Were Schools Ready for a Pandemic ?

Were Schools Ready for a Pandemic ?


Was anyone ready for this pandemic?


Are schools getting ready to serve children in the pandemic?


Our American public schools have to be ready for just about any eventuality and sadly in recent history, even for school shootings. For years, those of us who lead schools work to plan to create safe environments where children can learn and develop as human beings and citizens. The work we do and planning is ever changing as the needs and contexts change in society.

The recent pandemic has set us into action getting ready to keep children safe while supporting their learning and development. We will meet this challenge by planning, learning, engaging the community, iterating, innovating, and caring deeply about the work we do. 

I think it’s important for the public to know how we are planning as well as the dynamics and conditions that we are required to respond to as we plan. Each school District in California is working with their board of trustees and community to meet the challenge at the same time as responding to regularly changing guidance, budgets, and requirements from state, federal, and county governmental agencies. These governmental dynamics are evolving and changing weekly. In this context, school Districts are planning for safe learning models and re-planning each time the dynamics change.

This planning environment is similar to war planning but it is very unfamiliar to most people who have families and children and want to know now how things will be so they can plan their own lives. As such, school Districts are planning and looking forward to the time and moment when federal, state, and county guidance will be more concrete and clear. This time may come very close to the beginning of the new 2020/21 school year and even more problematic, is likely to be susceptible to change at any time that the pandemic outcomes change. The virus, it seems, does not cater to calendar or schedules.

School leaders recognize this state of affairs is stressing and challenging for everyone involved, most especially families and children. We want all children and families to know and count on us to provide the safest and best possible learning environments and processes. We will make this happen and we will work diligently all summer to increase the quality and quantity of our communication with everyone so people can know as much as possible about what to expect for the coming school year. 

We will be ready in 2020/21. We will provide safe, quality learning environments and opportunities. We know that the school-student-family relationship is even more critical for children in these pandemic times but we also know that our community is strong and caring and resilient and will rally together with teachers and school leaders to do what is right for every child. Our goal is to provide a clear plan to the community by August 3, 2020 so families have a few weeks to consider their next steps in educating their children during these pandemic times.

What’s it take to be a great School Principal?

The list of answers to this question is likely very long. Books are written about the role. Many points of view will answer the question differently. Teachers, parents, students, community members all will have their opinion. Principals, themselves, are worthy of a good listening after being asked this question. I asked a couple principals recently during our end of year evaluation discussions and they shared the following thoughts.

Vulnerability –  principals need to know what they know and what they don’t know. They need to be Lifelong learners and need to learn community and organizational contexts while building on their own strengths and experiences.

Work Ethic –  principals need to have a can do, never say die attitude and know there is always a way but you might have to find the way.

Building or contributing to a school identity.

Building collaboration

Aligning staff for strength and success

Know your staff and team

Create a supportive environment for staff for organizational development.

Patience – with oneself and others. Including being a good listener and problem solver and being empathetic. In order to help solve problems you really have to understand them.

Serving families and knowing the community and culture of the school.

Know how to reach, speak, and engage the community for who they are.

Leading by example as a teacher and human being.

Being out and about with children and staff regularly.

Rio’s school leaders are diverse in experience and style. They are all dedicated educators who carved their educator teeth as teachers and who find the work of teaching and classroom culture as central to their work. 

Principals are the middle managers of the Local Educational Agency (LEA) usually known as a school District. Middle managers usually have the most difficult job in administration as they work in the in-between-realm of responsiveness to students, staff, and families as well as higher level hierarchies in the organization.

This 2019-20 school year was one for the ages and we thank all our school leaders for leading well and finishing the school year strong and with hope for the challenges that are to come.






Since I can remember, which is probably as a four year old, I have always looked with an artist’s eye. I have always seen with my outer and inner eyes. I am fortunate in this way. This way of being likely emerges from both nature and nurture. Burnt into my DNA and nurtured by my parents and community.

