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Torrey Pines Elementary School welcomes new principal, Keith Keiper

Keith Keiper is the new principal of Torrey Pines Elementary School in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Keith Keiper)

Incoming Torrey Pines Elementary School Principal Keith Keiper has a long-standing philosophy about education: “We, as educators, do what’s best for kids.”

He’ll be bringing that mantra to his new post in La Jolla, which he has started ahead of the opening of the new school year on Monday, Aug. 29.

“We have an obligation to the children to provide them with the best education possible,” he said. “That includes meaningful academics, which connects education to the world around us. When you raise the bar for children … it builds their critical thinking skills and forces them to ask questions. It’s about providing educational opportunities beyond page-turning and one plus one equals two.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, “it has become more apparent that we need to focus on social-emotional learning,” Keiper added. “As educators, we draw off our own experiences and the experiences we provided for our children because that is what we know. But the pandemic shined this light on the different levels of support the children have. Each child has different access to social-emotional support.

“It is really important that we provide kids with the opportunity to build empathy, self-awareness and compassion. When a child learns what it’s like to put themselves in someone else shoes, it can change the world.”

The father of three comes to Torrey Pines from the San Bernardino City Unified School District. He is in his 25th year in education, 13 of them as a teacher. Between his native New York and Southern California, Keiper has taught every grade, except fifth, from kindergarten through eighth. Most of that time he was teaching third and fourth grade, plus American history in some of the older grades.

Over the years, he developed programs “on the specialized side” of education, such as learning centers and other after-school activities. He also is certified in the Gifted and Talented Education program and entered administration at the encouragement of a mentor.

“While serving in these positions, Mr. Keiper demonstrated profound expertise in creating a positive culture and climate, instructional pedagogy, social-emotional leading and restorative practices,” San Diego Unified School District Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino wrote in a letter to Torrey Pines Elementary families. “Mr. Keiper has a passion for instructional leadership and working beside teachers to ensure that school is a place where students achieve and adults thrive.”

Working alongside the local teachers started even before Keiper welcomes students for the school year.

Torrey Pines Elementary School
Torrey Pines Elementary is one of five La Jolla public schools in the San Diego Unified School District preparing to begin the new school year Aug. 29.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“The teachers are dedicated and conscientious, so they have been there on break and I have been able to meet them,” Keiper said. “There is a lot of pride here. That’s a wonderful thing. I love teachers, they are my people. I tend to form close bonds because I never forgot what it was like.

“What I like about being an administrator is it is the best of all worlds. Your lens opens with every rung you climb. As a teacher, you may focus on your class, your grade level. As a principal, you see all of it, how it interconnects and really interacts with the teacher and the community, but you are still with the kids.”

Torrey Pines already has “many incredible systems in place” that pair with his philosophy, he said. “We have these caring and dedicated teachers and I’m looking forward to working closely with the teachers and providing opportunities to make these kids well-rounded global citizens.”

Expanding that to include the parents and surrounding community, Keiper said he looks forward to “getting to know everyone and becoming part of the community myself. I welcome them and their insights and perspectives. I’m new here, but they are the experts. I’m so excited to be here and looking forward to a wonderful partnership.”

“I love teachers, they are my people. I tend to form close bonds because I never forgot what it was like.”

— Keith Keiper

In his free time, Keiper and his family enjoy gardening, cooking, photography and travel.

He arrives at Torrey Pines after former principal Nona Richard left at the end of last school year in June. Her departure came amid accusations from some parents of harassment, intimidation and discrimination over the pandemic mask policy and failing to address student bullying.

San Diego Unified said it could not comment about the allegations since a family had filed a claim as a possible precursor to a lawsuit.

Some parents had high praise for Richard, saying she made their children feel safe and brought “a wonderful mix of passion for the students [and] energy and administrative savviness to the job.”

Torrey Pines Elementary School is at 8350 Cliffridge Ave. Learn more at torreypines.sandiegounified.org. ◆