Principal Profile – Ryan Howatt

This year I have decided to write and post a monthly Principal Profile. Principals are key leaders in their community and within the school system itself. Rio’s principals are great examples of a diversity of pathways to manegament/leadership. We ask so much of them on multiple levels and they deliver and help our District grow and improve along the way. I hope these brief profiles spark more thoughtful consideration about their work and about the individuals who step up to this middle management/ Instructional leader challenge. So goes the principal, so goes the school in many ways. Our first profile is Ryan Howatt, principal of Rio Rosales Elementary School.

Principal Profile – Ryan Howatt

Public Schools in 2019

Public schools serve multiple functions in our 2019 American society.

  • They work directly with children, families and community to foster the development and learning of children.
  • They harbor children and keep them safe during the school day while most parents are engaged in work or other related activities.
  • They offer children and families the opportunity to engage with other children and families in the community providing social and other types of learning opportunities less easily accomplished in isolation.
  • They provide adults in the community with opportunities to learn and contribute to the community at large.
  • They foster the development of the citizenry in the American democracy.
  • They provide children with opportunities for affirmation and care by adults and children other than their family.

The list of functions provided by American public schools is extensive and far exceeds the aforementioned central roles. As each new school year approaches and I interact with parents considering what school to have their children attend, there are inevitable narratives that emerge. Some highlight test scores, others that tend towards the logistics of afterschool day care and many that attempt to look far into the future and connect the early grades experience with family’s aspirations for their children down the road. It is rare, however, to have deeply informed conversations about what schools actually do and what they actually are in a societal sense. This I think is partially due to public schools often having challenges in communicating their functions beyond the cliche or superficial level. Many times, as we all likely are, parents have the individual concern for their child. They want their children “to be challenged” or to “get the help they need.” Apart from the academic side of things, they want their children to have a safe environment where they can have friends and grow and develop their well being. 

One thing to consider beyond these narratives is how their children and their family contributes to the lives and well being of others in the local community. By engaging with and in the local community schools families more readily help to construct and develop the type of community they want to live in. This is a more participative and citizen based approach than a strictly consumer based notion of school choice. Ask not what the community can do for your children but what you and your children can do for the community as JFK might have said. Of course the value to the consumer or citizen comes back to them when parents and families and children are more connected to each other in their local neighborhoods through one of the last public agoras in our American democracy (public schools). 

Rio will continue to invite all our local children and families to fully engage in co-constructing the best possible educational environments and outcomes striving to THRIVE as a system and community.


What we measure…

What we measure….


Is what we measure what gets done? All that gets done?

Is what we measure what we value?

Is how we measure what we value indicative of what we value and how much we actually value it?

How much do we actually know and care about the actual measuring?

What do our measuring tools say about what we value and how we value?


In asking these questions after thirty two years in public education, teaching, administrating, researching, and thinking I do so to stimulate thoughtfulness among fellow educators, students, parents, and community members in the hope that a deeper,better consideration of the values we assign to school related outcomes might contribute to improvements in schools and better understanding and valuing of schooling in society at large.


What and how we measure and what and how we value things in general is often under considered if not taken for granted. In many instances in both school systems and beyond, people within and outside of the systems accept the valuing and measuring designed and implemented by others. Of course, there are efficiencies in these processes as we allow others to design and implement measures and values for us so that we can consume them or utilize them for various purposes.


As an educator and citizen, I think there are several key ingredients to make sure we bake into the recipe for a proper measurement to serve the learning processes in schools. They include transparency, simplicity, and potential for depth and context. Too often, our overly standardized schools have employed measures with results and techniques that are “black-boxed” and left to statistical experts to determine values. Too often, these and other measures use complexity to barrier the student and their family and sometimes teachers from full understanding of what they measure, how they measure and what they do not measure. Too often the measures are shallowly aimed and devoid of the context necessary to fully express the learner’s knowledge, engagement, and associated skills. Too often, these measurement failings serve to bias the outcomes and their ultimate usage in selection and sorting processes towards the demographic and socio-economic gaps that are currently and long sustained in the American educational system. It seems what we value is curiously and long aligned with socio-economic strata in the society.