The way it works for me is basically a process of having an idea, seeing it as a fuzzy or sometimes very clear picture or video clip and then beginning to backwards map the process of realizing or actualizing the image into an actual human construction whether its a piece of art, music, text, or organizational function.

Since I can remember, I too, have imagined, along with others, how my human life can imagine and act to actualize a better America and global human society. When I was four, 1965, this type of thinking and doing was developing into full bloom. From my perch, my times were connected to past times doing the same and to this time in 2020 doing the same.

This said, every imagination and action happens in its present moment. The moment it is actualized it becomes the past. The moment before it is actualized it remains in the future. 

These 2020 times are filled with imaging our nation. Imaging our world. Many and dare I say most, imagine a world where the fallacy of race is subordinated to a relic of the past and justice for all is elevated to the moment and the future. Many, and dare I say most, imagine a world and nation in which justice includes addressing and repairing the injustices of the past. These imaginations are cloudy and filled with things to do to make them clear and real in the moment, but they must be actualized in action in the moment for them to move from whatever an idea or image actually is into tangible and realized outcomes.

Every person is an artist. Every person imagines and realizes. 2020 is a year for collective imagining, yes, and for collective and deeply collaborative making. 

With large and open eyes, our children are taking in everything we do as I did in 1965. They are carving their imaginative and active teeth in the models they see and don’t see. Some will follow our models, others, thankfully, will seek new models beyond the seen. 

Life is creative. All organisms are creative. Life is a creation. In these pandemic times ahead, our schools can find a way to THRIVE by recognizing what some of our instincts to standardize, commodify, and normalize can sometimes quell, suppress, or quiet, we can develop our schools as safe places for children and educators to fully develop their creative selves in order to learn the literacies we need as well as to develop the imagination needed, both individual and collective, to truly make a more perfect nation and better human society and planet for all life. 


What is America?

In this Spring/Summer of the year 2020, we can ask ourselves as educators and community members many questions. One comes to my mind most recently, What is America? 

In the last few weeks I have been working with students and teachers online and doing math/art activities and lessons with colleagues. The way we work is very open to student voice and experience and as such, children have shared many things including their artwork, stories, or just thinking about a variety of subjects. Recently, a student asked to share a piece of artwork she did after attending a “peaceful” protest as she called it. It was a picture of herself with her hair covering half of her face (a self portrait) and the words “No Justice.” She spoke eloquently and briefly and slowly about the beautiful artwork she had created and then we moved on easily to the next part of the activity which was providing students a chance to share and talk about their geometric art work.

After we signed off, I said to myself, That is America.

The class was made up of a diversity of children from a variety of ethnic origins and mixtures, That is America.

The class and the relationships among students, teachers, and parents engaging in free American public school were clearly an important part of the lives of the children and a part, face to face, that they missed greatly but were dealing with well, That is America.

Recently, I wrote about 1968 when I was a 7 year old visiting Washington D.C. with my father and seeing the impact of Riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., That is America.

Today, in 2020, when many things have changed for the better in many ways, but many things in our society persist or re-awaken, That too is America?

Public schools used to be separate for peoples of color because of De Jure segregation.. Written into the law, That is America.

Public schools are now more segregated in many areas due to De Facto segregation (via real estate), That is America.

Public schools matter, That is America.

Who teaches matters and how they teach matters. That is America.

America is an idea about freedom and the pursuit of happiness. It is an idea about democracy. It’s a country that has been developing for 244 years and hopefully many, many more. America is made up of people from every part of the earth. America was founded on manifest destiny and the elimination or subjugation of the peoples that were native to the lands before Europeans arrived. America was founded on kidnapping and enslaving workers from Africa to create an economy and culture. America is an idea and a country. 

America probably means as many different things as there are people to have thoughts about America. This is where the challenge exists. The others, others, people other than our own individual selves, the others, how will we live with them, even in our own families, how will we treat them as we want to be treated or even more importantly as American core principles suggest we should treat them. 

