TNT considered ‘dynamite pairing’ at Ramona school district office
Editor’s note: This is the sixth and last in a series introducing Ramona Unified School District’s new leaders to the community as well as one in a continuing series, “Where Are They Now,” about Ramona graduates.
By Pixie Sulser
TNT is usually thought of in the context of a highly explosive material, but in the case of administrative changes at the Ramona Unified School District office, the letters could represent the dynamic pairing of former site principals Theresa Grace and Tony Newman — T and T.
Grace, who spent nine years as the principal of Mt. Woodson Elementary, is now the district’s senior director of education services, while Newman, principal at Ramona High School for the past seven years, is the current leader of the district’s human resources department.
Grace, a 1978 graduate of Ramona High School, came to Ramona from the Bay area with her parents and four siblings when she was in third grade. Her parents opened the Ramona Auto Parts store on Main Street, and the family settled right into the community. Grace attended Ramona Elementary School and then moved across the way to the middle school, which is the current district office building. In fact, her seventh-grade social studies class was taught in the same part of the building as her current office.
As an active Ramona High School student, Grace participated in cheerleading, ASB (Associated Student Body), student council, Future Farmers of America and 4-H.
Her interest and involvement in agriculture studies continued as she chose to attend college at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo with plans to become an agriculture teacher. After graduating college, she taught agriculture in Bishop and at Lake Elsinore High School before heading back to Cal Poly to finish her master’s degree in agriculture science. With her master’s degree completed, Grace returned home to Ramona with “the intent to stay just long enough to earn my administrative credential before moving back up north.”
But, while working on her administrative credential, she met her husband, Robert Grace, automotive instructor at RHS, and never left. Before joining the RUSD team, Grace built a successful career in the Vista School District as a high school agriculture teacher, ASB coordinator, Work Experience coordinator, and assistant principal at the high school and middle school levels, eventually becoming a middle school principal, a job she held for six years before taking over the lead at Mt. Woodson Elementary.
“I had driven past Mt. Woodson Elementary for 15 years on my way to Vista,” said Grace. “And when the principal position opened up, I was feeling a real desire to see education K-12. I had middle and high school experience, but I wanted to see the whole spectrum, so I applied and got it! I really thought it would be a brief stay for me, but nine years later, I look back on the time and it went by in a snap. I worked with such an incredible staff, and we were able to achieve so much collectively. And, on top of that, to have a part in the beginning stages of a child’s education…It is truly an amazing thing to see a child learn how to read. My entire time at Mt. Woodson was a wonderful experience.”
Grace loves new challenges, though, and that element is exactly what brought her to the district office.
“I am a collector of experiences,” she said. “I find a joy in things and capitalize on it, and I absolutely love the opportunity to be innovative and to build a team that has laser-like focus on student achievement. To me, that’s what education is about.”
In her role as senior director of education services, Grace plans to provide support for the district principals, school sites and teachers as they “truly make an impact on the learning of every child. That’s our job as a district,” said Grace. “Whether driving a bus, working as a custodian, a teacher or a secretary, we are all here for one purpose, and that is to educate kids in a safe, caring environment where they feel valued and appreciated.”
Grace’s administrative partner across the hall in human resources is also a homegrown Ramona product. When asked what brought his parents and their three children to Ramona, Tony Newman answered, “Kountry Kitchen!”
It seems that as his parents looked around San Diego County for a place to move their young family, they couldn’t find anything that appealed to them. Then the realtor described a little town, a bit inland, but that might have what they were looking for.
“He drove my parents up to Ramona, and as they came into the area and saw the valley and the view down Main Street, they were intrigued,” he said. “They all had lunch at Kountry Kitchen, and my parents told the realtor to find them a place. They were not leaving.”
Newman started second grade at Ramona Elementary, and like Grace attended middle school at the Ramona Intermediate School before heading to Ramona High School from which he graduated in 1989. He headed off to college at Brigham Young University (BYU) for one year before taking time off from his education to serve a two-year church mission in Costa Rica.
Upon his return to BYU, Newman jumped into his studies as a public relation/business major, but then something changed.
“I was sitting in a stock market class one day and realized that this isn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I thought, ‘What am I doing in this class?’ So I got up, left the class and went to the counseling office where I took an aptitude/interest type test. The results indicated I should be a singing truck driver or a mortician. Neither option appealed to me.”
The counselor asked Newman to create a list of influential people in his life.
“When I noticed that 90 percent of the people on my list were teachers, I decided education might be the choice for me,” he said. “I changed my major to history with a minor in Spanish.”
Once he decided on a career in education, Newman’s dream was to teach United States history (he describes himself as “a huge Civil War junky”) and coach high school basketball. Four years into teaching, he achieved his dream job. He was teaching U.S. history at Olive Peirce Middle School and coaching varsity basketball at RHS.
“Then OPMS Principal Linda Solis talked to me about going into administration.”
Newman started taking classes for his administrative credential at the same time he was completing his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Timing is everything, and about the time he finished his degree and credential, the assistant principal position at OPMS opened up.
“Linda told me, ‘This is the window.’ I didn’t necessarily feel ready, and I wasn’t ready to give up teaching,” explained Newman, “but sometimes when an opportunity comes, it isn’t in the exact moment you would have chosen, but you have to take it when it’s offered. So I left the classroom, resigned as head basketball coach and became the AP at OPMS.”
Newman worked as OPMS assistant principal for five years before taking the principal seat across the parking lot at Ramona High School. He said that he always finds it interesting and rather ironic that his first day on a high school campus as an educational leader was as a principal. Other than being a high school student himself and later being a coach, he had never taught or worked as an administrator on a high school campus until, “they handed me the keys to RHS. In fact, before getting the history teaching job at OPMS, I had actually applied for a history job at the high school and didn’t get it, so coming there as principal was a little odd at first.”
However, he also felt that not having previous experience on a high school campus allowed him to question why things were done a certain way and to look at the environment with a fresh set of eyes.
“I didn’t come to the campus with any preconceived ideas, so I feel that gave me an open mind and a different way of looking at the high school world,” shared Newman.
Newman sat in the RHS principal’s office for seven years before deciding to take another leap and move into an administrative role at the district level. He views his position as head of human resources as an exciting way to have an impact on the entire district, “because every single person hired by RUSD comes through the HR department. “
“As a teacher, you impact your class of 35 or our class load of 180, and as a school administrator, you can possibly impact 2,000 students,” he said. “As part of the district office, I can, hopefully, have a positive impact on almost 6,000 students by doing this job well, by ensuring that the right people are in the right spots and by helping them be successful. One of my goals in this position is to really help shape the culture in the entire district. Our office sets the tone, because we are the first impressions any potential employee has of RUSD. I see this as a challenge.”
Newman and his wife of 16 years, Cristie, have four children ranging in age from 7 to 14.
“I have a vested interest in this community as an educator, as a parent and as a longtime community member,” he said. “I believe in Ramona, and I want to be part of making it better by building and strengthening relationships between the schools and the community.”
TNT — some call it a dynamite pairing in the educational world of Ramona Unified School District.
- Pauline Leavitt to replace Linda Solis as Ramona middle school principal
- Ramona trustees approve middle school librarian as assistant principal
- Ramona Unified school schedules and office hours
- School starts Monday: Principals share plans and possibilities for school year
- Principals Tennebaum, Solis retiring at end of Ramona school year
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