Outsiders and familiar faces now dot educational landscape
By Jim Shilander
Turnover can be a fact of life in education. Just as students move on, so to do teachers and administrators. But this year, San Clemente has seen a pretty significant turnover at its highest levels, with seven new principals coming to schools in the city. The new principals come from across the country and state, as well as from within the Capistrano Unified School District. In one case, a new principal stayed within the same school.
All of the new school leaders will be working this year to transition faculty and students into the Common Core, the newest curriculum standard for California and 44 other states across the country. The change, principals said, will help students in the long run by emphasizing critical thinking and other skills needed to succeed in their future careers.
Paul Foucart—Concordia Elementary School
Paul Foucart has come to San Clemente’s southernmost school from the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in Danville, where he had been serving as director of curriculum and instruction, as well as instructional technology.
Foucart, a native of Massachusetts, said he wanted to get back to a school setting, rather than an administrative one.
“I really missed the energy of being at a site,” Foucart said. “That’s where I enjoy it most.”
Foucart officially started his new position August 5 and has been meeting with parent groups and staff. Parents and students may also notice a few physical changes to the school, though they were mostly cosmetic, Foucart said.
“We’ve kept the traditions of Concordia but gave it a face lift,” Foucart said. “I felt a sense of camaraderie right away. The community at large has been very supportive. It’s always difficult to replace a legend (former principal Dave Gerhard), but we want to keep the traditions of the school.”
Faith Morris—Marblehead Elementary School
Faith Morris has moved to Marblehead from her previous post at John Malcom Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, where she had been since 2006. Morris said she was pleased with the work being done at the school, but said every now and then, a change could be healthy.
“I was very happy where I was, but I have a philosophy of always leaving a place before you stop having fun,” Morris said.
Malcolm was having success when she left, Morris said, with good parental involvement and good numbers for open enrollment. She said she saw a number of the same positives at Marblehead and said she enjoyed getting to know the lay of the land at the new school.
Morris said transferring schools within the district also made the move easier.
“You already have a support network, you already know the policies and the initiatives,” Morris said. “But it’s still good to get people from the outside to bring in a different perspective.”
Morris said one of her goals is to grow the size of the school, now at approximately 430 students, though that number may rise when the residential Marblehead development begins.
Troy Hunt—Vista Del Mar Elementary
Like Foucart, Troy Hunt is coming back to the school setting form an administrative post, though his was much closer to home. Hunt worked as director of educational services in the Cypress School district, which served only about 3,600 elementary students. His new school, Vista Del Mar Elementary, has approximately a third of that number on its own.
“I got to return to my passion of working with kids and teachers,” Hunt said. “We don’t really have that opportunity in the district office. This is an incredible school.”
Hunt and his family have actually moved into Talega, where he met some of his school’s families at a recent barbecue. He’s also met with staff and members of the Mako Foundation, a parent-run group that fundraises for the school.
“I can’t believe how kind people are and the values that they have. Children say ‘please,’ and ‘thank you,’ shake your hand and look you in the eye,” Hunt said. “It’s an exciting time to be in education and it’s a great time to be here.”
Sandra McKinney—Vista Del Mar Middle School
Sandra McKinney is moving up a grade level, moving to Vista del Mar Middle School from Clarence Lobo Elementary in San Clemente.
McKinney said it’s very helpful to have been a part of San Clemente, in her case, as both a resident and an educator, in making such a shift.
“When the opportunity presented itself, I happily accepted, McKinney said. “I’m looking forward to a new adventure.”
Unlike the city’s two other middle schools, Shorecliffs and Bernice Ayer, no other schools feed into Vista Del Mar other than the elementary school, which creates a unique feeling among students and parents. A number of families also have students on both sides of the building, which makes being involved easier, she said
“They’re here from Kindergarten through eighth grade, which means there’s much more of a K-8 feel to the school,” McKinney said. “You establish a sense of community here more than a typical K-5.”
Heidi Crowley—Shorecliffs Middle School
Heidi Crowley is taking her first crack at a principal position with her new job at Shorecliffs. Previously, Crowley had been an assistant principal at Aliso Niguel High School. Staying in the district, she said, definitely made the move easier.
“It definitely helps to have people I can rely on as far as advice,” Crowley said.
One such person is retired predecessor Kenny Moe. Crowley said the two have known each other since she was a teacher at Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo and Moe was her principal.
“He’s been super helpful and he’s been available when I’ve needed him,” Crowley said.
Coming from a high school setting to a smaller middle school made everything seem more personal, Crowley said. She has already met with staff to begin planning the year, as well as having met with parents during registration. She has also worked to get up to speed on the Gang Reduction Intervention Program.
Cheryl Sampson—Clarence Lobo Elementary School
Cheryl Sampson is the only new principal in San Clemente to stay within the same building, moving up from serving as assistant principal into McKinney’s old seat.
“That’s what makes it such a nice transition,” Sampson said. “I know the staff and they know me.”
It was also a help, she said, knowing that McKinney isn’t that far away in case she needs advice.
Sampson came to Lobo three years ago from a teaching position in northern California. Still being relatively new to the district, she said, allowed her to bring a perspective from the outside, as well as knowledge of what was already working at Lobo, such as the Olweus anti-bullying program put in place last year.
“Things are going very well here, in math and language arts. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing well,” Sampson said.
Progress is being made in the anti-bullying effort, she said.
“We just had the first round of research come back and the results are remarkable.”
Michael Halt—San Clemente High School
Michael Halt has already made on big change as principal of San Clemente High School. Halt closed campus for lunch for seniors. San Clemente had been the only school in the district to allow students to go off-campus for lunch.
“The desire was to make sure the policies were in sync throughout the entire district,” Halt said.
Halt said he was discussing with student leaders how to make up for the loss, looking to add a senior privilege that would be roughly equivalent to what was lost.
Halt comes the furthest of any of the new principals, having previously served as the principal of the West Tisbury School, a K-8 school in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Halt was familiar with San Clemente, however, having spent training weekends at Camp Pendleton as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.
Coming from such a different perspective, he said, could be helpful to most any organization.
“Everyone needs a fresh set of eyes to bring fresh ideas,” Halt said.
The Common Core
All the principals said they see real benefit with the move toward the Common Core, which they said, will prepare students to think more critically, rather than merely recite answers. Common Core standards begin to go into effect statewide this year after, being adopted in 2010, as part of the Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” initiative.
The program emphasizes what are called the “Four C’s,” collaboration, communication, critical problem solving and creative thinking.
Hunt said what’s been missing from public education over the last decade or so has been a focus on producing creative and critical thinkers.
“If you look at businesses and colleges, they were getting the best and the brightest students, but they couldn’t work with others or they couldn’t think critically. They knew how to read, how to write and how to take tests,” Hunt said.
Hunt used an example from the space-race era to illustrate what had been lost.
“On Apollo 13, the astronauts relied on the engineers and other people on the ground to collectively work together and to think critically to come up with a solution,” Hunt said. “Kids weren’t coming out (of public schools) with these skills.”
Foucart praised the changes. He noted the program would ultimately be entirely computerized, a change, he said, will better prepare students for an increasingly digital future.
Howley said she has been strategizing with staff and others on how to best use staff development time to discuss ways to implement the new curriculum. The new collective bargaining agreement between the district and teachers allows for three instructional furlough days that Crowley said would be almost entirely devoted to Common Core.
“It’s not just ‘What’s the answer,’ but ‘How did you come up with that answer,’” Crowley said.