Freedom is what America is all about to me. Many suggest that Freedom in Europe is focused on Freedom from while Freedom in America is focused on Freedom to. Many Americans want their freedom to be and do because they feel safe from. In these times in 2020, we are being forced to realize and remember what many Americans feel every day and wish and can’t help but remember, that they want an America that is Free from…. Where they are free from.. Not the alien hordes coming to vanquish, but rather their own fellow Americans and the American government. 

This is hard to swallow for those who feel free to…..

First, we must acknowledge the simple idea that there are as many Americas as there are people to think of America. When we move on from that, we have to ponder our own individual and collective roles and responsibilities in helping to create an America for others other than ourselves and in doing so, insure that That America will be good for us to be both Free from and Free to….

Free to go to school.

Free to play.

Free to walk outside or be inside safely.

Free to do anything and be anything in the way everyone else in America does.

Free to live and keep living.

American public schools have always played a role in both constructing and being constructed by America. We can thank John Dewey for this frame. Dewey is a great one to examine in these times if you are given to reading to help America be better by helping yourself be better. I can think of many other authors from many different walks of life and perspective, certainly James Baldwin and Langston Hughes come to mind from my past reading but the list is too long to remember because there are so many books and articles I have read and continue to read to help me understand the question, What is America? 

Ergo, the importance of reading. In these pandemic and civil unrest times, among the things I will do, is work to make sure every child learns to be interested, fluent, and meaning making readers. This is one thing we can do as educators and while it is easy to write or say, as of 2020, it has as yet not been accomplished for every child in America. 

What is America?  For me, America is a country of immigrants and indigenous peoples. It is the country that my parents’ parents came to from Italy. They had nothing of value in belongings. They had the stuff in heart and mind that lives through and in me today as well as in my children and now grandchild. For me, a child of the turbulent 60s, America is a country that is struggling and has always struggled with the deep hypocrisy of its greatest core principles many written and conceived or synthesized by slave holders. For me, America is a tussle between Adams and Jefferson. Both who went to their grave around July 4th and knowing that so goes America, so goes the human species or at least that’s how they felt. 

To end, I can only reiterate what I shared in a recent post, I have faith in the children and families of 2020 and in teachers and the Deweyan notion of public schools. In these times, me thinks, that American public schools need to do a lot more constructing of society than being constructed by it.



Each week for the last several weeks I have been meeting on line with Rio School District Music Teachers and our artists in residence. We have been talking and planning about how we adapt to the pandemic school closures and keep our THRIVING music programs going. We know how important this is to children and community.

We have also been planning Rio Music Festival 2020: The Show Goes On. This year’s online music festival will be held Saturday June 13th and will be available online after the first streaming. I have been inspired by how the music teachers are confronting the challenges they face by adapting, learning and looking for the upsides of these school closure experiences. At today’s meetings after doing a go round on what kids have uploaded music festival videos etc…. I asked them to talk about things that have been positive during these times. They shared some great stuff even though many of them are clearly feeling the loss of live face to face performance and teaching.

Among their many uplifting thoughts were the following;

  • The closures were causing music teachers to learn and explore new ways of teaching
  • Students have more time to play and practice.
  • Many engaged students are more introspective about their music.
  • Many engaged students are getting private online lessons they didn’t get before
  • Musical doors are being opened for many students.
  • Many engaged students are practicing more.
  • Some students who are more shy in regular class are blossoming.
  • Teachers are coming to know their engaged students better.
  • Engaged students are pursuing music for the love of music.
  • Students are hearing themselves more and learning from the video feedback.
  • Opportunities are being made for teachers to be more empathetic.
  • Kids who are engaging are easy to work with.
  • Teacher ideas of teaching music are changing.
  • Kids have the chance to play it again and again.
  • Teachers are learning to speak Spanish and interact with parents more.
  • Being part of the Rio Music Teacher community has been much needed.
  • Making Instructional videos has really developed.
  • Some logistics of physical spaces have been eliminated.

