My dad was in the Navy for 34 years, and my brothers are Vietnam vets.”

There’s a photo of her dad with the Green Bay Packers band, in the back row and holding a tuba.

“My blood has green in it,” said the Green Bay, Wis., native. “Not just from the Army, but from the Packers.”

Even the cover of her doctoral thesis is green. Between the

covers are Christensen’s findings on “Effective Comprehensive High School Administrative Teams,” which “simply are that the determinant of team quality is a sense of belonging,” she said.

People may think the military is “Lock-step and responding to orders barked out,” but she has kept the military motto “Mission first, people always” in mind wherever she has taught.

“I can’t get respect if I don’t give it,” Christensen said about students.

Her last high school had a unique culture where people felt they were part of a family, she said.

Nevada Union is much the same, she said.

“This is a great school,” Christensen said. “There’s nothing here that needs to be turned on its head.”


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