OVER THE COURSE of a long career in education, Hamish Tyler is today most proud of his role in the 2013 launch of the Millennium Charter High School, “a college preparatory education program emphasizing the visual and performing arts, digital multimedia production technology, and 21st century skills,” its website proclaims. Tyler is director of the Media Center for Art, Education and Technology (MCAET) in Salinas and a partner with Millennium whose students actively use the Media Center, hands on. The Media Center is packed with state of the art technology and equipment, as is its innovative TechMobile, a classroom on wheels outfitted with 21 advanced computing stations, which is used to bring beginning and advanced training opportunities to rural neighborhoods and agricultural fields.
MCAET and Millennium share the campus of the Monterey County Office of Education, and make continual use of Sherwood Hall, “the best designed theater facility in the county,” says Tyler, “but also the most underutilized.”
“Establishing an arts charter school was an arduous, three-year journey,” he says. “The school curriculum is closely synched between the two of us.” The students use Sherwood Hall “virtually every day. Our students work with our pros side by side creating content.” Tyler says that now Millennium has 156 enrolled students, 9th through 12th grade. Next year, he expects more than 200.
Tyler, one of five siblings, was born in Beirut where his mother, a nurse who grew up in Lebanon, and father, a member of the Gordon Highlanders stationed there during World War Two, met. “We went to England when my mom got tired of standing in line for food,” Tyler explains. The family moved to Monterey in the late ‘40s, and after that to Marin County. “I went to Drake High School in San Anselmo. I was a pretty good baseball player and actually made plans to play for the Giants.” His dad insisted that he also was “going to do an art form.” The options at school were music, theater and dance. “Finally in my senior year I found the theater and I just loved it.” He played a lot of baseball but found that teaching, being around kids, coaching and directing would be his life’s work.
In 1969, Tyler started teaching in North Monterey County, at Moss Landing Elementary, in language arts and the theater program there. But he was discouraged that the talents of so many students were neither adequately challenged nor supported by parents and families. “These were terrific kids but so much of their talent was being wasted. When the arts are not a fabric of your family, folks accept mediocrity.” Then he discovered that student athletes who showed talent and initiative could get athletic scholarships at Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach and Santa Catalina School in Monterey, “especially Hispanic kids.” So he began feeding boys to Stevenson and girls to Catalina.
In 1973 Tyler joined the faculty at Stevenson School, teaching language arts, athletics, drama and broadcast. He is proud of launching the school’s radio station, KSPB, which is “the most powerful radio station of any secondary school in the country.” (His dad had been a broadcaster, at the BBC and, in Monterey at KMBY.) Over his 32-year tenure at Stevenson, Tyler directed over 200 plays and musicals and took many of those on tour. “For me the best of my RLS experience was a lot like my high school in the ‘60s. Academically it was rigorous, challenging. Somehow or other we got it done. The private schools continue to get it done.” He recalls that in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s it was “often paycheck to paycheck” for Stevenson but even then the arts programs were expanded in order “to recruit top-notch kids.” The Headmaster at the time was Gordon Davis, “a tough Marine who’d been through the Pacific campaign. He kept his sanity with the arts.”
Among the challenges Tyler and school Principal Peter Gray are facing now is to “rebuild” North Salinas using Millennium and the Sherwood facility. “We need to make Sherwood Hall attractive to big traveling shows,” he says. “The equipment there is analog, and touring productions today demand digital. We want to bring in big-time theater productions that you can’t get anywhere else.” The capacity of Sherwood hall is “immense,” 1700 seats and a huge stage. “It was built like a Broadway theater house. But the electronic infrastructure is way out of date.” Recently, Millennium students staged Guys and Dolls, Jr at Sherwood Hall.
Of the MCAET Media Center, “We have a fabulous facility, partly paid for by a grant from the state which specifically required that we bring in students and was fully supported by Superintendent Dr Nancy Kotowski and the Monterey County Board of Education.” Millennium students have access to two full production studios, a computer classroom, a control room, an audio recording studio, a radio station, and office space. The fully outfitted production Studio A functions as a versatile audio-video learning environment. Studio B is a black box theater space where students can both develop artistic drama and acting and learn the technical skills needed to operate sound and lighting equipment.
“I’ve spent much of my life fighting for the arts, defining what a quality education looks like to those who don’t know. What matters is that each child finds success in his or her own way, that we cherish each child and never limit their potential. I’m hopeful that the Common Core will take us deeper in that direction. I feel a real kinship with Peter and know we can make it happen for our kids.”