Music, as Stevie Wonder might say, is the Key of Life. In Rio we know that the arts and all of human creativity are not an extra, they are essential and critical to what separates humans from other animals. Rio will continue to support our students by making sure the arts are part of their learning experiences. We hope everyone will tune in to Rio Music Festival 2020: The Show Goes On which will air at 1:00 pm that Saturday, June 13th.


What are we to do?

When I was seven years old I often took rides with my father as he worked as a sales associate for Whitman’s Chocolates. He would go to different stores, we called them drug stores back then, and would talk to the store managers and would look at the candy on the shelves. His territory covered parts of Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. where he was born and raised as a child. In 1968, I’m not sure why, he took me with him to visit a drug store after the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. The store we visited had metal accordion gates in front of the storefront and was one of just a few stores that were not burned down or seriously damaged.

I’m not sure why he took me with him that day, my father was not one to make political or even moral lessons out of anything except maybe on the fields of play of various sports because in his heart, his job was really father and coach, his salesman gig was what he did to make money.

Growing up in the 60s I was very aware of society changing dynamics, that is, as much as a curious and always reading and listening to music kid could be. Today, I think about why my dad brought me that day. I don’t remember the discussion but I easily remember the images and maybe even little video clips of what I saw. That’s how I mostly navigate reality, in a visual way. Those days the TV screen included daily body counts from the Vietnam War and some incidences of civil unrest related to both the war and civil rights.

Now 52 years later, we are living with a pandemic and once again we are experiencing and visualizing civil strife in our city streets. We are seeing or experiencing protests and riots, however you define these or separate these. The world seems topsy turvy to us and we can only wonder how 2020’s seven year olds are experiencing these upheavals. Fortunately, I had great caring parents and my teachers to rely on. I also had my friends to share the experiences with and I often interacted with older children and other adults who helped shape my experiences and points of view. 

So what are we to do as educators and parents in these times? This is a very big question.  No one has exactly the right answer to this question regardless of our desire to share platitudes and words of wisdom. Words do not meet this challenge though they are deeply important as we – the human race – are so tuned to and by language. We are equally tuned to and by visuals. We see the actions about us. We are also tuned by the spirit, the as yet, un-objectified, unscience explained nature in us all. 

As educators, in these times, I can only say that I have great belief in parents and teachers to continue to do the things that matter most to children and to learn to do some new things. Caring is the number one focal point in these times that children will look to for reference points. Who cares for me? Who should I care for? These questions are among the things that may have been destabilized or for some fortunate children, accentuated for the positive. 

Our recently gathered thought exchanges and survey responses are yielding information about how teachers and parents are experiencing these coronavirus times. A common theme that has emerged is that children and families need more and different ways of being connected to their teachers and schools. 

So what are we to do? Keep doing the things we have always done that help children be safe, feel well, and learn. Start doing and learning to do things that help children make sense of the world and society that we ourselves are trying to make sense of. As is usually the case when we have children in our physical spaces with us, when we get them involved together with us in making sense together, we find the best balances of what teachers will do, parents will do, and children will do.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to work with so many caring educators, parents, and children these past 34 years in public education work. They have shaped me to see the world as far more filled with loving, curious, creative, optimistic and intelligent human beings than with the small minority of often tragically life-scarred people who behave in these times or any other times in ways other than lovingly and caring for others. 

I think of these times as a great big fire. What are we to do? We have to figure out together what to put on it, or whether to put anything on it at all so we can get to the post fire times and then think hard and long and act so this fire is less damaging to the planet and to the human species when it raises its head again.

My father was a man of few words with me. He loved me but didn’t really say it. His caring for me was ever present. His children and children in general were his life’s work, though I don’t think he thought much about his life’s work or if he did he didn’t tell me. My father was great in an emergency. In crisis. He was born to it, experienced many, but led by example. Now more than ever is the time to ponder our actions in relation to a big fire and how our actions, our words, our beings impact and affect ourselves and others. 

