Beloved St. Bede Principal, ‘Mr. V,’ Retires After 46 Years

St. Bede the Venerable School Principal Ralph Valente
St. Bede the Venerable School Principal Ralph Valente is set to retire at the end of this school year. He’s been at the school since 1973.

St. Bede the Venerable School Principal Ralph Valente, 69, started out his career in La Cañada Flintridge by sweeping floors and wiping windows.
“True story,” Valente laughed. “I like to say I started out as janitor and worked my way down.”
There’s a back story, of course, as there often is with Valente, whose much-loved, energetic charisma nourishes a reputation that precedes him in the community. But back in 1973, he’d just graduated from USC with a master’s degree in teaching during what was then one of worst recessions in modern history. He’d applied for jobs, all kinds of jobs, to no avail.
“The previous janitor had been an engineer, that’s how bad it was. Oh, I jumped at it!” he mused over the memory. “And from that time on, I always knew the most important people to have on your side are the janitor and the secretary; they can always help you out in a pinch.”
Valente loves a good story, and a funny one at that — it’s partly what has made him such a vibrant history teacher all these years — but most of all, he loves the kids. They’re what he’ll miss most about the job when he retires this year as principal, a job he’s held for 32 of the 46 years he has spent at the school.
“Oh, I’ll miss the kids,” Valente said slowly, pausing to swallow his emotion. “All the paperwork, all the [bureaucracy], I won’t miss that, but the kids — being out in the yard with them, being in the classroom with them, just seeing them develop and grow, that I will miss.”
Valente may be principal, but for three decades he’s also been the first to arrive and the last to leave, often helping guide drop-off or pickup, and the same goes for yard duty. Never one for lunch, he chooses yard duty to socialize with the kids on the playground. He likes to visit with that one child sitting out on a bench. “I like to ask them questions about their day, why they aren’t playing, why they might be sad, we talk. The next day they’re just fine, though,” he noted.
His passion has always been teaching, but when he became principal, parish leaders expected him to step down from that post. “But I told them, oh, I have to teach. It’s my therapy.” So he kept one class, an 8th-grade American history course, for what happens to be one of his favorite age groups, teenagers, although “I really do love the little ones, too,” he admitted.
Teaching has helped him relate to his faculty, but it also has kept him in tune with each student, something in which he takes pride.
“I write a lot of recommendation letters, and I can write them, because I really do know the kids. I don’t have to ask someone, ‘Tell me something about this kid,’” he said.
That love for every child has kept the kids coming back to St. Bede. More than 20% of the student body is made up of children of alumni, and there are even seven families that are “third generation,” with the grandparents, parents and children all having attended the school.
“That is by far my greatest accomplishment, when one of my students comes back and puts their child in my school, that is the greatest compliment you can give me,” he noted, in all seriousness. It’s hard for “Mr. V,” as he is known, to even get around town without running into a former student who calls out to him.
“Recently, I ran into one who told me, ‘Remember that time you put me in detention?’” Valente laughed. Yes, he usually does remember, he noted.
“I told him he needs to move on,” he said, laughing again.
One of those former students is former LCF Mayor Michael Davitt, who attended St. Bede in the 1970s.
“He was always a very caring person. I found my love of history through his classics,” said Davitt, who recalled Valente’s sense of humor. “He’s very supportive of the children; he’s a big advocate for the kids. He’s been the rock and the foundation of the school.”
Having been at the St. Bede helm for so long, Valente has managed a lot of changes over the years, including a capital improvement plan and dramatic campus renovation in 2003 that required the school to temporarily use makeshift classrooms. Buildings were razed and rebuilt. It took 1½ years, he answered precisely, having practically counted each day. He pointed to the hard hat lying on an upper shelf that also was filled with Mickey Mouse memorabilia — prized gifts. “Each piece has a story,” he noted, before telling that of the hard hat.
“They were behind schedule and it was the end of summer and I said, you cannot go beyond the first day of school, you’ve got to finish. I was going ballistic, I was ready to help them [finish]. The kids were fascinated by it, of course … oh, the day the crane came! The crane!” Valente cried, throwing up his hands. “They couldn’t have cared less about school.”
Somehow, however, Valente and the school staff managed to wrangle the kids’ attention, despite the bulldozers and cranes. The K-8 Catholic school of 250 students has consistently ranked in the top 5% of all Los Angeles Archdiocese schools, and the majority of teachers have been there for at least 16 years.
One of those teachers, Vice Principal Barbara Kuhl, has been teaching with Valente since their humble beginnings, when they also took on jobs at the local community center, then known as the La Cañada Youth House.
“He’s kind of like a brother to me. Our lives became intertwined, and they’ve remained that way ever since,” said Kuhl, noting how missed Valente will be at the school. The other day, kindergarteners were crying, and a 3rd-grader sobbing, over the idea that he won’t be coming back next year, she noted. “He’s really known for treating the kids at St. Bede’s as if they were his own children. He’s kind of a life coach for many of them. And he really only gets teary-eyed when it’s about the kids … he is very much loved.”
Going forward, Mr. V will take some time off, rest, relax with his wife of 44 years, and visit with his three children and a new grandchild in Arizona. Then he’ll probably get busy again.
“I’m on some boards already, I’ll get involved, and I’d like to do some education consulting, perhaps,” he said. “I’m not really someone who can just sit around.”

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