Behind the exceptional natural setting and inspiring educational philosophy that is Mount Madonna School (MMS), is its most significant ‘natural resource’: a diverse faculty, administration and staff of enthusiastic, creative, and dedicated individuals, who together bring a broad range of personal and professional experiences to the community. One such individual is longtime MMS Director of Operations Anurag Christine White, who is retiring from MMS at the conclusion of the current school year.
In 1999, when Anurag Christine White first stepped through the door of the Farmhouse Office at Mount Madonna School (MMS), she encountered a twenty-year old school in the midst of a ‘growth spurt’ and ready to move to the next stage of its development. Significant changes were on the horizon for MMS, including receiving its initial Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) — and later the California Association of Independent Schools — accreditation, planning for a new upper campus and significant technology upgrades.
‘I still remember my first impression very clearly,’ said Anurag. ‘It was a bit overwhelming, but I knew I was up for the challenge. I said ‘yes’ to the job of office manager without thinking much about any long-term plan. It was clear that my immediate task was to create more organization — and a unified filing system.’
She worked from May through August that year, personally sorting through every file folder and every sheet of paper. She organized and implemented the comprehensive filing system still in use (albeit with continued refinements) today.
‘There was not one nook or cranny that I didn’t go through,’ she recalled. ‘That was the first thing I did. There was very little that I threw away, because at that time, I didn’t even know what was necessary and what wasn’t — I just knew we’d need to organize it so we could find it. My second task was to find a new registrar. The registrar at that time, Ramona Richard (Jenny, ’99) was leaving and it was essential that we had someone onboard immediately who understood the job and had the right skill set. At that time, most positions were filled from our current parent body, I quickly settled on Benn?! (Dimig, MMS current director of admissions; Brittany ’10) because she had computer experience.
‘When I first got here, the office operated on two 486 computers and one iMac — and they were very dysfunctional. A few months later, on February 1, 2000, we had 10 networked computer workstations and Microsoft Windows went live. Within a year, all of these stations were being fully utilized. We got rid of the old office copy machine that constantly broke down, and replaced it with a new, leased machine with a full-service option.’
Anurag studied business administration at San Jose State University. She is an Acupressure Therapist, certified through the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, a certified herbalist; and holds certifications in Steven Covey and Ken Blanchard management training. She joined the MMS administration in 1999, and over time, as the school grew, so too did the scope of her responsibilities; she became director of operations, which today encompasses MMS’ facilities management and maintenance, daily school office operations (which support faculty, students and all administrative functions) and production of the middle and high school winter performing arts productions and co-production for the annual Ramayana! . .
Faculty and staff who’ve worked with her through the years, as well as the many students and families she’s served, are likely to recall Anurag’s efficiency-oriented, hands-on nature, and how much she values organization and teamwork, though her own story and path to MMS may be less well known.
Growing up the eldest of eight children, Anurag was a big help to her hardworking parents and was changing siblings’ diapers by the time she was eight years old.
‘Taking care of a group of people is something I have a lot of experience with,’ she said wryly. ‘My parents both worked so hard. It was always a stretch for them to pay the bills and to make ends meet. There were so many needs, so many kids and so many mouths to feed.
‘My mother had a lot put on her when she was a child,’ she added. ‘As an adult, she was very liberated, and very determined not to do that to her own kids. Chores were divided up as fairly as possible between myself and my siblings as they came along.’
‘As a family, we weren’t really very connected,’ she acknowledged. ‘My brothers are all closer to each other, and my sister was born the year I left home. These days, we all try to stay in touch, but we all lead different lives. When my mother was alive we all saw each other more often.’
As a teenager, Anurag attended Carlmont High School in San Carlos, at the time an all-white high school. She said she didn’t really experience many of the civil rights changes that were going on in the world at that time, and it wasn’t until after her graduation in 1960 that the school district began busing in students of color from other parts of the district.
‘I had a somewhat sheltered upbringing,’ said Anurag. ‘I liked school, and I always did what I needed to do, but my focus was on the social part of it. I had many friends and was part of this huge ‘gang’ of girls that ran around with each other, and to this day we still get together.’
Fast forward 25 years to 1985, and Anurag was living and working in Sacramento when she me Tod ‘Vishwarup’ White (‘the love of my life’). He was a divorced father of three daughters, the youngest just 12. Anurag had also been divorced for about 10 years, and had two grown children, Steven and Danene, and a middle school-aged son, Gregory (today her family has grown to include four grandchildren).
Always a hard worker, Anurag was managing and working as an accupressurist in a medical doctor’s office when she met Tod.
‘When I met him, I was taken aback,’ she recalled fondly. ‘It was an intense moment. He radiated energy and light.’
Tod was a self-employed consultant who helped to streamline primarily medical and dental offices to run more efficiently — both with equipment, processes and through good human resource practices. The pair married in 1989, and Tod asked her to come work with him and help take his business to the next level.
‘We would walk into an office and could tell really quickly how well the staff was functioning as a team,’ she remarked. ‘We frequently ran into a few disgruntled employees as a result of poor management. Our work had to do with team-building and processes that helped to make these workplaces more functional — not only with personnel, but frequently resulting in a $10,000 increase in annual revenue as a result of improving the office functionality and work place environment.’
‘He was a visionary leader,’ she went on, ‘and I was the ‘doer’ — creating forms and manuals documenting the best practices, all in support of our business.’
The pair attended management and personal development workshops together and Anurag thrived on this motivational education.
‘Through the years and with much experience, I really grew to be a capable, self-directed manager,’ she said.
After a couple years in Sacramento, the couple move to southern California, then later relocated to the Monterey Peninsula. By this time Tod was seriously ill.