Imagine a Time…….

Imagination is what humans have and do naturally. We make pictures and sometimes video clips in our heads. In these coronavirus times, our school organizations are tasked with imagining and then planning for re-opening and redesigning the ways children attend and learn in schools. Our challenges are many and they reside in the space between our imaginations and what we actually learn and are able to do or implement come August 2020. 

This post is less a detailed plan…. It’s an imagination and may help us think about the emergent future in ways that can help us all – educators, support staff, families and children work together to meet the challenge created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Imagine a time when some families will choose to learn in the stay at home independent learning model until there is greater understanding of the health issues of coming to school.

Imagine a time when children learn by coming to school two or three days a week for shorter periods of time than usual school days and then learn at home online and in other ways on the days they are not attending school in person.

Imagine a time when children come to school and when they enter they are screened for health issues and have to wear masks. When they attend learning sessions and classes with less students and social-distanced in both outside and inside learning environments.

Imagine a time when parents, teachers, and children are communicating in new ways and much more often than they used to in normal school days.

Imagine a time when educators, support staff, families, and children realize that we all have to work together (collaborate) by being much more flexible and innovative in creating ways to learn and be safe that work for every child and educator.

Imagine a time when planning and resources need to be allocated carefully so that families and children who already struggle to have equitable access to learning and safety are even more challenged by these corona times.

Imagine a time when families, children, and educators have more choice and more personalizable educational opportunities.

Imagine a time when we find new ways for children to enjoy and learn from social interactions with their friends.

Imagine a time when children play in new ways.

Imagine a time when the arts and freedom of expression are prioritized.

Imagine a time when children get what they need to survive, be resilient and ultimately THRIVE.

Imagine a time when all the people in the community find some peace and the ability to care for themselves, each other, and all children.

Imagine a time when patience, acceptance, empathy, character, courage, and a call to action and learning are the norms.

Imagine a time when children have joy in their lives.

Imagine a time when being outside and learning outside is more healthy and better for learning.

Imagine a time when hope rules.

Imagine a time when the pandemic is over and we have learned to educate children better than we did before the pandemic.

Imagine a time when the role-job-vocation of teaching is more valued and understood than ever before.

Imagine a time that values families, parents, children, and the elderly more than before the pandemic.

Imagine a time when imagination rules.

Imagine a time when creativity is deeply valued and developed.

Imagine a time when caring is the main thing.


Principal profile- Robert Guynn

Robert Guynn


Rio Del Mar Elementary School

2 Year as Rio Del Mar Principal

8 Years as Principal

This is Mr. Guynn’s 2nd year serving Rio Del Mar Elementary School students as principal. Before working in Rio he served as a principal and district administrator for Adelanto School District and prior to that as a teacher for the Victor Elementary School District for 7 years. Before coming into education, Mr. Guynn worked for Gelson’s Markets grocery stores, Young’s Market Company food distributor, and Molded Fiberglass Company and Owens Corning fiberglass products manufacturers.

Mr. Guynn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geography/Ecosystems at the University of California, Los Angeles, his teaching credential at Redlands University, and his Masters in Education through Concordia University in 21st Century Education.

Mr. Guynn brings a wealth of experience to his work as a school principal. Among many attributes, he is a systems person that navigates well the world of data, systems development, implementation, and evaluation. Mr. Guynn is deeply connected to his family and to exploring the natural world as well as the world of Do It Yourself making. Among his many interests is gliding along the highways and byways on his Harley. 

We asked Mr. Guynn the following three questions and his responses follow each;


  • What do you think matters most to children when they attend school?


Children want to know they matter. Whether it is their teacher, librarian, playground aide, or custodian, children thrive when they have positive relationships with adults. Children experience importance when adults tap into their curiosity,  challenge them to think, take them seriously, nurture their self-respect, provide choices for learning, and make them feel important, among others; giving them a sense of belonging. 


