Click photo to enlarge
Assistant Principal Toni McShane photographed in front of M.H. Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. McShane, who is the 2014 Lafayette Citizen of the Year, will retire at the end of the school year. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

LAFAYETTE -- If you cross paths with Lafayette's 2014 Citizen of the Year, retiring Stanley Middle School Assistant Principal Toni McShane, scratch the rest of your day's calendar.

The warm, engaging "pseudo parent" of hundreds of local schoolchildren (and after 24 years in the same district, her now-adults students' children) will cause you to spill your beans -- or share your life history, whichever's longer. You might even take up her hobby, needlepoint, and form a klatch.

Stanley Principal David Schrag, wrote in an online post: "I used to complain that anywhere we went in Lafayette, we would have to budget extra time because Toni would invariably see a family she knew and would just have to catch up!"

Assistant Principal Toni McShane photographed in front of M.H. Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. McShane, who is the
Assistant Principal Toni McShane photographed in front of M.H. Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. McShane, who is the 2014 Lafayette Citizen of the Year, will retire at the end of the school year. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

McShane will be honored at a March 28 banquet at the Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa. The dinner and the award itself are sponsored by the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Lamorinda Sun (the dinner is sold out).

Blessed with a steel trap mind for names and faces as well as having been embedded in Lafayette since arriving from her dual home states of Idaho and Arizona in the early 1970s, McShane is a keeper of local history.

"I remember students by years. It's crazy," she said. "I know the last class I taught is now about 32 (years old). I can look at a face and something triggers a name."

The importance of personal connections was braided into her upbringing. As the daughter of a special-education teacher and a father on the school board, McShane credits her parents with teaching her "you can do anything with a smile on your face."

The value of partnerships was a second platform forming the social bedrock she relied on as a single parent of her two adult sons.

"There was a time when I was first divorced and I thought of running away because people knew me. But I stayed because people supported me. They supported my boys. When things are tough, we need to be there for one another," she said.

McShane returned to school herself in 1995, earning a master's degree in leadership from Moraga's Saint Mary's College.

"It was a time for me, when my kids went off to college. It was about what I value: education." She had a "phenomenal mentor" in Camille Moore, a former Stanley principal who she said "was there to grow people."

Named by parents who loved strong women in history ("I'm 'Marie Antoinette,' just like the queen," she said), McShane's good humor is well-known. Kids have given her miniature guillotines -- a doll whose head pops off is a favorite toy of students visiting her office.

Being second in command at Stanley (with stints as interim principal) has been a choice and a position matched to her unique skill set.

"When you get into the leadership position, it's meetings and budgets. I think I'm great at supporting with details and the daily things, like dealing with children. That's where the joys are," McShane said.

Stanley counselor Tiffany Sullivan, one of several who nominated McShane for the "Citizen" award, said families call on her when they need advice, a problem solved or a friendly ear to bend.

"If you have a need, you can contact Toni McShane and she will get back to you with real help, support and kindness pretty much the same day," Sullivan said in her nomination.

Bad days during her 41 total years working in schools haven't resulted in beheadings and McShane is almost embarrassed by the attention the recent honor has generated.

"When I got the call I was stunned," she said. "I thought, 'I'm sure you could find somebody more suitable. Can't you find anyone else?' I held onto the news for six hours."

Eventually, she called her sons and told Terry Turner, her husband of 13 years. Residual guilt caused her to repeatedly insist "Others who've won haven't done what they've done for a job. This is just my job; caring for the best of the community."

Caring for the best of the community is McShane's definition of good citizenship and the thought of accepting the award on behalf of all teachers' generosity -- not just her own -- almost provided comfort.

"I value the words and well-being of every person," she said. "If that's said about me, I'm a happy person."