‘We came to this area for a job opportunity, though the move allowed Tod to complete something deep and meaningful to him and to be near ‘Babaji’,’ Anurag explained. Tod was an early and devoted student of Baba Hari Dass or ‘Babaji’, and longtime good friend of the late Ma Renu, a founding member of the Mount Madonna Center (MMC) community.
‘During the last year of Tod’s life he attended all of the Gita and Yoga Sutra classes at MMC. It was so fortuitous that he was able to attend these classes every week. He experienced it as a blessing.’
Tod passed away in 1998. Following his death, Anurag was invited to work at Sri Ram Publishing in Santa Cruz to help MMC community member Anthony Budding (Dharma Dass) to manage the business while many of the staff travelled to Sri Ram Ashram in Haridwar, India, for their annual extended visit.
Anurag enjoyed the work and Dass’ high-energy pace and stayed to work for him, even after the ‘regular crew’ returned. Not long after, however, Sarada Diffenbaugh, then MMS principal, asked her to come run the school office.
‘My life circumstances had changed so completely. A little more than a year before I had been living in a beautiful 3,000-square-foot home in Carmel with Tod, and upon arriving, alone and recently widowed, I moved into a 10-foot by 10-foot room with a shared kitchen and a small, private bathroom and indoor toilet — a highly-coveted amenity at MMC.’
Another significant development early on during her term was the building of the MMS upper campus. Anurag was able to work with builder Govind Mallery (Umesh ’95) to help design the layout and functionality of the current school office.
Today, the MMS office has 18 networked workstations, administrative offices, a supply and work/copy room and meeting spaces, and is part of a connectivity that encompasses upper and lower campus computers. The overall efficiency of the school is light years from when she first arrived, and continues to operate in a smooth and functional way.
“Being able to work in such a positive and beautiful environment and be able to contribute to something as worthwhile as the preparation of our younger generation is one of the most rewarding experiences of life. Mount Madonna School provides a vehicle for using my talents and skills effectively that I find personally rewarding; as well as knowing this is one of the finest ways of ensuring a better future for our society.”
For the past 14 years Anurag has co-produced the Ramayana! and says it is her favorite MMS tradition.
‘I saw Ramayana! for the first time when it was performed at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1986,’ she recalled. ‘I couldn’t really grasp it and could barely follow the story. I didn’t see it again until the year I was hired. That year it was at the Mello Center in Watsonville. The chaos of all that was taking place was a bit overwhelming. I remember wondering ‘how do they manage it all — the set, the makeup, monsters, costumes — with so many people and making sure no one gets hurt? It was a somewhat daunting.’
At first she assisted Jivanti Rutansky (currently director of high school), who at that time served as the show’s producer. A few years later Jivanti stepped down and Anurag began co-producing the show with Nicole Tervalon (MMS director of technology and parent); the pair has been producing the show ever since, albeit with ongoing tweaking and improvement, looking for the ‘weak spots’ and finding ways to better support it.
‘It’s hard work, that’s for sure. But it’s hard not to like it, hard for it not to be my favorite event. To have a role in making sure this ‘stunning spectacle’ happens each year is so fun. I really do see my role as following through on any and every unhappiness that may happen over process; checking in with coordinators in each area. I want our parents to know that each person’s experience — our students, our parents, faculty, staff and volunteers — matters to me.’
Another very meaningful school tradition for Anurag is the high school graduation ceremony.
‘A month after I started at MMS, I went to see the graduation. As I walked in, someone handed me a package of Kleenex and said, ‘trust me, you’ll need it.’ Well, they were right. It was such a personal and touching ceremony, not like the graduation events most of us are used to. Coming from a traditional public high school background with 500 kids graduating, I had no idea what I was in for. It was so meaningful and so moving, and at that time I didn’t even know any of the kids! It was really those two events, Ramayana! and graduation — seeing and hearing what Mount Madonna School had to offer — that really spoke to me.’
If you haven’t heard, Anurag is retiring from MMS at the conclusion of the current school year. It’s time, she has decided, to pursue other experiences.
‘I don’t leave time for anything outside of the School and Center,’ she acknowledged with a smile. ‘That’s a big part of why I am retiring. Once I have more time, I hope to take up some new and possibly revisit some of the hobbies I used to enjoy, as well, such as sewing (I used to design my own clothes!), cooking, travelling and gardening. I’m also ready to be on ‘flat ground’ again, she said. I want to do more walking, and for me at this point in my life, that means I need to be off of the mountain.’
What’s next for Anurag is uncertain at this point, and that uncertainty doesn’t bother her a bit.
‘In my life I’ve never really planned what was next, I’ve been fortunate to be presented with different opportunities, and they appear to be the right choice at the right time.
‘Some people are so goal-oriented, like my sister, Jill, for example. She has always set goals for herself and then energetically sets out and achieves them, usually as she’s planned.
‘My personal practice sustains me. I begin each day with thankfulness and ask God for the strength to do what I need to do. I try to affirm that this will be the part of my being that directs me, and not the more selfish/difficult parts of my spirit. In my personal life I practice consistency and strive to maintain a balance that includes yoga, Pilates and eating well. After that I try to just let everything ‘happen.’ I figure I’ve done my part in preparing my body and spirit for whatever comes along. This is where I feel like I can ‘surrender’ to what comes next and let it unfold’whereas in my work life, I prefer not to leave anything to chance.
‘In my work life, I must have ‘work karma,’ because I’m very driven and very organized and dedicated to getting things done; it’s my duty. My duty is to facilitate and help things run as smoothly as possible. My work life is well-managed, well-organized and well-tended.’
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing and Communications,
Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.