  • How has your leadership changed over time and experience?


Coming from the corporate world of policy, procedure, and the bottom line, I was focused on those when I first came to education. But over the years I have learned that while there is a purpose for them, relationships are the most important aspect of leadership. Caring, listening, supporting. Just as it is important for a teacher to develop relationships with their students it is equally important for me as a leader to develop those same relationships with my staff, students, and parents. Relationships keep an organization healthy and productive. Leadership used to be very hierarchically structured but has flattened over the past couple of decades. I have learned that everyone is a leader and contributes to the success of an organization. I enjoy working with, for example, teacher leaders, office leaders, kitchen leaders, and student leaders. 


  • What has working in schools meant to you in terms of your own development as a person, husband, and father?


Working in education has changed my focus on life and given me purpose. It is a mission for me. Education is about people, relationships, and developing young minds to be future leaders, productive citizens. It’s purposeful and fulfilling.  

As a father, I have always been an advocate for our children and their education as my parents were for me. I am glad to say that all of our children have graduated with at least one higher education degree and have gone on to have productive professional careers. I want this same opportunity for all children for whom I am responsible for and for those over whom I can have a positive influence. 

I am blessed to have married Jane, my wife of 32 years, for many reasons. One of the many principles that we have agreed on is that our children’s education was a priority and she played a major role in making that come true. Not only was she a stay at home mom while our children were in school, but she was also heavily involved with their education during school. While she helped at school I helped with homework and worked on projects with them. This “division of labor” helped us achieve our quality education goal for our children and brought us closer together as a couple. We attended every performance, competition, and event over the years to show our support. As a result, we have a very close family and spend as much time together as possible. 

Learning happens beyond the classroom walls and as such, our family took as much time, over the years, to experience the world around us. Camping at the beach, hiking the trails in the Sierra Nevada, traveling to other states, traveling abroad, going to the grocery store as a family, the movies, playing sports or just hanging out in the backyard were some of the experiences that provided me the opportunity to teach our children and be closer to them. As a father, I would not trade that for anything. 

Working in education and the education it has provided me has helped me to understand how to approach learning, support learners, provide learners with meaningful experiences. Not only have I applied this to my professional career but I was also able to provide this for my children to give them the best educational experience possible. Now I am enjoying the grandchildren.


The Next Nine Weeks : April 20 – June 18
Completing the 2019-20 School Year in CoronaTimes

The next nine weeks through April and the last day of the school year on June 18, will mark twelve weeks of conducting school with campuses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. As we emerge from Spring Break and get back into our developing rhythm of Rio Community Learning, we continue to stay focused on three basic aims;

Connect with children through online, phone, paper documents and supplies, meals, and other means to let them know they are still part of our school community that cares about them and their family.

Engage children in learning through online, phone, paper documents and supplies by reconnecting them with their teachers and classroom.

Improve the quality of learning over time.

Connecting with children is the number one priority. We want to make sure that all children connect with their teachers, counselors, and support staff so that their basic needs for safety, health, and well-being can be supported. In these “stay at home times,” this means connecting with families now more than ever. First, we worked to connect and make contact with every child in one form or another. Next we worked to connect them with their teacher and classmates. This means making sure they have a computer and internet access. This technology challenge remains our number two priority in connecting as we work to make sure any student without a computer gets one as well as any family without internet access receives an internet hot-spot.

Connecting goes beyond technology of course, our aim is for every child to be able to participate regularly with their teachers and classmates in one way or another. For many students, this means they will have weekly video conferencing sessions and other online ways of communicating and learning with their classmates and teachers. We are working hard to make sure students and families that need help with navigating this new online learning model get the support they need.

Connecting also means helping students with their specific needs. As is the case when children come to school in the conventional way, different students have different needs. Connecting to children and supporting them with their specific needs is ever more essential in the coronavirus times. Our staff are learning to adapt to these new times and connecting with families and working through problems and challenges will take patience and time. Students who need special or differentiated materials or support are a major priority in making the child-family-school connection work in these stay at home times.

