'Happy' Mike Halloran was always smiling

The longtime educator was devoted to the independent study program at Venture School

By Tony Hicks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

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Mike Halloran went by a simple name that pretty much summed him up.

"He had a nickname of 'Happy' at the school district, which says a lot," said Tim, Halloran's youngest son. "His work and life was all about focusing on the positive."

Halloran, who spent most of his career as a groundbreaking administrator in the San Ramon Valley school district, died of cancer Saturday at age 63.

There was hardly a job Halloran didn't have at some point during 31 years in the San Ramon Valley district. He was the director of instructional services when he retired in 1996. He also taught, served as director of pupil services, coordinated the health and drug education program, and served as a dean of boys.

"He was a very popular person, and was someone who was always concerned about the bottom line -- students," said Terry Koehne, spokesman for the San Ramon Valley school district. "It was all about making connections for kids. That was his mission."

Halloran also helped link the district to the Discovery Counseling Center of the San Ramon Valley, said Dr. Bob Brown, one of the center's founders in 1971. Halloran helped bring peer counselors and preventive programs into the district the following year.

"He was able to take some of the stumbling blocks away," Brown said. "He was just a delightful guy -- always friendly, always helpful and always working hard. He was a great friend to have."

Despite the long and official-sounding resume, Tim said his father's proudest achievement was founding Venture School in San Ramon 18 years ago. The school is an independent study program that allows students to pursue a diploma outside of a mainstream high school curriculum. Venture enrolled 12 students in 1981; today, it has more than 600.

"The work he was doing for the school district was a passion for him," Tim said. "It went beyond his office hours."

After retiring, Halloran "started working, immediately of course, as an educational consultant," Tim said. Halloran taught teachers new techniques, focusing on using alternate assessment practices to help eliminate what he called "barriers to learning."

He also remained on Venture's board of directors, a spot that kept him in close contact with principal Joan Diamond.

"His major vision was to make the education system work for all kids," Diamond said. "He was a visionary."

Diamond called Halloran her "mentor and friend." She said he prepared her more than a decade ago for her first principal job at Bollinger Canyon School in San Ramon. Diamond said she often leaned on him for his experience and wisdom.

Diamond spent a few hours with Halloran three days before he died, as always, discussing Venture. She planned to come back to his house in Concord to watch old movies and relieve his wife, Theresa, and their four grown children from care duties for a few hours. "He died before I could do that," Diamond said.

Koehne laughed when remembering Halloran's office, which was full of clowns. "I think someone tried to count them once," he said. "They were everywhere. He always had a smile on his face, even during his illness. He was the picture of optimism."

Halloran is survived by wife Theresa; daughters Terryann and Tricia; and sons Micheal and Tim.

A memorial Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday [*August 20, 1999] at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, 1650 Ygnacio Valley Road in Walnut Creek. The family asks that donations go to Venture School's Halloran Opportunity Program in Education, 3280 East Crow Canyon Road, San Ramon, 94583, or call 925-824-0380.

The above text is a re-print of an article which originally appeared in the Tuesday, August 17, 1999, edition of the Contra Costa Times.