Literacies and the command of the English language are pre-eminent in our measures and valuing. Consideration of the place that literacy achievement, targets, standardized and age-based level determinations is one area of great potential for the broader understanding of the measuring and valuing of education. Along with finding the best place to position literacy measurement and valuing, recent trends in education that have begun to value what have come to be named “21st century skills; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity offer educators, learners, and families the opportunity to include life skills and practices into the mix of what school values while the society at large has fully valued these for many years.


To my mind, the ideal measuring and valuing system is one that is at least understood and accepted by the learners that it measures and values. At best, the measuring and valuing would be designed and created by the learner as guided by their educators and their families.

Who Do We Learn From?

Who Do We Learn From?

This is a question we educators need to ask and re-ask. Do we learn from teachers? Do we learn from peers? Do we learn from our parents? Our coaches? Our elders? Television? Computer? Experience? The list goes on. As humans, we have realized that we are learning all the time and thus we have named ourselves life-long learners. Over time, we tend to learn that we have learned things that before we had not realized we learned. Our new selves learn about our past learning and learn from our past learning as new selves.

On this day, August 31st, I am reflecting on what I have learned from my father. He was born on this last day of August some 82 years ago. He has been gone from the physical earth for 31 years about the same amount of time I have been married and about the same amount of time I have worked as an educator in public schools in California. I am some 5 years older than he was when he passed now and still he is still 82 years old for me. I am fortunate enough to continue to interact with colleagues and mentors from my father’s era and in one case with someone that shares a very similar life path and origin as my father.

In working with Rio’s children in grades Kinder to 8th grade I wonder whether they are cognizant of what their fathers are teaching them or what they are learning from them. I’m not sure I was at their ages. Still I think it has some utility to reflect on what one son has learned from their father or perhaps many sons from many fathers. Of course the same is equally true for mothers as sources of learning, teachers, grandparents, etc.. My father teaches me now when I think of him. He reminds me of what great coaches do and how teaching is like coaching in some ways. My father was a coach. He knew how to develop and lead teams and how to develop and guide individuals. He knew how to blend the human aspects of performance and observation with the numbers of statistics.

My father taught me the importance of relationships and family and at the same time taught me how alone we all are in the human condition. Many of these lessons were not conveyed through discussion, this rarely occurred. For the most part, he taught by example. An example that took me years to understand in some cases. My father taught me to be calm in emergencies and to help people when they need it most.

There are many lessons I have learned from my father in which I seek to do better in areas that were not his strengths. Areas I often struggled against him in my youth. Later, I see the seeds of these things in myself and how I must consciously seek to develop and improve and learn to be a new self.

My father taught me many things, but perhaps, the deepest lesson was his love for and great appreciation for family and children. He was orphaned by the loss of his mother and father in his first year of life and was raised by a caring extended family of first generation American immigrants. Even as he was unable to keep his family together later in life, family was the deepest root in his life.

Getting autobiographical is not my first direction or preference when pondering writing about learning. Today, however, on this 31st day of August in the year 2017, it is meaningful to consider what our children in our classes are learning from their fathers, their mothers, their teachers and what they will learn later from them when they re-think their learning as older selves. It is also meaningful to appreciate and further develop how Rio’s classrooms and teachers are becoming more and more open to bringing the wealth of learning and resources into school learning that come from our students’ lives and families. This ethnographic and student centered approach is alive and developing. It is as natural as learning itself and helps to transform our learning environments from the factory models that have long alienated young, immigrant, and often low-income children and families such as my father was in 1940 when he first entered school.

I am excited to be part of a process some 31 years later that is learning to incorporate the “lessons of our fathers” as it might be called into the learnings of school. For me, they are a life long resource that seem to unpack themselves more and more as I am fortunate enough to spend more time in this wondrous world.

What’s up in 2017 ?

What’s up in 2017?

These days of Fall to Winter are filled with expectations of vacation days, holidays, and time away from school. They are also filled for many educators with plans and ideas for the new year. As 2017 is upon us, Rio staff are engaged in a variety of activities that will prepare the school year through its second and third trimesters.

As such one might ask, What’s up in 2017?, What’s new?, What will we be doing? What will be our focus?

