By Pixie Sulser
Adventurous and enthusiastic seem to describe the newest principal at Ramona Unified School District’s oldest elementary school.
Ramona Elementary Principal Daniel Paquette replaces Phyllis Munoz, who retired after nine years as the leader of the RE Mustangs.
Paquette said he has always been interested in exploring new horizons. Earlier in his life he was a sky diver, a scuba
diver and once even found himself a prisoner of the Contras in Central America. It seems that while traveling with a buddy during a college vacation, using an outdated AAA map, the two found themselves to be “the only non-local faces in the back of a Toyota pickup/taxi. When the Contras stopped us, we showed them our map and tried to explain what we were doing, but they didn’t quite believe us. They let the villagers go, but kept us for three days. Each day they would move us to a new location. After being guarded, interrogated and searched, the Contras decided we were not a threat of any kind and finally called a consular officer to pick us up. It was quite an experience.”
Before beginning his post secondary education, Paquette served four years in the U. S. Army, where he said he learned tolerance, organization, how to work with a variety of people, the importance of completing paperwork and a sense of discipline. “All skills” he noted, “that are extremely useful in education.”
Paquette earned his bachelor’s degree from Long Beach State University where his emphasis in bilingual education really started out as something of a whim.
“Just before completing my degree in liberal studies, I decided I wanted to study in Mexico during my last semester,” explained Paquette. “I had taken a bit of Spanish but was not at all proficient. I just thought improving my language skills would be helpful.”
He spent one year at La Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and then applied for a second.
From there Paquette earned his bilingual cross-cultural multiple subject teaching credential, began his teaching career at the elementary level in South Bay and eventually took his love of Spanish to the secondary level where he taught the language to high school students.
Upon earning his master’s degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University, he was appointed principal of the American School in Mexico in Aguas Caliente.
Subsequent moves found him returning to the high school Spanish department, then back into administration as dean of students at Vista High School and eventually assistant principal for Vista High where he supervised the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program which, Paquette explained, is a rigorous four-year program for students who desire to earn an international high school diploma recognized by top level universities in approximately 140 countries.
Paquette has been principal at Pioneer Elementary in Escondido and an elementary school in the Lake Elsinore School District. Both were in Program Improvement for not meeting student achievement goals when Paquette took over and both were out by the time he left.
“Bringing two schools out of Program Improvement,” said Paquette, “really showed me that it’s not where you are in terms of programs, ... it’s about the improvement itself. It’s about knowing where you want to go from here, and about realizing that even the best schools in the world can improve.”
Paquette’s most recent job found him back in the classroom which he sees as a real positive as he returns to the administrative arena.
When Temescal Canyon High School asked him to lead the International Baccalaureate program at the middle school level to better prepare students for the rigors of the high school program, Paquette saw it as a win-win situation. He was able to return to the classroom while completing his doctorate and overseeing a program he believes is beneficial to students.
In December 2012, Paquette completed his doctorate in educational technology at Pepperdine University, marking his accomplishment with a personalized license plate that reads “pepperdoc,” a play on “Dr. Pepper” and an example of his self-described “goofy sense of humor.”
“I see my recent experience in the classroom as a real plus as I move back into a principal role,” said Paquette. “So often teachers feel that administrators have been out of the classroom for so long and don’t truly understand the day-to-day issues, but I was just there. I understand. I know what they are dealing with. This is a huge positive. I’m a teacher first. Yes, I’m the administrator, but I’m always a teacher first.”
Outside of education, Paquette said he just enjoys life. He fills his off hours running, camping and spending time with his wife, Beatriz, a flight attendant for Delta Airlines; his youngest son, Nicholas, a sophomore in high school; and his oldest son, Adrian, who recently joined the Navy.
As far as his plans for Ramona Elementary, “I simply want to continue the great progress made by Phyllis and the RE staff. I’m looking to enhance what is already in place by utilizing our greatest resources and by relying on site expertise. My job as principal is to help the teachers do what they do best. I’m there to offer additional information, support and resources.”
In addition, “something I do feel I can bring to the table is information and knowledge of technology in education. I believe that it’s not about the amount of technology available; it’s more about the amount of learning that is produced by the technology. I’m excited to be part of RE’s future.”