The school year will begin Monday for Clovis Unified, and while the familiar face and booming voice of the district’s founder, Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, will be missing, five schools will see a new face in the principal’s office.
Four elementary schools, along with Kastner Intermediate School, will begin the year under new leadership.
Although construction of a new elementary school is still underway on Temperance and Clinton avenues, the former principal at Freedom Elementary School has been put in charge of opening the school.
Meet the new leaders who hope to guide their schools’ staff, teachers and students to success in the 2015-16 school year:
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Kathy Blackburn, Temperance-Kutner Elementary
Product of Clovis
“I am a product of Clovis schools,” Blackburn said proudly. She was born in Michigan, but her parents moved to Clovis when she was four. She attended Dry Creek Elementary in kindergarten, Sierra Vista in first grade, Miramonte from second through sixth grade, then Clark Intermediate School and Clovis High School.
Blackburn went to Fresno State to earn her degree in liberal arts and obtain her teaching credential, and then she was hired by Clovis Unified. She taught sixth grade at Copper Hills Elementary for 11 years, then served as the Guidance Instructional Specialist (GIS), or the equivalent to a vice principal at the elementary level, at Jefferson Elementary School for three years. She was a learning director at Clovis High for two years until being promoted to principal of Temperance-Kutner Elementary this year.
Blackburn said that she knew during the interview process that Temperance-Kutner, referred to as T-K, was the place for her.
“When I interviewed here I saw adults and children being respectful to one another,” she said. “I had students come up to me as I was waiting for my interview and said, ‘good morning!’”
“It’s a community school. It’s truly the heart of this community. This is that old, small school feel, when it’s not small anymore,” she continued. About 750 students are enrolled this year.
Continuing a legacy
“The biggest challenge will be following the incredible legacy of the people before me,” Blackburn said, explaining that T-K’s former principal is Randy Hein, the daughter of founding superintendent Dr. Buchanan. “She has led and served this school and the district so amazingly well. Knowing that I can’t be here, I shouldn’t be her, but knowing that she led with such passion, I can only hope to be half the leader.”
“I just want to be able to have the kids and the staff, the families the community, know that I have the same heart, and I will try to lead with the same passion, but I’m going to be someone different.”
“I’m really humbled and honored to be chosen to be the leader of this school, but know that leading is ... I won’t be at the front. Everybody on campus here is what makes things happen. It’s not me, it’s we.”
This year’s theme at T-K is “We believe we can and we will,” Blackburn said. To her, it means “knowing that all students can and will learn. It’s knowing that we have to have a belief in ourselves, that what we truly have our heart set on — it’s attainable. Decide to do it and do it.”
Everybody on campus here is what makes things happen. It’s not me, it’s we.
Kathy Blackburn, new principal of Temperance-Kutner Elementary
Traveling as a pack
Blackburn has two daughters who attend Clovis schools: Morgan, 11, and Ashlyn, 7.
“I have a unique living situation. My mom, my step dad and my aunt — we all live together, the six of us,” she said. “My mom is the one who really helps with my children.”
“I love spending time with my kids,” Blackburn said. “We like to travel — anything Disney — we got to go to Disney World this summer, and I look forward to traveling to Europe next summer. Anywhere and everywhere, there is always something to learn.”
Carrie Carter, Freedom Elementary
“I’m a Clovis girl, born and raised, out in the country raising horses,” she said. “I didn’t have an easy childhood. My dad was a drug addict and my mom is the strongest woman I know. My work ethic, my heart for people, it all comes from my mom.”
A grandfather figure
Doc Buchanan had a huge impact on Carter’s childhood.
“Every game day he was there. I don’t know how he made it to all the schools, but he did. And for a kid who may not have had anyone watching her, or cheering her on, I always felt like he’s cheering me on,” she said. “Doc can remember names and events. His memory is amazing. He would say “You ran just as fast as you ran last week,” and it’s like wait ... oh yeah, you were here last week! And it felt like it was just me, but he was that way for all students. He made it to everything. He was like that grandfather figure.”
Always wanted to be a teacher
“I am a product of Clovis,” Carter said. “I was a Dry Creek Blue Devil before they changed their mascot, I went to Kastner and Clovis West. I was a 4-H kid, very involved in that. I played sports — in elementary school I played everything I could, and in high school I was a gymnast and stayed active in 4-H, showing horses.”
“From second grade and on, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had those amazing teachers that had a big impact on me from an early age.”
Carter met her husband, Damon, in college when they both worked for Gottschalks in Sierra Vista Mall. The two have been married nearly 21 years and have three sons: 16-year-olds Christian and Kishawn, and 11-year-old Grayson. They love being outdoors and being active.
“It’s really important that on Sunday nights, everybody sits down for family dinner,” Carter said.
