Randy Kinavey, one of California High School's best known and most respected teachers, died on Sunday. He was 62.
Kinavey taught ninth grade advanced English and honors English 11 at Cal for nearly 25 years and died of complications from cancer after a years-long battle. Principal Mark Corti said Kinavey was "magical in the classroom" and possessed a unique way of making every student feel valuable and respected.
Having been his student as both a freshman and junior, I am deeply saddened by the loss of the best teacher I've ever had and can easily see his indelible impact on both the student and staff population. I credit Kinavey with encouraging my passion for writing, teaching me how to take notes and developing my critical thinking skills. Ten years later, I still have notebooks full of writings from his classes.
The son of Postal Service workers, Kinavey grew up in Oakland and Castro Valley and went to Bishop O'Dowd High School. He attended Santa Clara University as an undergrad and went to San Francisco State University for graduate studies. He taught English for 10 years and served as an administrator at Bishop for two before arriving at Cal in 1986. Also an English teacher at Diablo Valley College, Kinavey received the Warren W. Eukel award in 2010 for excellence in education. He took a medical sabbatical from Cal High and DVC that year.
"Every answer was a great answer, his interaction with students was caring and supportive. When he was at staff meetings . . . everybody listened because he was so highly regarded," Corti said, adding that Kinavey was incredibly modest. "He had a gift of how to treat students; that was a skill but it was genuine. He's like the great coach that players would do anything for because of who he was and what he represented."
With his easy demeanor, dark sense of humor and relaxed classroom atmosphere, Kinavey became (or perhaps always was) something of a cult figure among Cal High students. Many use "Kinavey-isms" such as "my heart sinks with the dead sea eagle" with sincerity to this day and, reflecting on his instruction for this article, I'm amazed by his spirit, excitement, knowledge and, perhaps, the things he inadvertently taught eager students.
"I think he looked at class time as precious, he never wasted any time," said math teacher Gary Triebwasser, a close friend of Kinavey. "He talked about teaching with a sense of urgency often, so every day was important."
Outside of the classroom, Triebwasser said Kinavey loved watching sports, especially the San Francisco 49ers and the Giants, loved the outdoors, and went camping often. He was an avid reader, enjoyed all forms of music -- especially jazz and the Beatles -- and was known to have an affinity for plastic pink flamingos. During his sabbatical, Kinavey traveled to Europe and saw the birth of his second grandchild.
"He realized time was precious and he really tried to enjoy life the best he could," Triebwasser said.
It was his inner spark that encouraged others to be bright and measure up to his intellectualism, said English teacher Donna Montague.
"He gave you freedom to think at the upper end rather than settling for the lowest common denominator," she said, adding that Kinavey was one of the best discussion leaders she knew. "Seeing those older kids get the capacity for thinking independently and going out on a limb . . . really excited him, really made him feel that he was purposeful in the classroom."
Although only current Cal High seniors would have had Kinavey as a teacher before he retired, news of his death quickly spread among alumni on Facebook.
"Wow, one of the only teachers (or professors, for that matter) I've ever had who actually pushed me to be a better writer. Remember the huge poetry project we had to do? And the reenactments of Greek mythology? And acting out Shakespeare's soliloquies? A teacher who understood the importance and relevance of the arts in education," wrote class of 2005 grad Kinsley Suer.
"You truly are an inspiration to educators everywhere. Dedication and love at its finest," wrote class of 2006 graduate Nicole Schreiber.
"You made a difference in so many people's lives and your legacy will continue to live on. Thank you for the impact you made on my life. Now you can truly soar with the eagles," wrote 2006 graduate Lital Abrahams.
Others thanked Kinavey for his assistance outside the classroom.
"You saved me from what was the worst year of my life with one phone call. I couldn't have asked for a better friend. Rest in peace. Thank you," wrote 2007 graduate Ashley Ngyuen.
"Mr. Kinavey, thank you for pushing me to be a better writer and for introducing me to all sorts of fantastic literature," Leah Yamshon, a 2005 Cal grad, wrote. "You somehow found a way to inspire me to explore my creativity when I was just a moody 15-year-old who hated high school, and I credit you for helping me find my passion."
Amir Abadi, who graduated in 2005, replied that he wouldn't be a lawyer if it weren't for Kinavey's influence.
I wouldn't be a journalist if it weren't for the two years I spent in Kinavey's hodgepodge decorated classroom, frantically taking notes and enjoying debates.
Randy Kinavey is survived by his wife, Suzanne, children, Hilary and Zach, as well as two grandchildren. Friends, family and students are invited to celebrate his life on at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 25 at Willow Park Golf Course in Castro Valley. In lieu of flowers please send donations to KQED or the SPCA at 8323 Baldwin St. Oakland 94621.
Rest in peace, Mr. Kinavey. We all know you're swinging your legs on that El Queso in the sky and soaring with the eagles, where Kinavey's Mama and Shakespeare are always the answer.