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Meet David Crowley of San Pedro High School

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Crowley.

David, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
When I hear my students say “Mr. Crowley Rocks!” I realize I made the right choice. You see, I wasn’t always a high school English/Journalism/Social Media teacher. I began my career as an entertainment publicist working with some of the biggest music stars in the world including Michael Jackson, Guns N Roses, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Stryper, Mojo Nixon, Joe Walsh, Psychedelic Furs, Dramarama, and even some non-music clients like Guitar Center, Corey Feldman, Fabio, and Kato Kaelin. I worked at Enigma Records and Geffen Records and Solters, Roskin, Friedman PR. I signed several bands to record deals and it was quite a 20-year ride. Ironically, it was also a ride that made me change my life. As I was riding as a passenger with actor Corey Feldman at the wheel, I realized something had to change. Corey is a very aggressive driver and we were speeding down the 101 freeway and to tell you the truth I was very nervous. I was already tiring of my career as a publicist and a manager and I was questioning whether this was the path I was meant to travel.

As we were swerving between cars, all I could think of was James Dean and wondered if my legacy in the world would be that of the unknown passenger who was killed in the car wreck that took the life of the another star of the film “Stand By Me.” I would be collateral damage in a celebrity car crash, a tragic footnote. It was then I knew I needed to make a change. Shortly after, I left my career and took some time off to figure out what was missing in my life. When I attended Cal State Fullerton back in the 80s, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I did, however, have serious thoughts of becoming a teacher as I had had so many great ones in my life. However, I was side-tracked when I started booking bands for the university which led to my entertainment career. Now it was time to revisit becoming a teacher. When I started teaching, there was a shortage of teachers and I was offered a job and an emergency credential at San Pedro High School due to having developed a reputation as a great substitute teacher. Soon after, I secured a clear teaching credential from CSUDH and enjoyed a great career as a 9th and 10th grade English Teacher, AVID 10 teacher, Gay-Straight Alliance founder and faculty sponsor, creator of our social media elective, and founder of the schools first Glee/Show Choir class. My test scores were great and I was enjoying my job and raising my 10-year-old son.

Well, due to budget cuts and competition from a new charter school, enrollment at San Pedro High School I was about to be displaced from SPHS. This was terrible news for me, my school, and especially my students. But, just like in the movies, when all hope seemed lost, I was informed that I was chosen as one of five teachers from San Diego to Simi Valley to be honored by the Southern California Honda Dealers as well as by the LA City Council. Honda and the City Council showed up with TV Cameras and reporters and they surprised me with $5000 in iPads and computers for me to use with my kids, and an award, and it was wonderful. Well, when all the local news gpot wind I was being displaced, calls came pouring in to save my job and finds a way to keep me at San Pedro High School. My principal was able to accomplish this by offering me a position in Special Education as a Special Day Class English teacher. There was just one catch; I’d have to get a credential in Special Education. So I did. I enrolled in LAUSD’s District Intern Program to get my special education credential. It was in this program that my unusual skill as an educator came to the attention of the district. After observing my work, they nominated me for the California Teacher Corps Outstanding Educator of the Year, and the National Association of Alternative Certification’s National Teacher of the Year Award and I won both. Soon after, NBC’s Today Show got wind of my vocabulary basketball game which uses basketball to teach vocabulary and chose me as one of the five most inspiring teachers in the country. I particularly liked this award because it was about being a teacher who inspires and that is what I take the most joy in. Inspiring my students to believe in themselves and accomplish things they thought impossible filled the void in my life. I was nominated by a student for the Barnes and Noble Favorite Teacher of the Year and his letter brought me to tears: Mr. Crowley Matters By Juan Ortiz “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down.

No matter what anybody says to you don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird So many of us first learned these lessons from Atticus Finch in one of my favorite novels To Kill a Mockingbird, but I learned them firsthand from my 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Crowley. He is my Atticus Finch, he is our school’s Atticus Finch. He taught me so much more than just how to conjugate a verb or write an essay, he taught me about integrity, courage, justice, empathy, and pride…lessons I wasn’t going to receive at home. You see, when your father’s in jail, your mother isn’t interested in being in your life, you’ve been bounced around the foster care system for the last eight years and on top of it all you’re gay, you learn not to trust people, you learn not to count on things, you get used to being ridiculed, you begin to think your life doesn’t matter. And then you walk into your 9th grade English class and meet Mr. Crowley and that all begins to change. Mr. Crowley makes you believe your life matters. Like Atticus Finch, Mr. Crowley teaches by example and supports and defends the defenseless.

