Eighteen new principals welcomed to Sacramento City Unified schools

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By Kaili Jiang, John F. Kennedy High School

 

For most students, going back to in-person school for the first time since COVID struck felt pretty normal. But for some Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) principals, this school year was their first at a brand new school or even a fresh new district. 

At 18 schools in the SCUSD, new principals opened doors at the start of the 2022-2023 school year, including: 

  • Samantha Trent of Caleb Greenwood Elementary
  • Gino Dobrescu of California Middle
  • Autumn Moua of Camellia Basic Elementary
  • Ashley Alexander of Fr. Keith B. Kenny Elementary
  • Azarel Iniguez of Golden Empire
  • Africa Fullove of John D. Sloat Elementary
  • Joanna Evans of John Still Middle
  • Sam Floyd of Leataata Floyd Elementary
  • Jennifer Walker of Martin L. King Jr. Middle
  • Eugene Stovall of Matsuyama Elementary
  • Rene Sanchez of Nicholas Elementary
  • Tiffany Whelden of Oakridge Elementary
  • Jennifer Molino of Peter Burnett Elementary
  • Doyal Martin of Phoebe Hearst Elementary
  • Michele Rossi of Pony Express Elementary
  • Heather Bennett of Tahoe Elementary
  • Monica Koehler of Theodore Judah Elementary
  • Kelly Ryan at Caroline Wenzel Elementary 

The new principals have taken different paths to the top job at their schools.

“I left the classroom because I wanted to effect change on a grander scale,” said Gino Dobrescu, a former math teacher, vice principal, and now the principal at Cal Middle. “In the classroom, you have about 150-170 students. In a school, you can affect hundreds, and so I like to provide to teachers what I wasn’t provided as their principal.”

Some principals reached their positions through untraditional ways.

“I was not originally an education major, I was actually in the military, and so I was asked to volunteer in schools,” said principal Ashley Alexander at Father B. Kenny elementary. “I volunteered and fell in love with the students and education and so decided I wanted to be an educator. I went back to school and got an education degree and was a teacher. I taught for about eight to nine years and then I did some other things in education like being a mentor, and intervention teacher, and then just kind of moved up.” 

And some didn’t actively seek the job.

“I think the job kind of chose me more than anything else,” said Matsuyama Elementary school principal Eugene Stovall. “I think it was more of I got pushed out of my teaching duties so teachers were like ‘Oh you’re good at your job, but you have a lot of other things you have to offer,’ so that’s kind of what happened.”

Like new homeowners, the principals have also had to settle in and make themselves at home.

“So I left C.K McClatchy as a vice principal a little over two years, and I moved to have my own school as a principal at Pony Express Elementary School,” Dobrescu said. “I was there for about five years and then I moved back to Cal Middle, and so I’m back to the segment that I really enjoy. I was a teacher in middle school and that’s where I want to finish my career, so I’m settling here.”

Some principals, like Alexander, had to do even more traveling.

“It’s been a little different,” Alexander said. “I’m actually from Mississippi so I taught there for about nine years. I’ve been in California for almost two years now. I was in the San Juan (Unified) School District last year, which was obviously different than Mississippi. Mississippi and California’s education system is totally different. Even being in San Juan was different and shifting from San Juan to Sac City is different. So it’s been a change, it’s been a welcome change, though. The students are great here, the staff is great, so I would say things have been going pretty well, as well as they can go.”

Students play a huge role in making their new principals feel at home.

“Students have been awesome,” Stovall said. “I think it’s the reason I’m a teacher and principal. That’s why I love education, just the kids, you know. They’re really nice, very respectful, it’s been great, the best part of the job.”

Even though they’ve only been at their schools for a few months, principals already find themselves dealing with challenges, both personal and educational. 

At Cal Middle School, it’s “…Instagram and social media,” Dobrescu said. “We had some girl fights, and that’s because of social media and drama. Ninety-five percent of the issues here are raised by girls over, ‘She said this,’ ‘She talked about me like this,’ She called me this.’

“The second-biggest challenge is improving academically. English is OK, but math. I’ve been a math teacher for 16 years, so my focus has always been on math to make sure that we increase our scores.  This is an academic institution, it’s not a club, it’s not Costco, it’s not a grocery store and we need to make sure that education happens here. We must remove all the barriers and ensure that everything is conducive to learning.”

For Alexander social norms have been tough to tackle, on top of her work-related challenges.

“I think a challenge for me is just being from Mississippi, and just learning how people here interact,” Alexander said. “Because being from the South, we’re just all over, like ‘Hey y’all,’ and hugging everybody and everybody loves to talk. “Here, I think people are a little more reserved, so I’ve been working on my approach, like ‘I can’t give her a hug, let me back up.’ So I think that’s been the biggest challenge for me is just the cultural difference; it’s been a culture shock for me for sure.”

Even though the job presents challenges, the new principals are finding that what they do can be highly rewarding, especially when it comes to their teachers and students.

“When I walk in my office and I have notes from teachers saying, ‘Thank you for taking the time to talk to me yesterday, I really appreciated a different perspective,’ those are the most rewarding to me,” Alexander said. “To see the smiles on the kids’ faces. “Here I’ve been trying to bring up some of the fun things and they seem to appreciate the fun, positive things we’ve been doing.”

It doesn’t have to be gifts or notes that make them feel appreciated. It also can be something as simple as attendance. 

“For a child to attend every single day all six periods and the teacher to provide a very safe environment, an engaging environment, and when that takes place when a child desires to be in the classroom to learn because I’ve provided an environment that is so engaging and so accepting and welcoming – that is the biggest reward,” Dobrescu said. 

Even parents’ behaviors can be rewarding, and set off a chain reaction among teachers and students.

“Just basically seeing parents happy, I think when parents are happy then I know the kids are happy, the teachers are happy because it brings down any kind of levels of concern,” Stovall said.

Some of the new principals have personal backgrounds and interests that might surprise students.

“I speak other languages. I’m fluent in Romanian, I understand a lot of Spanish, a little Italian, and some Russian,” Dobrescu said. “I grew up in the country of Romania under communism and I was in middle school when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989. I am a vegetarian, I haven’t eaten meat my entire life, and I don’t drink alcohol, and I don’t smoke.”

“I love learning TikTok dances,” Alexander said. “The kids kind of see me as just a principal, but I like the TikTok and I think they’ll enjoy the dances as well.”

“I get up at about 4:30 in the morning to work out,” said Stovall, who once played professional football.

With almost eight months of the school year remaining, principals have a lot to look forward to. 

“I’m looking forward to what the scores look like at the end of the year, I mean that’s always a big mark of the principal,” Stovall said.

Many students and teachers might agree with Alexander’s comment on what she’s anticipating the most.

“So far,” Alexander said with a laugh, “I am looking most forward to winter break.”