New Principals Prepare for Year Ahead

Five new principals are starting at Petaluma schools and they have big goals for their schools and students

Five new principals greeted Petaluma students this week and all have big goals for the 2012-13 school year.

At , former assistant principal David Stirrat spent his first week scrambling to figure out whether additional classes would be needed for the 1,300 students enrolled this year, about 60 more than the school anticipated.

Stirrat says his focus remains the same it has always been: make sure all students get a topnotch education and are prepared for either college or the work world when they graduate.

“One of our goals is to address every single student, which sounds obvious, but it’s about really knowing the needs of each student,” Stirrat told Patch.

Another is revamping the district’s teacher evaluation system so that teachers who are struggling can be given extra support. The district will soon start discussions about how to allow for more detail in evaluations which currently make it hard to assess teachers’ strengths and weaknesses.

“We have an achievement gap and we tend to think it’s only about students under performing when it’s also connected to the system,” Stirrat said. “And in any system, there are going to be a few bad apples.”

At , Matthew Harris is taking over for Sherry Devine, who retired in June.

Harris, 35, is a graduate of the Teach for America program who spent nearly a decade working in inner city schools in Los Angeles before moving to the North Bay this summer.

He speaks Spanish, making him uniquely poised to lead the 230-student school, where most kids are still learning English.

“I have experience teaching in a bilingual setting and can communicate with parents,” Harris said. “One of our goals this year is to increase parent and community involvement, working with English Language Learners and closing achievement gap and writing strategies.”

At , retired Penngrove Elementary School principal Kathleen Larsen is taking over for Karen McGahey, who is leaving to take a job at the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Larsen, who spent 13 years teaching at Penngrove, will be interim principal until the district finds a permanent replacement.

Unlike other schools in the district, Cherry Valley resumed classes in July, giving McGahey a chance to get the year rolling before leaving.

“We have very experienced staff here, so it’s pretty much business as usual,” said Larsen, whose own children attended the school.

The new principal at Penngrove Elementary is Amy Fadeji who comes to Petaluma from Ross Valley School District in Marin County. Fadeji has a master’s in educational administration from the University of Southern Mississippi and has spent time in Nigerian classrooms. She also spends every summer volunteering at an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, experiences she says have given her a more global view she aims to share with her students.

Fadeji's goals for her 400-plus student school?

Increase the use of technology on campus and reach out more to students who are still learning English and their parents.

"We want to create a stronger sense of community and learning," she says. 

Over in the Old Adobe school district, Julie Hermosillo is the new principal at . Hermosillo has had a three decade career in education and was previously a principal at Jefferson Elementary School in Windsor and a Director of Student Services for special education students.

Are you a parent or educator in Petaluma? What are your hopes for the 2012-13 school year?


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