Engaging children in learning is why schools were built. Now that we are working to support student learning without having them in our buildings, we are adapting to new ways of recreating and adapting the teacher- student and student-student relationships. Depending on the age level of the children and the learning models used in the classrooms before the school closures, this recreation and adaptation to Rio Community Learning can vary from school to school and classroom to classroom. In the next nine weeks we are working to find the models that work best for each child and teacher and find the right balance of formats, schedules, and varieties of activities that can keep children and families interested and learning while not overburdening them and adding to an already stressful situation.

Engaging children in learning implies that they are interested, actively participating and expressing their meaning-making in a variety of modes. There are many new barriers to this engagement in these coronatimes but there are also new opportunities and conditions that may elevate these elements. Children have different levels of support and resources in their homes in order to support their engagement in learning at home and this is a major priority in the initial phases of this learning at home period. Striking the right balance for children, families, and teachers is essential. Engaging children in learning should be seen in terms of the basic fact that children are natural learners and all situations provide opportunities for children to learn. The daily activities of a day in the home provide opportunities for children to read, write, speak, listen, solve problems, collaborate, communicate, think critically, be creative, make things, and care for themselves and each other. These daily activities are always part of children’s learning even when school is in normal session. Families will need to find the balance and appreciation for their own ways of supporting their children’s development. It is likely we cannot replicate everything at home that teachers and schools do when classes are in session and campuses are open. Less is definitely more in these times, and going deeper and more reflectively will be greatly appreciated by children.

Improving the quality of learning over time is our next challenge. As our teachers, support staff, families, and students become more used to these stay at home learning conditions, we are working to learn how to improve the learning. To do so, we are examining data and asking for feedback from all the people involved. In a sense, we are building the models for learning as we use them. We have nine weeks to continue to improve learning and our focus will be on useful feedback rather than traditional grading. We are currently working with teachers to establish an agreement as it relates to grading. The fundamental elements of the agreement will include a hold harmless concept in that students will maintain their grades earned before school closures but also have the opportunity to improve them by demonstrating improved skills and practices by completing tasks during these stay at home times. Schools and teachers will develop greater and greater support for students who are not achieving grade level standards or developing key literacies while supporting all children in their ongoing development of learning interest, fluency, and meaning making over time.

Rio’s community was strong and connected before these coronatimes. In these coronatimes, our sustaining and developing this strength of community will help school staff and families adapt and improve and serve children. We look forward to the next nine weeks of the 2019-20 school year and to engaging with children and families to the best of our ability. We miss working directly with all our children and families and look forward to the times when we all can return from our homes to our regular classrooms and offices and face to face ways of learning.

Principal Profile – Ralph Cordova, Ph.D.

Ralph Cordova, Ph.D.


Rio Del Sol Elementary School

2nd Year as Del Sol Principal

28 Years as Teacher


This is Dr. Cordova’s second year serving Rio students as principal of Rio Del Sol Elementary School. Before working in Rio he served K-University students and teachers at the University of Missouri St. Louis as a tenured professor in the College of Education. 

Dr. Cordova earned a Bachelor’s degree in German Literature & Language at the University of California Riverside in 1992. He earned his teaching credential in 1993 at the University of California Santa Barbara and taught for 14 years at La Patera School in the Goleta Union School District in grades, K, 2, 3 and 4. He completed his Master’s and PhD at the University of California Santa Barbara. Córdova is a trained educational ethnographer with numerous peer reviewed publications.

Dr. Cordova found a unique pathway to school site leadership. His work as both school site leader and educational researcher is connected to seeing and hearing the authentic voices and lives of learners and teachers. Ralph connects theory and practice on his new administrative journey to years of experience supporting teachers and educators in seeing learning and schooling from a natural perspective. Ralph is a natural maker, creator and learner. This desire to learn and create each day is an essential practice in this very dynamic work.

