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Principal Profile – June 2020 – Ethan Gray – Rio Vista Middle School

Ethan Gray


Rio Vista Middle School

1st Year as Rio Vista Principal


This is Mr. Gray’s 1st year serving Rio Vista Middle School students as principal. Before working in Rio he served as an assistant principal in the Ventura Unified School District at both the middle and high school levels.  

 Mr. Gray earned a Bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Santa Barbara and went on to earn his teaching credential and masters in education administration at California State University Northridge.

 Mr. Gray comes to Rio after a distinguished career as an educator in Ventura. His entry comes at the most challenging time perhaps in any person’s educational career. He brings poise, thoughtfulness and a keen awareness and focus on family, well being, and learner achievement. These times are demanding great utilization of technology and this area aligns well with Mr. Gray’s skills and interests.

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

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

 In my experience I believe children want to be cared for, loved, and seen.  Children want to come to a school that they feel a part of and that is a place where they can be themselves and know that the adults care deeply about them.  I also have learned that all children want the adults at school to see the good in them, recognize their strengths, and guide and challenge them.   An additional way that children want to be cared for, is to be engaged in meaningful and relevant learning that is challenging, while also accessible and appropriate. Lastly I think that the social aspect of school is of paramount importance to children.  They want to play, talk with, and just be with friends.  Children want to find their place with people they trust and relate to.

How has your leadership changed over time and experience?

Over my 12 years as a school site leader, I have developed a solid foundation focused on relationships, humility, and leading with assumptions of best intent and kindness.  I began my career as a leader that worked hard and got things done, however that sometimes came at the  expense of building relationships and practicing empathy for all people that make up the school community.  I now understand the importance of balancing efficiency with making time to build connections. I have learned that serving and valuing all people within the school community is how to best lead a school. Through service comes the opportunity and duty to practice empathy with all children, parents, teachers, classified staff, coaches, intervention teachers, fellow administrators, and the list goes on.  In addition, my leadership has evolved over time just as my teaching did when I was in the classroom.  I began, in many ways trying to model myself after others and attempting to take on characteristics and methods that were not fully my own.  I have, and continue to, develop my own my own style and approach, which I believe has strengthened my leadership through relationships built on honesty, transparency, integrity, and trust.

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

 Working in schools has really allowed me to see how very different all people are.  All students want to succeed and all parents want the best for their children.  Although all people approach school and life differently, those differences should be embraced and honored. In working with various students and families over the years, it is clear that one size does not fit all.   I have become a more empathetic person after 16 years in education.  As a husband, each day I continue to gain more understanding of just how important a loyal, supportive, unselfish, and wise wife is.  I am more aware of how blessed I am each day as my wife and I raise our children and we support each other.  As a father I have learned to be more patient because of my work in schools.  I have learned that each of my own children thrive with different approaches, love, and patience,  just as the students I have served over the years.  



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.


Nicole (Niki) / JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 4

Nicole (Niki) / JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 4

It was great to hear from a local student today who has made her way to MIT – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a world class university and seat of science on the planet. From Oxnard to Boston, this blog connects a superintendent of the Rio School District to a freshman (1st year woman student) at MIT who reached out to the District to help in these coronavirus times. Here is the second edition of the Q&A post;

Read the PDF below of Blog # 4.. Its worth the Read!

Niki _ JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 4


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.

Nicole (Niki) / JP Collaborative MIT- Rio Blog # 3

It was great to hear from a local student today who has made her way to MIT – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a world class university and seat of science on the planet. From Oxnard to Boston, this blog connects a superintendent of the Rio School District to a freshman (1st year woman student) at MIT who reached out to the District to help in these coronavirus times. Here is the second edition of the Q&A post;

Q7: What’s the best thing happening with the CovEd project from your point of view?

