The San Lorenzo Unified School District this fall welcomed four new administrators to the principal and assistant principal ranks at its 16 school sites. All have been extremely busy during the opening weeks of 2023-24 – getting to know their school communities and striving toward high standards for student success.
Here are highlights they shared about their experiences so far and what’s ahead:
Principal, Washington Manor Elementary School
Nicole Sandoval has returned to her roots as the new principal of Washington Manor Middle School, both as an educator and on a personal level. Other than her past year as principal at a middle school in San Mateo, her entire career as a teacher and administrator has been in San Lorenzo.
She was an assistant principal at Arroyo High School from 2019-22, alternated teaching stints at Arroyo and Bohannon Middle School between 2007 and 2018, and was a teacher on special assignment for restorative practices during the 2018-19 year. Sandoval is a proud 2000 graduate of AHS who has come to deeply appreciate her hometown and family roots.
Of her own children, she said, “I want them to go to school with our neighbors, and when we’re at the park together, there’s that community. It kind of surprised me, because when I was a teenager, I made fun of people like me – like, ‘Oh, you never made it out.’ Then I realized there’s a real connection.”
As principal, Sandoval is eager to help Washington Manor continually serve its changing demographics of diverse, young families. That includes cultural activities such as a respectful observance of Dia de Los Muertos and other events that reflect the African American and Asian American experience.
“The families have so much faith and support for us,” she said, “but we are part of their family at the same time. I’m looking at some of the events our PTA are putting on, and how they’re relying on their family and community ties, and it’s coming back through the staff because they know those same people in the community.
“It’s that idea that we really are here for the same reason, and that’s for our kids. There’s a trust that’s there. They trust us to do right by the kids.”
She also is energized by the school district’s commitment to wellness, including the anticipated opening of Washington Manor’s own Wellness Center later this fall.
“The social worker and community liaison are lining up to do that deep work so that teachers can teach the content, and we have the school support network,” Sandoval said. “It’s really exciting to me because I think our kids need it.”
Principal, Bay Elementary School
Joining San Lorenzo Unified after the past four years as an elementary principal in San Francisco, Bridget Wallace is focused on ensuring equity and student success while busily absorbing a new school culture and district operating systems.
“I’m not new to the role, but I am new to the district, and I’m learning the policy and practices of the school site and district,” she said.
Describing Bay as a “lovely school” with a “great staff and great team,” Wallace said she appreciates the welcome she has received as she incorporates her own style as a leader. She said she values collaboration as they strive together to improve student learning and nurture social-emotional well-being.
She said a mentor once told her, “You have to go slow to go fast,” but she’s prepared to lean into her objectives when it comes to meeting students’ needs.
Wallace said she has been thrilled to work with Bay’s active PTA, an asset she didn’t have at her previous school. The parent-teacher group organized a before-school ice cream social that drew 200 family members and then served hot dogs and nachos at Back to School Night.
On Oct. 11, she introduced visiting professionals from the San Francisco Opera, whose stage performance included costumed students and the Bay School Choir.
Each new day is a step forward for herself and her school community, Wallace said, adding, “Nothing comes without trust and relationships.”
Assistant Principal, Royal Sunset and East Bay Arts high schools
Gratifying experience as an upper school instructional coach in Vallejo led Sharaya Wiley to her most recent year as a middle school assistant principal at Aurum Preparatory Academy in Oakland. Then she found and sought out a new opportunity with San Lorenzo Unified.
Wiley said her interview with East Bay Arts/Royal Sunset Principal Alex Harp and Director of Secondary Education Dr. Mark Triplett convinced her that they shared her commitment, as she puts it, “to create a culture where all students – especially black and brown ones – can thrive.”
Although she works at both EBA and Royal Sunset, swapping places with Harp every Friday, she spends the majority of her time at RSHS.
“I really love Royal Sunset,” Wiley said. “I really love being here. It’s small, and as a student I thrive in small schools. For sure, being in small schools is my vibe.”
Excited about her team at the high school, she is intent on making sure all students feel welcome and fully supported at RSHS.
“These are the students who need as many people as possible to come around them and help them be successful in whichever way they see fit,” Wiley said.
One way she is doing that is by working with teachers, counselors and other staff to make the Royal Sunset experience as well-rounded as possible, including student clubs, a vibrant career center and promoting opportunities for student leadership, such as sharing school reports at SLZUSD School Board meetings.
“They should show up and be like, ‘This is my school; this is where I come to learn,’ and the teachers present them with work. All of those things should be encompassing. It’s a heavy lift for sure, but that’s what we’re trying to do, because that’s what they deserve.”
Dr. Ramon Cusi
Assistant Principal, San Lorenzo High School
Dr. Ramon Cusi is a former middle and high school principal who most recently was interim coordinator of pupil services for the Newark school district.
He said he’s been excited to join the three-assistant administrative team at San Lorenzo High, supporting Principal Indira Kumar and the entire teaching and support staff.
Dr. Cusi’s wide-ranging portfolio includes campus safety, athletics, the senior class, graduation and social science on the academic side. He also has taken a special interest in working with district Human Resources staff to facilitate hiring of new classified staff at SLzHS.
What has especially impressed him about the school is teachers’ passionate commitment to student well-being beyond the classroom, which also extends to staff in a variety of non-teaching roles.
“There’s an establishment of trust and a loyalty to the system that’s been created here and the culture that’s been created here,” Dr. Cusi said.
With two children in college, he said he looks forward to becoming an integral part of that San Lorenzo school community himself.
“I can be there for my kids and do something that I love doing. It’s really fun,” Dr. Cusi said. “When they see me walking down the hall, people address be my name now. I get fist bumps where before it was like, ‘Who are you?’”
“I’m not new to the job; I’m just new to the people.”