New Torrey Pines Elementary School principal Nona Richard is what you might call a life-long learner. She has bachelor’s degrees in history and psychology, a teaching credential, administrative credential, a master’s degree in both cross-cultural teaching and educational leadership with a technology focus, and just for good measure, is working on a Ph.D. in “Democratic schooling, social justice and equal education outcomes for all students.”
The Alpine-native was appointed to Torrey Pines Elementary in November, but won’t officially take the reins until early 2019, when a replacement is found for her outgoing position as principal of Hancock Elementary School.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher my whole life,” she told La Jolla Light. “When I was a kid, I played ‘school’ with my Cabbage Patch dolls.”
After earning a teaching credential from National University in 2006, she taught elementary school in the El Cajon and Vista school districts, before earning her administrative credential from San Diego State University in July 2016 and becoming Hancock’s principal soon after.
As principal, Richard said she believes she has to be “a little bit of everything” to run a school effectively.
“The role of the principal at a new site is to have the bird’s-eye perspective. I’m not in the classroom with the teachers, I’m not a parent who trusts their child to this school, I’m not a staffer scheduling the calendar, I’m a little bit of everything,” she said. “I need to make sure all those voices are considered and facilitate a place where all those voices are brought to the forefront. I can be the go-between for supporting teachers’ needs to grow professionally and children’s knowledge-building.”
Always on the lookout to learn whatever the best practices are, at Hancock — a school of predominantly military families with almost 150 more students than Torrey Pines — she implemented a practice of meeting the students where they are emotionally, and providing an atmosphere where their voices could be heard.
Richard explained: “No matter where the school is, there has to be a school culture where people want to be there each day. The teachers have to want to be there to teach and students have to want to be there to learn. At Hancock, students come in and out as they move and families have challenges with deployment, so we’ve had to put the kids’ needs first — whatever they are — and make sure their voices are heard to facilitate that environment.”
At Torrey Pines, Richard is already aware of circumstances that may challenge its student population. “There are students who may not be from the United States, but are here because their parents are studying or working at UC San Diego. There are students with special needs, students that speak different languages,” she said. “The things that make Torrey Pines challenging can bring us together. We can build a community of inclusiveness.”
In her free time, Richard said she loves to travel to boost her multi-cultural learning. She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, has reached base camp of Mount Everest on the border between Nepal and Tibet, and plans to hike Machu Picchu in Peru. “Having experiences that are different from my normal environment is healthy to creating a new perspective,” she opined. “There is life outside San Diego.”
When it comes to “goals” for her time at Torrey Pines, Richard prefers to think of such as “wonderings.” For example, she said she wonders how the school is capitalizing on the international experiences of its students, how to integrate more multi-language learning, and how its science education looks at the full scope of problem-solving.
In terms of more formal goals, Richard said she “needs to get a vibe for the community’s needs,” and is committed to staying connected through social media. Already active on Twitter, she said: “I have a personal goal to share what is going on at schools with social media platforms. I’m not as active as I want to be, but it’s a goal. I think staying connected with what’s current with kids is part of my job. We shouldn’t be over-reliant on technology, but we need to connect with our students.”
Eager to get started, Richard said her message to parents is one of gratitude: “Thank you for entrusting me in supporting your student. It’s the best honor in the world when parents are comfortable leaving their kids with us 6-8 hours a day. I’m honored to be the next principal and continue the great legacy Torrey Pines school has of great work.”
She shared one other goal she would like achieve: learning more innovative crock pot recipes.