Personally, the best has been seeing meaningful support provided all around. CovEd has grown so fast and has been running from the start. As one put it, it’s like we’re driving a car while still building it. We have had many ups and downs as we grew at an exponential rate, but the difficulties we came across have been completely negligible. I love to hear about successful mentor and mentee matches. There was a student with a mother requesting for a role model who also shared the child’s need for hearing-aids. We one upped her request and found someone who coincidentally had the same hearing aids as her! There was another student working on debating skills with a mentor and had really strong arguments about why dogs are better than cats! I also love to see mentors form genuine bonds with the mentees and put in more than our required 1hr/wk request so that the student can get the most out of this even though themselves are full-time students. Furthermore, the students aren’t the only ones getting something out of this. We have been learning so much about how the world works especially from an organization’s point of view. Theory and practice definitely aren’t the same. We’ve also been learning about the logistical barriers involved in actually reducing inequities. It’s been really heartwarming to see a vast number of us come together to work towards a common goal, but it’s not as easy as we wish. Finally, the friendships I have made from being a part of this group has been so amazing. I have found another community, even virtually, with whom I share similar morals, values, and a passion to make this world a better place for everyone.

For more perspectives, I have asked this question to two new friends I have accumulated through CovEd whom I highly resonate with and also been closely working with in Management: Evelyn Wong, founder (Harvard ‘21), and Tam Nguyen, Coordinator Co-Head (MIT ‘21).

Evelyn told me that “we’re pairing mentees from extremely vulnerable situations who are affected by school closures with mentors that can serve as role models far beyond academic support; so it’s not just giving them help with homework, it’s forming connections with mentors that will last far beyond this pandemic and hopefully serve as a powerful driving force that empowers students from vulnerable communities to gain access to higher education in the future (since we are not only pairing based on subject needs, but also career interests-we ask students what they want to be when they grow up, then pair them with a mentor in that field of study).”

Tam mentioned a more technical success on our end. Tam and I have been coordinating matches which have been done manually, until hopefully the end of this week. However, our webapp team has been working endlessly to code an automated matching system as well as organize all the resources we have accumulated for easier access for a larger audience. Tam also shared with me how touched she is by the fact that so many people have joined our efforts and are so willing to help that as of now, we have been able to meet all the needs of the students including those with disabilities. She also echoes her love of friends accumulated from the start of this initiative.

Evelyn also wrote a beautiful anecdotal piece for one of our other interviews, and I wanted to share it here: “When we talk about equity and excellence in K-12 education, we often think about comparing standardized test scores, providing college preparation, etc.— all as a means to increase access to some indefinite future end goal.
It wasn’t until the MIT Tech suggested writing an anecdotal piece about how CovEd started that I started to purposefully reflect on what promoting educational access means to me—and to our team—on a deeply personal level.
As an educator/mentor/coach, it’s hard to reconcile this remote idea of promoting academic equity for some future payoff (be it access to elite education, degree, or profession) in the generation after us. If that were the case, why are some of the most beautiful moments of teaching (and learning) for me the times when it seemed education would unlikely play a role in determining my students’ futures?
I thought of moments when this rang true. Walking students to and from the School of Peace in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the “adventures” in our one-classroom school kept students safe from a dangerous neighborhood. In another moment, playing guitar and teaching through music in a hospital where my students are told they only have a few years–if not months, to live. Education in these settings serve not to mold the next generation of elite academic competitors, but instead carries a deeper sense of normalcy and community that provides these students the opportunity to be kids while they can.
This is what we hope CovEd provides for our students and mentors alike.”

Q8: When you were in high school and middle school here in Ventura County, did you envision yourself going somewhere like MIT? How did this journey take place?

When I was in high school and middle school, I definitely did not think I’d attend a school like MIT. Until I was on campus and attended my first class did I finally believe I was actually an MIT student.

I’m not entirely sure how I got here, but I know it helped to have amazing friends, teachers, and family. Especially my sister Claire. She is currently in 7th grade at Mesa Union and she inspires me every day to be a better person. She always thinks of everyone around her, has a HUGE heart. She is so sweet and literally a ray of sunshine with terrible jokes XD. She is also a STAR at everything she strives for.

I’ve always had a passion for learning. I feel more capable of doing my part with more knowledge and skills. I find great satisfaction in bringing joy to others, so I wanted to just go into any field in which I could have the most positive impact. I thought I would go to a UC or try to go to SLO. MIT was definitely a reach school. I participated in activities that brought me joy. I took classes that were of great interest to me. I loved creating things and solving puzzles so the STEM field was definitely interesting as I approached high school but nothing was definite.

