After quietly being brought on to the Bird Rock Elementary faculty earlier this year (during a slightly unstable time in the school’s history), Andrea “Andi” Frost has been named full-time principal. She will helm the school after summer break, beginning Monday, Aug. 27 at 5371 La Jolla Hermosa Ave.
It’s a position that for Frost, has been a long time coming.
“Kids are just my favorite people,” the Massachusetts native said with a contagious smile and laugh. “I always knew I wanted to do something with kids. At first I thought maybe I’d be a pediatric nurse practitioner. Then I had a strong conversation with myself about the impact I wanted to make in the life of a child. I thought I could make a greater impact on the whole being by being an educator.”
Frost said she originally intended to teach elementary school, and obtained a multiple-subject credential in 1999, but due to San Diego Unified School District budget constraints that limited the number of elementary school teacher positions, she actually went to a middle school to teach science.
To enhance her skills, she trained under the Educational Leadership Development Academy, through which teachers earn administrative credentials while interning under a master principal.
However, the plan to become a school leader at a higher level would have to wait, as her son Dylan was still young and she was facing too many long days, and wanted to be home in time to tuck him into bed.
“I became an academic coach so I could still reach kids by impacting instruction, but I was also able to do those extra-hours things at home. I was able to meet my professional needs and emotional needs,” she said. “After my son hit high school, he needed — I guess he actually wanted — less mommy time, so I shifted back to the administrative role at schools.” She served at schools in the Kearny area, and at Gompers Charter School.
And in that time, she developed a leadership philosophy.
“It’s our responsibility, whether we are teaching or leading — and those things can be interwoven — to inspire curiosity and greatness,” she said. “Our role is to help people know that they have efficacy.
“Kids come to the table with different beliefs about themselves and have all said at one point: ‘I’m not as smart as that person,’ or ‘I’m not as good at something as someone else.’ It might be true that at some moments we might not be as good at something as someone else, but the job of a teacher and a leader, is to help people look at what parts they need to get better at to get to where they want to be.”
As to how she fosters that culture, Frost admits it’s hard to explain.
“It’s about the psyche,” she said. “It’s listening to the different teachers and students to get information about the people I work with and to design experiences or conversations that help that person grow. How does that person tick? What do I know about how they learn? We can design those experiences so they can’t help but get better and better.”
And she brings that attitude to Bird Rock Elementary.
Frost started in June 2018, while outgoing principal Amanda Hale was “on personal leave” following allegations from parents about not creating a safe environment for all students. At the time, Frost supported the vice principals as they served in temporary leadership roles.
When she arrived, Hale was technically still principal, but wasn’t present on campus. That fueled a continued environment of uncertainty among parents. (After Bird Rock principal Sally Viavada left in summer 2015, three temporary principals served until Hale’s arrival in September 2016.) When Hale took another position within the district, Frost was appointed principal.
“There’s been a lot of turnover in leadership at Bird Rock, as the community knows, and what has happened is parents didn’t know what to expect in a given situation. When I came on board, there were people who were cautious but optimistic. It’s a beautiful school, it’s a community school. Everyone I’ve met just wants to make it the shiniest gem they can,” Frost said.
She added, via email, “ In some cases there was also frustration and bewilderment. As we (interim administrators Chris Hargrave, Judy Fogel and I) worked with members of the school community to support a smooth transition, answer questions as best we could and address needs, the climate began to slowly shift to one of cautious optimism. As principal of BRE, I plan to nurture this optimism as we work together in a spirit of trust, respect, appreciation and value.”
Early on, parents were active in communicating their wants and needs, specifically on enhanced school safety. While efforts were underway last year to improve safety, Frost said even more are on the way.
“Fences were put up, gates were locked and locked with unique keys,” she explained. “Visitor badges and volunteer badges are now required. Some people think it’s great that they need to be let in, others glare at me. These were things that were initiated before I was brought on board.
“We have some things that are still outstanding, including a locked front gate with an intercom so someone would need to be buzzed in to the school. That’s in the plans and already approved. My plan is to call someone today to understand the timeline.”
Parents were also concerned that their children were ill-prepared for emergencies. “The only way to become familiar with what a fire drill bell sounds like or what a lockdown bell sounds like is practice, practice, practice. But we need to look at drills through a positive lens, so we can keep kids safe without scaring them,” she said.
Frost expressed her appreciation for parents being open and honest from the beginning, and said she looks forward to working with everyone to create the best school they can: “I’m happy to be back in an elementary school setting, back where I had intended to be all along.”