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Brett Bitterman’s many hats: Soldier, teacher, principal

January 14, 2019 GMT

Brett Bitterman made the rounds before he became principal at Oro Grande Elementary School.

He had some false starts right out of high school and dropped out of college. But he buckled down just the same and joined the United States Air Force. It was a good fit. He retired after 20 years’ service. His rank was master sergeant.

After his “Now what?” moment, Bitterman returned to college. At age 40, he was one of the older students in his classes.

“There were a few (older students), but not many,” he said of his back-to-school experience. The work paid off and he earned a kinesiology degree with a math endorsement. He intended to become a teacher.

“In 2007, I subbed for a year in Boise. But I was looking for a permanent teaching job. I had offers from Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City. We chose Havasu,” he said.

The “we” he mentioned is Bitterman and his wife, Lindsay. Both were school teachers and presented themselves as a package deal to prospective employers.

In Havasu, they signed on as middle school math teachers at Daytona Middle School.

Then a bomb fell.

“The district closed Daytona two months after we were hired,” Bitterman said of the 2008 decision.

The Bittermans were transferred to Thunderbolt Middle School where they got down to the business of teaching. Bitterman also coached basketball at the school.

“I wanted more. So I got my master’s degree in administration from ASU,” he said.

He has been principal at Oro Grande for three years. The school has 342 students and a staff of 30, 16 of which are teachers.

The school uses a classical education approach for grades K-2. The classical model is being expanded to include grades 4, 5 and 6 for the 2019-2020 school year. A classical education involves a pattern of learning that is language-focused. The liberal arts curriculum is centered on math, science, history and language arts, followed by music, art and foreign languages. Moral character and civic virtues are also heavily emphasized.

Bitterman touts the success of the classical method.

“Parents are happy with the results they see in their children,” he said.

Family: Wife Lindsay, two young sons, two grown children and four grandchildren.

Hometown: I was born in Sand Point, Idaho but grew up in Libby, Montana. It had a population of 5,000, but it is less now.

Hobbies: Chasing my boys around is my best hobby. One is four years old, and the other one is 16 months. I also play golf. My wife has taken it up, so we play together.

What was your best surprise?

Finding out I was going to be a dad.

What’s your favorite way to unwind?

I used to just go outside and shoot baskets. Now I like to sit on the back porch and watch my kiddos run around.

What’s one goal you still hope to achieve?

Professionally, I am happy where I am. But personally, my goal is show my family a happy life.

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

Any of the Mission: Impossibles. Lots of action.

TV show?

We like the food shows – “Top Chef,” “Hell’s Kitchen.” I also really like “Manifest.”

What’s the best thing you’ve bought in the last six months?

A ball pit with a maze of tunnels for the kids. It has a pop-up tent. The whole thing fits in the house and they will play in it for an hour at a time.

What’s your most recent splurge?

We stayed at the Bellagio (in Las Vegas) for one night. We don’t do that kind of thing too often.

If you could have an extraordinary talent or skill, what would you choose?

Singer. I’d like to be a stage performer. But ten years ago, I would’ve said basketball player.

If you could change lives with anyone for a day, who would you like to be?

Tom Brady.

What’s the luckiest thing that ever happened to you?

Besides my wife – and that’s a sheer act of God right there – it would have to be that 12 years ago, I won Final Four tickets for Indianapolis.

If you weren’t in your present career, what would you like to be?

A golf pro. I think that would be pretty good.

What’s your ideal vacation?

On a beach. We like Carlsbad. I love old towns where you can just walk around and see interesting things.

What’s the craziest, most impulsive thing you’ve ever done that you can talk about?

I went to college for three days at Eastern Washington, then left. Three days! I missed home and was not prepared for college at all.

What song makes you want to dance?

Anything with a good beat. We are a singing, dancing family.

What song do you like to sing along to?

Elvis Presley songs like “Fools Rush In.” I sing that one to my son. I also like Bon Jovi songs.

What song makes you nostalgic?

”The Best of Times” by Styx.

What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you?

I passed on a half scholarship at the University of Pacific in Oregon. I was an all-state football player. I was not ready to leave our town. It was small, but I wasn’t ready to go.

What was one of your early jobs?

I worked at a paper mill, pulling plywood off a conveyor belt. I was 18. It was hard, dirty work. I got laid off and never went back.

What was your worst job?

I worked at a place called Sonny’s making tacos. There was nothing exciting about it – no challenge. I wasn’t there long. I already had a paper route. I wanted more money, so I took the job at Sonny’s. It was a mistake.

What food can’t you live without?

Hamburgers.

What are your treasures?

It’s really more of a keepsake. I have my dad’s high school graduation ring.

Favorite pair of shoes?

Eccos at work and slippers at home.

What do you collect?

We are the opposite of collectors. We are constantly decluttering. So many toys! But I collected baseball cards when I was young.

What item do you buy in bulk?

Paper towels, toilet paper, diapers and wipes.

What’s your coffee shop order?

Carmel latte. At Starbucks, it’s Carmel Macchiato.

Is there a store you visit often?

Safeway. We go there once a week for sure, and sometimes twice. They know my kids and are so nice to us.