Q9: So for all the parents out there, how did your parents contribute to your journey from our community to learning at MIT?

My parents are both very resilient and hardworking. From them I learned to never give up even though times may get hard and the world might throw the worst at you. I understood from them that hard work never fails, and if I have enough passion and put in enough effort, I can achieve anything. I watched them start with nothing and make something out of it.

My parents own Anaba Sushi (1171 S Victoria Ave, Oxnard, CA 93035). My mom is an artist, so she designed the interior, the menu, the logo. She never got to formally finish her education at CSU Long Beach because I had come along, but she worked hard to study graphic designing through videos online. My dad used to work as a sushi-chef part time. He really loved it, so he decided to open up his own restaurant. He’s always working on creating new recipes that are both healthy while still delicious.

This is our family restaurant. Although, I personally didn’t help physically build it…(I was in 1st-2nd grade as it was being modeled, so I just rode around the empty not-yet restaurant on my scooter). Every couple of weeks we go to ChinaTown in LA to buy boxes of Jasmine Tea and the like that bloom in hot water as it’s a customer favorite. We go to restaurant suppliers in LA to buy in bulk restaurant supplies or boxes of radish or to the Korean supermarket to handpick shishito peppers. (To minimize spiciness and bitterness and maximize freshness, we need to handpick the right size). Orchid flowers don’t stay bloomed for too long, at most a few months, so we also seldom go to a flower shop in LA to lighten the restaurant’s decor. We opened in 2008, and since then, we have updated our menu every year and a half. We also make the menus ourselves. My dad dictates to me what he wants on the menu. I translate and type it out. (Happy to say that our menu gradually improved as I went from 2nd grade to College). My mom designs and prints it so that we can all cut it up nicely. My sister and I laminate and bind them. Sometimes, my sister and I help create fun names for new items, like Spongebob SquareCake, which is a crab cake appetizer, or Monster Legs, a calamari type dish! On days that the restaurant is closed, we would go in to make some improvements. Every year on Thanksgiving, we go to put up Christmas decorations. On New Years Eve, we go to take down Christmas decorations and put back up our mostly year round decorations. For smaller holidays, if the budget permitted, we would decorate the restaurant specially, like with heart balloons, cute cut-outs, and roses for Valentine’s day one year. Some days that we’re closed, we go in as a family to repaint the walls.

Anaba Sushi means a secret/special place. It’s my parent’s passion project. They really care for our customers and employees. Being a part of this taught me what it’s like to develop something entirely bottom up and have a hand in every sector. I learned from them what it’s like to make sacrifices, to accept consequences of our actions, to trust people but not too much, to appreciate everything and make the most of every moment of our lives.

In short, they’ve always been supportive of my interests. They never really pushed me hard academically, which was good because I am very stubborn and probably would have rebelled. They just showed me how I should approach life. They instilled in me a need to approach daily life with personal growth in mind so I can be a better person for society. Their only strict requirement of me was to be a good person, and that is what I strive for every day.

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.

Principal Profile – March 2020 – Ryan Emery

Ryan Emery


Rio Del Norte Elementary School

2nd Year as Norte Principal

5 Years as Principal

3 Years as an Assistant Principal

6 Years as Teacher

This is Mr. Emery’s second year serving Rio students as principal of Rio Del Norte Elementary School. Before working in Rio he served as principal for Alice C. Stelle Middle School in Calabasas, California, as well as working as assistant principal of curriculum and instruction. He also worked as a teacher of math and business education  and track and field coach. 

Mr. Emery earned a Bachelor’s degree in Aviation Management from Auburn University where he attended on a Track and Field Scholarship and was Captain of the Auburn University Cross Country and Track and Field Programs. Mr. Emery has earned multiple master’s degrees in the fields of Sports Marketing/Promotions, Business Education and Educational Leadership. He is currently in the final phase of a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and is scheduled to defend his dissertation in April. Mr. Emery’s  research is in the field of Social and Emotional Learning and analyzes the impact academic success has on student well-being and the impact SEL curriculums have on student well-being. 