We asked Dr. Cordova the following three questions and his responses follow each;


  • What do you think matters most to children when they attend school?


Children enter the world curious to connect to all around them. What matters most for children in school is to engage them as curious meaning-makers of the worlds which they inhabit. All children possess rich experiences and diverse knowledges. The adults to whom parents entrust their children are stewards or learning guides of the children, and it’s essential that the adults, too, practice curiosity on a daily basis as they are powerful models. What matters most for children is that schools become places for children to make new knowledges and not solely consume existing information for the sake of efficiency. Therefore, if done right, schools can become liberating ecosystems for children and the adults who serve them.


  • How has your leadership changed over time and experience?


Years ago I participated in a national study on leadership conducted by the National Writing Project. I was interviewed as I had been nominated by colleagues as a leader. I was taken aback as I didn’t see myself as a leader. But as I looked back at the arc of my professional experience, I think I eschewed the label of ‘leader’ because I associated that word with a compliance-ensurer that was what I witnessed as a teacher of my principals, deans, etc., as being. 

It wasn’t, really, until I co-founded the Cultural Landscapes Collaboratory (or CoLab) and a National Writing Project site, that I began to reshape how I understood leadership by living leadership in a way that did right by the people I served. Sure, leadership is about compliance and legalities to ensure all children are protected and learn, but that’s only a small part of it. 

Leadership means not having to know everything, but the willingness to let yourself grow and evolve by being curious about what could be instead of what has always been done. Being a leader means growing co-leaders around you, who too can liberate themselves, in order to be fully present so that their educating practices are about assisting children to liberate their intellectual and socio-emotional gifts. 

Growing up teaching, first as an elementary classroom teacher, then a university professor, and now a principal, I can see that what matters most to me in this leadership role is to support teachers, students and families to co-lead. This part requires all to be ok in the vulnerable space of not knowing. It also means that the answers are there to reveal themselves when we embark together on this ‘lets see what happens’ journey.

I say all this because opening up a new school, with a transdisciplinary focus, from scratch is hard work. It requires all of us to show up fully present and push back at traditional educational structures whose inertia is 100+ years in the making. And what an amazing journey to be part of something new, that I believe will change the lives for good for all our students.


  • What has working in schools meant to you in terms of your own development as a person, husband, and citizen?


I’m super lucky that every day I am invited to see the world through the eyes of children. Their curiosities, openness, and fierce courage allows me to be the learner that I was never allowed to be when I was a youngster in school. Kids are my greatest teachers. The work of a school is a complex ecosystem; something that takes commitment to understand, and courage to reshape. In the 28 years I’ve been at this schooling, the work has shaped me to be more demanding and expectant in all aspects of my life. 

My husband will testify that I can be ‘bossy’ (what I call direct :) at home. I have also learned to let go of the fantasy that I can get everything done in a day. It’s. Just. Not. Reality. I enjoy 10 mile walks with Clifford Terrier Esquire & JRT, our Jack Russell Terrier. Humor, laughter matters. I love my mom and step-dad’s long visits at our house. Cooking, laughing and sometimes, crying, make for a balance between work and home. Anyone doing this job can tell you that our home life often suffers from the demands placed on us as school leaders. I just center myself by attending to the breath, and embrace the journey I’m on, and do good by others.

I’m pretty clear that the river of learning, our children, are still pretty upstream from the downstream work of their later lives. I know what we offer them now will shape the kids of citizens they will become and inform how they will participate in their future worlds. Thus, as the grown-ups, we might do a great deed by allowing ourselves to be children again, and invite the students in our care to rise as leaders and be our teachers. It’s pretty hard to build the new using the language of the old, therefore, this business of school really at its core is an opportunity to get to the basics of ‘humaning’. It’s terrific work and by far the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve grown more in 2 years at the work than I can say I have in the last 20 years. It requires a different kind of knowing and being. It’s pretty awesome.