School starts Monday: Principals share plans and possibilities for school year

Sentinel file photo
Sentinel file photo

By Pixie Sulser

The days of summer are winding down, but excitement is heating up at Ramona Unified School District school sites as each prepares for the arrival of students on Monday, Aug. 26, the first day of classes.

The beginning of the 2013-14 school year is an unusual one in Ramona as six of the nine schools have new leadership.

Ramona High School, Olive Peirce Middle School, Ramona Community School/Mt. Valley Academy, Mt. Woodson Elementary, Ramona Elementary, and James Dukes all have new principals. RHS and OPMS also sport new assistant principals with Ed Van Hoose joining the RHS staff and Missy Cobian being selected AP at OPMS.

“Veteran principals” Dave Lohman of Montecito High, Chris Gunnett of Hanson Elementary, Linda Ball Marthias of Barnett Elementary and, technically, Pauline Leavitt of OPMS will follow the guidance of even more leadership changes with the appointment of former RHS principal Tony Newman and former Mt. Woodson principal Theresa Grace to the district office as, respectively, assistant superintendent of human resources and senior director of education services.

Change, however, opens new possibilities, and each principal has big plans for his or her school. At RHS, Principal Christopher King sees his school playing a significant role in the district’s overall plans for the future of education in Ramona.

“As the largest school in the Ramona Unified School District, RHS will play an integral part in helping the school district achieve its goals,” he said. “To this end, we will focus on building relationships, raising academic achievement through the Common Core State Standards, and providing opportunities for students to be ‘career ready’ when they earn their diploma.”

King and Assistant Principal Ed Van Hoose are eager to meet as many students, parents and community members as possible. All stakeholders are invited to call 760-787-4004 to schedule an appointment.

Leavitt is excited to be back at OPMS, this time as principal.

“I am thrilled to return to Olive Peirce Middle School and to continue the journey toward preparing every student for their college and career goals as well as maintaining the Professional Learning Community,” she said.

She and her staff are planning a year full of excitement as they delve into the Common Core standards, work toward implementing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program and begin raising money to increase technology in the classrooms. Leavitt describes these three small items as “goals that will help our students work and learn in a 21st century environment as well as create a multitude of learning opportunities for our students to prepare them to compete in the workforce someday.”

She maintains that the OPMS students and staff still work and learn in the “best place on earth.”

Down the block from OPMS and RHS, Ramona Community School/Mt. Valley Academy welcomes Kathryn Gunderson, former RHS assistant principal, as their new principal. Not only is Gunderson energized about this fresh chapter in her life, but she is excited about the RCS/MV philosophy of education.

“We are looking forward to a year packed with learning in this 21st century,” she said. “Our programs allow us to partner with our

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Sentinel file photo

great families to learn skills and concepts preparing our students for success in life.”

There is a lot happening at RCS this year, shared Gunderson. Not only will the staff be preparing for an accreditation visit in the spring, but school clubs and the Parent Teacher Student Association have plans for numerous ways for students and families to connect with RCS, and the Wednesday morning site gatherings will continue with a focus on nature.

“While we take the business of learning seriously, we look forward to creating joy in our meaningful work while tending the relationships that are so key to learning,” Gunderson said.

Preparing students to be college and career ready is one of the themes uniting all schools in the Ramona district, and Montecito High School is right in the thick of it with big plans to help its students meet the challenges of life after high school.

“The vast majority of our students at MHS,” noted Principal Dave Lohman, “are first generation college prospects. Providing our students with avenues to become eligible to enroll in post high school education services is paramount.”

To this end, MHS is introducing CAP (College Access Program) to the elective choices this year. CAP is a year-long course providing support for students in their current classes as well as teaching them study skills, test preparedness and goal setting as they explore college and career choices.

“Having this become part of the MHS culture enhances the awareness for students, parents and the community that post high school education is the way we do business at MHS,” he said.

New Ramona Elementary Principal Daniel Paquette is excited to part of RE’s future. His experience with technology in education is something he believes he can bring to the table to help continue the school’s upward progress.

“At RE, we are about measurable improvement in student achievement,” he said. “This will be a thrilling year for the Mustangs. With a focus on developing strong academic habits, our students will be sporting smiles due to their increased love of learning.”

Across town at Hanson Elementary, Principal Chris Gunnett describes his school as being filled with excitement. Gunnett and staff have attended in-service trainings and worked throughout the summer to build a “powerful and positive learning experience” for all students.

“Our schoolwide focus will be on the new National Common Core Standards,” he said. “This new direction and set of standards for our school will begin preparing our students with 21st Century skills needed in today’s society. Critical thinking and written skills will be at the forefront of the learning as well as integrating technology into the classrooms for our students.”

The Mt. Woodson Elementary staff welcomes Robin Aernd as site principal. Aernd, a former Mt. Woodson teacher, most recently spent two years as OPMS assistant principal. She is excited to return to Mt. Woodson and has a school year of high level learning planned.

“Our staff commitment to preparing students for their future college and career endeavors is steadfast,” she said. “Through quality staff development opportunities, using the latest proven research based strategies and pushing for greater technology expertise as we implement the Common Core standards, we will provide our students with skills for the 21st Century.”

The staff’s efforts will be helped along by a grant from the CTA (California Teachers Association) Institute of Teaching.

James Dukes Elementary, home of the Coyotes, also welcomes a new face in the leadership office. Principal Joy Harris, new to the district, looks forward to “being part of such a functional team that believes in dreaming big. Our focus on innovation through technology and writing will continue in 2013-14. Our students will be innovative thinkers prepared for 21st century learning. Our strong collaboration with parents and community is our greatest strength. Great things come out of working together.”

Having been interim principal at two San Diego area elementary schools and working as an assistant principal at the high school level, Harris brings a full K-12 spectrum of experience and knowledge to the JD community.

At Barnett Elementary, a 2012 California Distinguished School, the school motto of “Learning is MY responsibility, whatever it takes” will continue to be a driving force as the staff and students expand their energies into implementing the Common Core standards and the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Principal Linda (Ball) Marthis (her newly married name) describes the staff as being committed to continuing and “fine tuning” instructional practices that support student progress and achievement.”

The district’s focus on implementing the Common Core standards, the elements of the STEM program and 21st Century skills is a common thread connecting each site to one overall vision for the students of Ramona.

   
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