Fifteen years ago he started the school’s first Gay Straight Alliance Club — not an easy thing to do in a longshoreman-town like San Pedro. It is now one of the largest clubs on campus. He taught me, and countless others, to keep my fists down and use my head, he taught me to be proud of who I was and not let people define me by who I chose to love. When it looked like all the GSA’s in Los Angeles were not going to be able to march in the LA Pride parade, it was Mr. Crowley who marshaled the forces of the LGBT community and made sure over 300 kids could march with their heads held high. And it’s not just the LGBT kids he fights for, if you don’t have a dad, Mr. Crowley is guy who will listen, give advice, and even teach you how to tie your tie. Mr. Crowley showed me that I could be a leader and actually follow my dream of joining the Air Force, that there were many LGBT people serving our country, and that one day things would change and I could be a part of it. Well, he was right; I managed to become the first openly gay Cadet Commander of the AFJROTC and was voted King of the Military Ball. Our Atticus, Mr. Crowley, believes our lives matter and that’s why he matters so much to all of us. ### That letter was the true reward.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There were several bumps along the road to happiness and satisfaction. Switching careers took a real toll mentally, For 20 years I had wrapped my whole identity up in being a music executive and people would find your career truly interesting and want to talk to you about it. Doors were opened, tables were reserved, all access was granted. People would ask what you do for a living and were fascinated by the answer. It was a life of privilege. Becoming a teacher changed all that, people are kind when you tell them you’re a teacher, but they lose interest quickly and some are even a little patronizing. It was a difficult adjustment switching from a glamorous career to one that is so very un-glamorous. It took a few years to become a really good teacher and feel like a really good teacher and once I began seeing the impact I was having on the lives of my students, then I began to feel good about myself again.

Getting displaced the first time because of budget cuts was a crushing experience, even though it led to getting a second credential and bringing me to the attention of my school district. You develop relationships with your school community and when they are torn apart over budget cuts and seniority, it really hurts. Finally, starting the first Gay Straight Alliance in San Pedro 18 years ago was a struggle. San Pedro is a longshoreman town and there were no gay LGBTQ organizations or clubs in Pedro. The SPHS GSA is the oldest LGBTQ organization in San Pedro. The first day we held a meeting there was a huge crowd of people surrounding the bungalow/classroom. They all wanted to see who was gay. Security needed to be called and the crowd was dispersed. Nowadays, it’s not even a thing. That said, kids still get bullied here and there for being gay. We’ve done a lot of work over 18 years to change the culture on campus.

San Pedro High School – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from others?
San Pedro High School is exactly that a high school. I teach English, Journalism and Social Media. I think what sets me apart from others is I try to do things differently, I try to connect with my students on a human level first. Great teaching is all about making connections. The magic of learning happens when a teacher connects with a student and then the student connects with a concept or idea. I’ve been called “the teen whisperer” because kids listen to me. I think teenagers want authenticity and they have excellent bullsh*t detectors. If they sense you are being authentic with them, and that you truly care about their well-being, they will rise to your expectations. It’s my job to make them believe in themselves, to show them what’s possible. I think good teachers are ambassadors of possibility. I certainly hope I am.

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in a liberal household in conservative Orange County California. I attended St. John the Baptist elementary in Costa Mesa and Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. I was a skinny kid with thick glasses, but a very good sense of humor. What I lacked in athletic ability, I made up for by being funny, and a class clown, but a clown with good grades. I was a smart-ass that could answer a teacher’s question and I enjoyed the attention I received by making people laugh. I enjoy skiing and traveling with my 15-year-old son. I love great books and TV shows. I just finished my friend Steven Rowley’s novel “The Editor” and it made me laugh and cry. Two of my favorite emotions. I can binge watch the hell out of a good Netflix or Amazon series and I’m dying to know who will win the iron throne. Travel is my favorite thing to do. I love bike riding through European cities and swimming and diving in tropical paradises. My son and I call them Dave and Caden’s Excellent Adventures and we post them on YouTube.

Contact Info:

  • Address: San Pedro High School 1001 W. 15th St. San Pedro CA 90731
  • Website: sanpedrohs.org
  • Phone: 310-241-5800
  • Email: djc2241@lausd.net

Image Credit:
David Crowley, Jordan Kranis, Raphael Richardson

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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