Mr. Emery brings a diverse set of experiences as an educator and person to the role of school leadership. He knows deeply the value that educational opportunities and achievements can have in a person’s life. One recent innovation at Rio Del Norte Elementary School is a campaign to have children and families think of themselves as college going learners. This has taken a variety of forms and has connected the campus’ excellent school climate to literacy development initiatives and the growth of high expectations for all learners. Mr. Emery may be running less marathons these days in terms of road races but he is actively engaged in the ultimate marathon of transforming community through educational opportunities.    

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


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


School connection is an important element to a student’s learning environment and desire to attend school. I firmly believe as educators, it is our job to instill a sense of “hope” in our students and support them academically, socially and emotionally. Much of my doctoral research has been centered upon creating a positive and safe learning environment by supporting the growth of the whole child. Ensuring students grow academically and emotionally is a goal of each and every day. Making the most of the school hours has an impact on a student achieving academic success. Students want and deserve to feel a sense of success and as educators our job is to provide them with a school culture that supports students taking ownership in their learning and achieving academic success.


  • How has your leadership changed over time and experience?


My leadership has changed immensely over the years. In the beginning of my leadership journey as a school administrator, I thought it was our job to always have the answers and to ensure the school is headed in a positive direction. This sense of leadership focused immensely on only the achievements of the school. However, as time has evolved I have grown and transformed myself into a Charismatic Leader which consists of transformative, servant and authentic leadership. I believe as a leader it is important to procure staff and students have everything they need to support the academic growth of the school.

As a servant leader, I have learned to put the needs of others before myself and always strive to support the school culture in a positive way. I firmly believe you need to use the team to move the team. Empowering teachers as professionals and providing autonomy to their craft is at the root of what I firmly believe. 

I have also grown to learn that as a leader you not only need to support the academic and emotional growth of the school but you have to support the growth of the extended community as a whole. Supporting the needs of the community and the culture around the school is critical in building a community-centered learning environment. I also believe the leader needs to support the leadership growth of the team and provide staff members with opportunities to grow in the form of grassroots leadership. 


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


Working in schools has been one of the biggest enjoyments in my life. I believe education is power and by providing students with an exceptional education experience, you are providing students with the power and hope to achieve at a higher level. Working as an administrator in the Oxnard community has been the greatest experience of my educational leadership career. I am continuously amazed by the resilience of our community and it has instilled my growing passion for social justice, equity and access. I strive to advocate for others each and every day and to use my position to open doors and create opportunities for others. The Rio Del Norte Elementary learning community, much like the overall learning community of our district, is rich in passion and innovation. 

I take pride in using my position to advocate for students and the community at large. Working within the Rio School District has supported me in my growth as not only a leader but also as a husband, father and a citizen. I believe everyone has a calling to do more: more for the community, more for their family and more in the growth of education. I am grateful each and every day for the opportunity to work for such a wonderful community. 


Non-Car Drivers

This post is about pedestrians and bicycle riders, wheel-chair riders and skateboarders, scooter riders and other people in the community not driving cars. This post wants to state the obvious at first and go on from there. People not in cars who are out there navigating the community and it’s streets and intersections are just as valuable life forms as those in cars. They deserve the opportunity to not be killed or injured unnecessarily. (the obvious).

Walking and biking in the community occasionally or regularly gives a person a non-car driving experience and perspective. Like all experiences, there are upsides and downs. A T-chart- for the researcher folks out there in terms of pros and cons. One pro for sure is thanon-car drivers get a much more proximal and visceral experience of the community and it’s neighborhoods. You experience things up close and have more time to observe and sense things more difficult to perceive when conducting a large enclosed vehicle on the road. Among the many things to see and smell and even touch are the great variety and beauty of plant and animal life. 

You are also closer to and more easily sense the trash, blight, or decay that exists alongside the beauty. One thing for sure, it’s much easier to see how many people in cars are dangerously maneuvering their vehicles. They are in a rush and they seem empowered to use their vehicles in aggressive manners that (giving them credit) seems to ignore the very potentially lethal consequences of their driving. This observation is not an accusation but rather just an observation that offers the part time biker/walker moments of reflection on their own driving habits/experiences. It’s easy not to see or pay attention to non-car driving people out there crossing intersections. It’s at these intersections that non-car drivers learn the essential necessity to connect with car drivers through eye contact and other means in order to not get run over. 