Here are a few ideas or themes to begin to respond to those questions;

Reading: In 2017 we will continue our work to help every child become an interested and competent reader. Our reading dashboards will soon go out to children and families in grades 3-8 in order to stimulate discussion and collaboration between home and school on helping every child become a better and more interested reader. We will continue to focus on and improve our libraries, our everyday reading instruction, our use of technology in support of reading, and our special programs to help struggling or emergent readers.
The Arts and Sciences: We continue to develop our programs and classes in the arts and sciences in order to enrich and expand student learning and development. Music programs at the middle grades continue to develop and improve in quantity and quality. New efforts include providing more opportunities for music learning in the elementary grades. Strings and other things are coming to the elementary schools. Dance is also growing and spreading through our partnership with Hip Hop Mindset and theater and creative drama are just emerging. Middle graders are tackling our first major musical production. Students from across the District are working to put together our first traveling musical theater performance which will focus on the 5Cs; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and caring. The visual arts continue to develop as students are learning new techniques and using new media to create art as well getting ready for our second annual series of community art shows. In the sciences, there is an explosion of new learning that explore robotics, coding, drones, 3D printing, and project based learning.
Parent and Community Partnerships: In 2017 we aim to double our efforts to connect with parents and community partners in diverse ways. Conversation is important and plans are in place to make better and more frequent connections with parents and partners using technology. We are also working on deepening and expanding parent and partner direct engagement with learners and schools. There are many many examples of such partnerships in each of our eight public schools and we aim to celebrate them more and demonstrate that schools are a great place for both children and adults to learn. As we open the doors and learning pathways in schools to more experts and involved adults we provide more diverse experiences and potentials for students and teachers. By being mindful of how to expand this work in a safe and meaningful way, a powerful community force is developing in which we learn together by helping the children in our schools learn. Our new K-8 S.T.E.A.M. school is in development to open in the Fall of 2018 and will serve as a model and learning lab for community engagement and problem based inquiry learning.
New K-8 STEAM School: Several years ago the Rio School District began to develop a master plan for facilities. In recent years our enrollment has grown by approximately 100 students per year. Rather than adding more portable buildings to our  existing schools, we developed plans for a new school in the River Park area. The school will accommodate the growth we are experiencing in terms of the number of students and will also enhance and model the growth we are pursuing as a learning organization. We have embraced the idea of transforming all of our schools into 21st century learning environments that prepare children to thrive in the worlds of school, work, and life. The new STEAM school planning will pick up in development speed in 2017. The building plans have been approved by the California Department of Education (CDE) and are awaiting final approvals by the Division of State Architects (DSA) in the new year. We are aiming for construction to take about a year with an opening of the school in the Fall of 2018. People will be able to watch the construction process in action on our new STEAM school webpages. . This coming summer of 2017 we hope to have staff selected and beginning on the development of learnings and curriculum and instruction projects that will culminate in a fully project based, problem based, inquiry path of learning that focuses less on subject areas and more on transdisciplinary learning. The new school will be a model of where we want all our schools to go in terms of learning and teaching. In recent years our Summer Science Academy has been a model for STEAM learning for the teachers and students who choose to attend and work. This model will be more further developed in the new STEAM academy.
World Class Learning: In a true and tangible sense, Rio is striving to become world class in the way that we help children learn. A few years back that notion may have been difficult for some people to imagine at Rio. Still, these last few years have demonstrated the amazing collaborative and creative spirit and work ethic of our teachers, staff, students, partners, and community. We have begun to make a mark on the local, state, national, and world stage for some of the things we are striving to do and also some that we are accomplishing. This aim of becoming world class involves adults in learning many new skills and practices and adopting new mindsets about children and the learning process in general. We have been capacity building and innovating. We have been working together to understand and accomplish. This learning process does not come easy or quickly. It is a long and infinite race. In the year 2017 we aim to march and run towards world class work and achievement as thoughtfully and quickly as possible. The children of Rio, as all children, deserve the best learning environments we can create. They deserve to have teachers and staff that believe in them and help them develop both the basic literacies as well as the 21st century skills and practices they will need to to thrive in their world in the years that come. We look to 2017 as a year full of optimism for the potential of the future and with a sense of deep and important purpose. World class learning matters for child, family, state, country and world.