New principal sees middle school as a crossroads for students

Pauline Leavitt, right, Olive Peirce Middle School’s incoming principal, and Linda Solis, former OPMS principal, hold the quilt Leavitt’s mother made for Solis when Solis retired in June. It contains all of the school’s T-shirts during Solis’ tenure as principal.
Pauline Leavitt, right, Olive Peirce Middle School’s incoming principal, and Linda Solis, former OPMS principal, hold the quilt Leavitt’s mother made for Solis when Solis retired in June. It contains all of the school’s T-shirts during Solis’ tenure as principal.

This is the first in a series about new leaders at Ramona Unified School District schools.

By Pixie Sulser

After 25 years in the Ramona Unified School District, Olive Peirce Middle School Principal Linda Solis retired, leaving what she refers to as “the best middle school in the inner-galactic planetary solar system” in the hands of her former teammate, Pauline Leavitt.

For the past two years, Leavitt has held the principal reins at James Dukes Elementary. Before that, she spent four years

working with Solis as OPMS assistant principal.

“Pauline is an incredible person,” said Solis. “She is a talented instructional leader and passionate about kids and their successful learning. I can think of no one better equipped to lead OPMS successfully into the future She is loved by the entire OPMS team — and most especially by me!”

During Leavitt’s tenure at James Dukes, she and her staff implemented the No Excuses University concept creating an atmosphere on the elementary campus that college is an option for all students. Although she arrived at JD with a detailed background in education, Leavitt said that through her time as a Coyote she really learned the strength of the parent community.

“The parents at JD have supported the students, the school and me in so many amazing ways,” she said. “Words cannot express my appreciation for these relationships. I definitely plan to continue building parent connections at OPMS.”

Her further plans for OPMS include continuing with the Professional Learning Community model that she believes promotes learning for students as well as teachers. Additionally, she wants to raise money for technology, implement an online middle school program and remain focused on preparing students to become college and career ready.

“I love the middle school age,” said Leavitt. “I truly believe that middle school is a crossroads for students. It is such an important time in their lives. Linda Solis created a huge pattern of success for students, and I want to continue helping students grow into themselves and into their leadership abilities.”

The education business has been a part of Leavitt’s life since she was born. Her father was a teacher, and as she puts it, “As a child, I watched my father change the lives of his students, help other teachers strengthen their skills, and constantly push himself as a learner…I always wanted to be just like him. Add that to the fact that I have always adored learning and working with children, education seemed like the perfect career path for me.”

Leavitt began her career by teaching reading to young men in the court school system. Although this was a short time in her life, she describes the period as having a huge impact.

“Working in the court schools will stick with me forever,” she said. “It made me realize the gravity of my role as an educator and the difference I can make and the difference education can make in someone’s life.”

For the next several years she worked in the San Diego City School system as a classroom teacher at various grade levels before moving to a middle school where she divided her time between teaching struggling learners how to succeed in the classroom and acting as a peer coach for new teachers. Later she was a literacy administrator leading staff development, creating curriculum and modeling best teaching practices.

Before joining the Ramona district as assistant principal at OPMS, Leavitt spent two years as an assistant principal at an elementary school that had “a huge discipline problem which was affecting learning.” Leavitt collaborated with the staff and community to create an after-school sports program in which only students without discipline referrals could participate.

“Within a month of implementing the sports program, the referrals went from 100 a week to less than five,” she said. “The immediate result was students in class learning as well as showing respect for their teachers and for their community. Additionally, I teamed with an artist from Chollas Park and the students created a school mural on campus which is now considered a local landmark.”

When she isn’t immersed in researching strategies to improve student learning, researching plans for professional development or working with students, Leavitt enjoys cooking, painting and spending time with her family.

   
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