The patterns of civil engineering coordinating and sequencing traffic lights is also much easier to discern or forcibly discerned when not driving cars. The rhythms of the city and roadways reveal themselves more easily to the pedestrian or bike rider. As does the conditions of the roads, sidewalks, railroad crossings, buildings and other elements of man’s suburban/urban engineering. 

We have designed our places for cars in many ways and often not that well for them. Down on the street, in direct contact or more proximal contact we’re more human or more fully human and we’re also much more vulnerable. Not only from the potentially lethal collisions with people driven cars but also from our sense of identity in these car dominated contexts. Me thinks that car driving people somehow think less of the pedestrians in many cases. The homeless are there too. Walking, sometimes biking, pushing carts, they are perceived as obstacles. The cars must go. Where to, I don’t know. To work? In a hurry? In a lethal hurry?

Repetition is a simple tool as is stating the obvious. Walkers, bicylers, other non-car driving people in their motility want to continue living. They deserve life. (the obvious).

Among the many pros on the T-chart is the general well being that physical activity provides the non car driver. For sure, there are aches and pains and other cons associated with non-car driving in terms of the body. The mind is also benefited by this non-car driving. Non-car driving gives us time to think/reflect and develop the inner voice. Car driving too might offer this, perhaps long car driving – commutes – but the local driving I often observe seems contextualized to make reflection quite difficult.

Well, the post is done I suppose. A reminder, non-car drivers are people. Love them, value them like you would a brand new car or truck driver. Maybe even consider affording them a little bit more. They might need it.     


Principal Profile December 2019

Maria Hernandez, Ed.D.


Rio Real Dual Immersion K-8 School

10 Years as Rio Real Principal

13 Years as Principal

7 Years as Teacher

This is Dr. Hernandez’ 10th year as principal of Rio Real, previously she served as principal at Rio Del Valle Middle School. Dr. Hernandez was a teacher in the Ventura Unified School District and  before entering into public schools work, Maria served as a correctional officer/youth counselor at the California Youth Authority.  

Dr. Hernandez earned her Bachelors of Arts in Sociology and Masters in Educational Administration from California State University, Northridge. She earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from California Lutheran University.

Maria enjoys traveling with her family. She grew up in Oxnard and has served her community for years. Family is central to her life both personally and professionally. Her ongoing travels with family helps her see the world through the eyes of her children.  

Dr. Hernandez has helped guide Rio Real as Rio’s first K-8 Dual Immersion Language School and has been a leader in dual immersion  learning at the local, county, state, and national levels. Maria connects families, culture, community, and academic leadership into a quiet and reserved leadership. Her roots in the community have created countless opportunities for children and family alike and are living embodiments of the potential of local children to develop and grow to their highest aspirations while remaining deeply humble and connected to the local community. Maria is there for children and families and for the power of language and cultural identity that enriches individual and collective lives.

We asked Dr. Hernandez the following three questions and her responses follow each;


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


When a child comes to school in the morning they expect to be happy, have friends with which to play, be physically and  emotionally safe, and lastly, whether they will be able to engage in the learning process. When we create an atmosphere in our schools that meets these needs and allow these processes to happen, we provide the conditions for children to learn and grow. Children want to feel noticed, cared for and loved to them, learning is secondary.  


  • How has your leadership changed over time and experience?


Through my years in leadership positions I have learned there are several big picture priorities I have to keep in mind. 

First,  I am part of a team and a community in my organization and at my site. My work does not happen in isolation, we have a collective commitment and focus to what we do and who we serve. I have to rely on my team and let my team rely on me as part of the process of building teams.  

Second, my entire staff and I have to be committed to our school vision and goals in order for the organization to move forward and grow. 

Third, the wisdom of us together is greater than that of any one individual. We have to listen to others to lead and be led. 



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


Working in Youth Corrections before coming into education helped me to understand the utmost gravity of the work we do in elementary education.  Working with elementary students specifically has helped me develop relationships and see life and learning through foundational needs. I have developed relationships that have meaning and I have become a better person, mother and citizen of my community because of my work with children and families. I have a sense of commitment and a need to serve that goes beyond the 8-5.  It is my hope and dreams that I make a difference in the lives of students and my community through the work I do.