By Bill Tamburrino
On June 12, 429 teenagers left Olive Peirce Middle School along with one perpetual kid. That kid was Linda Solis; principal, educator, ambassador and salesperson at OPMS since 1988.
Solis spent more time at OPMS than she did at any one place in her life. A self-described service brat, she said, “I grew up thinking that every body’s dad was a fighter pilot and that everybody moved every three or four years to a new home somewhere in the world.”
Her father, Col. James Cook, was an Air Force pilot who saw action in Korea and Vietnam, and the military upbringing had a profound effect on Solis. Also in her DNA is acting. Her grandparents were in vaudeville, and she grew up wanting to be an actress.
She attended high school in Abilene, Texas, and was a cheerleader and in drama productions. She graduated from Cooper High School and attended the University of Texas.
“I majored in drama, and my mom, Bobbie Cook, thought that I should have a backup plan just in case I didn’t make it on Broadway. So my senior year I added English to my major and got a teaching credential.”
She started teaching in Laredo, Texas, in 1969 and after six years of teaching English and coaching cheer and drama in the Lone Star State, she moved to California. Her husband of 33 years, Jesse, was in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego. She left Texas, but Texas never left Linda. Jesse retired as a senior master chief, and is now working for Grand Canyon University helping service veterans get higher educations. They have one son, Jaime, and two grandchildren, Julia and Andrew, and one on the way.
“I have a great family and I always wanted to instill a family atmosphere in my classes, teams and at school. I wanted the students to take pride in themselves and their school.”
Solis landed a job at Olive Peirce Middle School in 1988 as an English teacher.
“Mrs. Solis had a profound effect on my education and my profession. I never write anything unless I have a dictionary on my desk. I did that all the way through high school and college and I do it now at work. I got that from Mrs. Solis,” said Tina Tamburrino, one of Solis’ first students at OPMS.
In 1992, Solis made the jump from the classroom to the office at OPMS when she became assistant principal. In the fall of 1994, she became principal.
Always the educator and English teacher, she used metaphor and symbolism to get her message across to her staff and students.
“I bought every teacher a compass and told them that we were the crew on a ship taking our students on a very important voyage in their journey,” she said. “I also let them know that I was the captain of the ship and that I had a plan mapped out for them.”
When asked if there were skeptics and how she dealt with them, she answered, “That is where my drama training came in handy. I was so animated and enthusiastic that I tried to get them to just give it a chance.”
The captain guided OPMS to several prestigious destinations. OPMS has received county, state, national and international awards. Solis claims that “Olive Peirce is the greatest middle school in the interplanetary, galactic, solar system.” For sure, one would need a compass to travel that far.
Two of her former students returned to OPMS to teach, Cori McDonald and Jaime King. When asked how many of her former students have gone into education she replied, “Too many to count, but not enough.”
Solis isn’t one to boast about awards. She believes that her most important challenge and job as the captain of the ship was “to establish a mental model for middle school students and parents. That is why I came up with the interplanetary, galactic, solar system. If you shoot at the stars…”
“The awards were good only because they made the students and staff that earned them realize that they accomplished something important by working together for a common cause.”
When asked her most memorable moment, she had two responses. “Every day when OPMS-TV broadcasts the news.” To see middle school students doing a great job in front of the camera and the pride they take in their jobs and school was a daily reward, she said.
“However, I had a tough time holding it together when two OPMS teachers, Ingrid Forbes and Jaime King — who I refer to as “my daughter” — called me up to the podium at the conclusion of promotion. They used one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” to present a Texas flag with the autographs of OPMS students and staff to me. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.”
If she could change one aspect of the educational system, it would be the way the school year is configured. “It is about a 200-year-old model when we were an agricultural society built on harvesting crops. We are the only multibillion dollar business that shuts down for two months a year every year and tries to jump start again. I would prefer a year-round program with vacations and breaks.”
The educator who left Texas is returning to the Lone Star State. Her staff gave her a beautiful compass to help her on her journey.
Solis plans to remain an educator. “I plan on helping out with Texas Schools to Watch and hopefully to do some consulting.”
“It will be very difficult to put Ramona in my rear view mirror,” she said. “I will take nothing but fond memories with me. I will miss Ramona and OPMS.”