Teachers, students, parents and well-wishers paid tribute to former Coeur D’Alene Avenue Elementary School principal Dr. Rex Patton at an emotional goodbye luncheon Friday, May 8th in the Venice elementary school’s auditorium.

Patton was chosen earlier this month by Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines as the new executive director of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s new visual and performing arts school, known officially as High School Number 9.

A visibly moved Patton watched as teachers spoke in glowing terms of the man who they say helped transform their neighborhood school’s arts program and fostered a spirit of community and collaboration during his ten years at Coeur D’Alene.

Fifth-grade teacher Margo Saxon thanked the principal for what she felt were important qualities that he brought to the school.

“We want to thank you for your inspiration and your wonderful sense of humor,” she said.

Mark-Antonio Grant, special assistant to City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, spoke glowingly of Patton’s leadership qualities.

“Looking out at this room, there is something that you bring to it, and that’s love,” Grant, a former LAUSD employee, told the principal. “You’ve been committed to closing the gap between what a student learns between the time that he or she walks into the classroom and the time that they leave.”

Under Patton’s direction, Coeur D’Alene’s academic performance surpassed the state’s barometer that measures student achievement, the Academic Performance Index.

The elementary school scored 827 in 2005 and 877 in 2006. The API standard for achievement is 800.

The school was also named a California Distinguished School last year.

Dr. Kristen Paglia, the director of programming at People Restoring Arts to Public Education, said, “It takes vision to educate a child and Rex has it.”

Paglia’s company, an arts education nonprofit organization, was one of Coeur D’Alene’s principal partners in incorporating more music and poetry at the school.

Patton was also serenaded with a song by a group of fifth graders and received several drawings in his honor. Joyce Koff, who teaches poetry to third and fourth graders, recited a poem that she wrote entitled “Ode to Rex Patton.”

“This is overwhelming,” Patton said near the end of the ceremony. “This is the longest time that I have ever spent at one school, and I will miss all of you.”

The former principal acknowledged that the road ahead for him was new and challenging but he feels that he is ready.

“I love new challenges. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Patton’s duties in his new position will include fundraising, which he also did during his time in Venice.