Wednesday, August 19, 2009

1997-1998 Changes at the Helm

In November of 1997 Julia Strong-Yoho retired for health reasons. We could see it coming but it was still a shock as she had been our guide and supporter for so long. The assistant principal Michael Guevara became our principal. Susan Fivelstad, the Reading Specialist, became our Assistant Principal for the rest of the year. Susan was the district Team Leader of the Cal State Multiple Subject Program. The Multiple Subject Program helped to train 30 student teachers a year under the direction of Dr. Vickie Mui.

Mike was very different from Julia. Although they had one thing in common, both could be very charming. Julia had many years as a teacher and educator before becoming a principal. She had been in the district and worked with Mr. Emanuele so long she knew where all the bodies were buried, so to speak. Mike had about two years as a teacher before becoming an administrator, but he was very well liked by the assistant superintendent Ruth McKenna. Julia was very independent, confident, and never played favorites among the staff. She liked to have time to think about her decisions before she made them. Mike made quick decisions, was a fiery guy, and was quick to make friends with some of the staff. He also was a great party giver and made incredible salsa. It was an adjustment for us. The follow year Debbie Knoth became our assistant principal and helped guide us though the changes.

Debbie and I were roommates at a Road Ahead conference. I asked her why she wanted to be a principal. She said, "I want to make a difference for kids. As a teacher, I can only make a difference for 30 kids. As a principal, I can make a difference for hundreds of kids." In 1999 she became the principal of Searles Elementary School.

Important changes were also made at the district office. In 1998 Guy Emanuele retired as superintendent and named Ruth Ann McKenna as his successor. The school board agreed with his choice. She previously left New Haven School district for a three-year stint as chief deputy superintendent with the California Department of Education under the then Superintendent of Public Instruction, Delaine Eastin. Ms. McKenna spent 13 years with New Haven as a high school teacher and associate superintendent who engineered the success of Marching On, a musical sensation produced by the music teachers in New Haven.

Ruth Ann McKenna

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