CONCORD -- When a student walks into Skip Weinstock's office at Olympic Continuation High School, the 67-year-old teacher immediately makes eye contact and asks what he can do to help.
"I focus on one student at a time, one moment at a time," says the gray-haired, gray-bearded educator, who has taught at the school for 41 years. "While you have my attention, you get 100 percent of me."
Many students think the world of Weinstock, whom they call "Skip." They credit him with keeping them focused on school and helping them figure out what they want to do in life.
"Skip is the kind of person who will take you aside and say, 'You need to get yourself together,'" said Cookieey Ropati, a 17-year-old foster youth living in Pittsburg. "He gives us tough love. He is a father figure for me."
Weinstock said he stayed at the campus for more than four decades because he is committed to working with those who have struggled in life. Olympic accepts students who are behind in credits or who have difficulty fitting in at traditional high schools for a variety of reasons.
Because many students learn by doing, Weinstock cofounded the Service Learning Program on campus in 1976, in which students work in schools and other community organizations. The experience and exposure to new work environments encourages them to pursue careers or areas of study they might not have otherwise considered.
He and a colleague also began the school's leadership program decades ago. Although another teacher took it over for a few years, Weinstock is back in charge this year, getting students revved up for a mock election in November.
At one school board meeting where students were invited to talk about teachers who help and encourage them, Weinstock stood out for the all the right reasons. After hearing the comments, Superintendent Steven Lawrence said: "We need to clone Skip."
Weinstock's devotion to helping others does not stop when the school day ends. About 25 years ago, he began tutoring teens in county detention centers through the Contra Costa County Office of Education.
After several years, he switched from working with juvenile offenders to tutoring homeless women in the Lyle Morris Family Center in Antioch. The women are pursuing their General Education Development certificates, also through the County Office of Education.
"Although I don't know if it's true," he joked, "I refer to myself as the longest lasting part-time employee of the County Office of Education."
Weinstock also works as an educational consultant for Youth Homes, which serves foster youth, by helping place students in local schools.
"I think I have a special place in my heart for people," he said. "My compassion and my drive and my motivation and my desire is to work with populations of learners who have not taken the easy road."
Students at Olympic High say Weinstock treats them with respect and understanding. And he isn't afraid to challenge them, despite their trouble keeping up with their peers at traditional high schools before transferring to Olympic.
"The challenges have to be tempered with an understanding of their experiences, so that what you're asking of them you believe in your heart they can accomplish and you show them that you believe in them," he said. "I think that's the key."
Ruth Zetina, 17, said many students come to Olympic feeling like there are no solutions to their problems, but Weinstock has helped see that is not true at all. "Students usually come into Olympic thinking, 'I screwed up. I wasn't able to succeed' and they feel like there's no hope," she said. "I think his program has helped us succeed in what we want and (to) not look back."
Weinstock also expects them to figure out how to overcome mistakes.
"I want kids to recognize that when they do something they agreed they wouldn't or shouldn't do -- that life goes on and you can make amends if you have to -- and you don't run away," he said.
Although he's reached retirement age, Weinstock said he has no plans yet to leave the job he loves. His students are happy about that.
"He is keeping kids off the streets," Ropati said. "He is the best thing that ever happened to Olympic High School."
Name: Skip Weinstock
Occupation: Teacher at Olympic Continuation High School in Concord, tutor at Lyle Morris Family Center in Antioch, education consultant for Youth Homes serving foster youth. Previously tutored at county youth detention centers.
Claim to fame: Cofounded Service Learning Program in 1976 at Olympic Continuation High in the Mt. Diablo school district; says he may also be the longest-serving part-time Contra Costa County Office of Education employee.
Quote: "I focus on one student at a time, one moment at a time. While you have my attention, you get 100 percent of me."
For more on Olympic's service learning program, go to www.mdusd.k12.ca.us/Olympic and click on Service Learning Program. Additional information can be found in the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment. To see additional quotes from Weinstock and his students, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.
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