She has a ‘no electronics at the table’ policy, and has been known to squirt her kids with a water bottle if they pull out their phones.
Se habla español
Carter took Spanish as an elective in school and ended up majoring in Spanish at Fresno State.
She taught high school Spanish at Buchanan and was also the pep and cheer director there.
“Being bilingual, if I need to translate for families, I can do that,” she said. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect because of a language barrier, and they may feel like they can’t connect to the school.”
Movin’ on up
“People invested in me … and they were like, okay, we’re calling you up, you have the potential to be a leader,” Carter said.
She got her administrative credential and served as a GIS at Weldon and Red Bank elementaries before serving as a learning director at Clovis East for two years.
“We’ve never had a first day of school in Clovis Unified without Doc,” Carter said, choking up. “It’ll be different…The biggest challenge for me and the district is to make sure that we hold tight, and I know we will, to all those core values that he instilled in us.”
Keys to success
This year’s theme at Freedom is “Keep calm and unlock your future,” Carter said.
Former Freedom principal Erin Gage started a key program at the school, where students and classrooms can earn keys if they’re being caught showing good character or meeting a deadline, for instance. With the keys they earn incentives and rewards.
Smiles are contagious
“I try to smile at everyone, because I don’t know what kind of morning they had at home, and if I’ll be the first smile of their day,” Carter said. “If I can change their day or attitude for the better, then I’ve done my job.There are so many people in my life and my schools who turned my day around. “I feel like I have a personal responsibility to make sure that lives on.”
Aaron Cook, Dry Creek Elementary
An itch for elementary education
Cook grew up in Clovis near Bicentennial Park. His father, Richard Cook, began his teaching career at Dry Creek Elementary in 1980. “My first year as a principal is at the same school where he began his teaching career,” he said.
Cook attended Weldon, Clark Intermediate, and was part of the first graduating class of Buchanan High School.
After earning his teaching credential, Cook Interned in Hanford Elementary School District.
“I intentionally didn’t interview with Clovis because I felt this district had too high of expectations,” he said. But he learned quickly that Clovis was where he needed to be. The following year, he taught sixth grade at Fancher Creek Elementary and then taught a fifth and sixth grade combination class.
Cook was a guinea pig for Read 180, a reading intervention program, which allowed him to help more students on campus.
He worked for principal Randy Hein at Temperance-Kutner Elementary as a resource teacher, then served six years at Mickey Cox Elementary as a guidance instructional specialist. One of those years he covered both Cox and Sierra Vista Elementary. Then he spent three years at Alta Sierra as a learning director; one of which was spent at both Alta and Buchanan High.
“I’ve always had the itch to get back to elementary, where I started,” he said.
Built to last
This year marks the 149th year of Dry Creek Elementary’s existence.
“Our theme this year is ‘149 years — built to last’ and I think that’s an opportunity to reflect, but also to grow,” Cook said. “My intent is to continue with the strong traditions that have been established by the administration and teachers that have come before me. Next year will be ‘150 years — looking forward’ because who we’re going to teach our kids in the next 150 years is going to be very different from the way we’ve taught our kids for the past 150 years.”
A little bit country
“Schools don’t like the country connotation, but I think we hold it tight,” Cook said. “We are a country-like school. With that comes determination and grit and hard work. Even though our community may not be country-esque, there’s that aspect of tradition and ‘pull your bootstraps up and get the work.’ Our kids just knock it out of the park.”
The family behind the student
Cook is most excited to get to know each student by name.
“(At his previous schools) I knew the kids by name; I knew their brothers and sisters. I know their last name, their family story,” he said. “The students here, I may know their last names because their brothers and sisters may have gone to Alta Sierra and Buchanan. Now I get to put a face to the name.”
All in the family
Cook and his wife of 16 years, Ginger, live on 2 ½ acres in Clovis with their daughters Emma, 11, and Maggie, 10, and son Grady, 6.
“Clovis Unified is important to our family,” Cook said, explaining that his wife switched school districts to work in Clovis as a school psychologist. “Clovis Unified is a different institution. It’s not about what’s in your contract, it’s about what is best for our kids. At the end of the day, we’re serving our people, we’re not just serving our contract.”
Outside of school, the Cooks enjoy swimming, riding jet skis, playing softball and other sports.
Ryan Eisele, Kastner Intermediate School
Teachers are influential
“I went to all Clovis schools (Fort Washington and Kastner) and graduated from Clovis West in 1997,” he said. “My coaches and teachers have always had a big impact on me.”
Eisele went to Westmont College in Santa Barbara, then received his teaching credential from Fresno State. He taught English at Clovis East High School and coached baseball there. He was a deputy principal at Reagan Educational Center for two years, and then served as learning director for Reyburn and Clovis East for two years.
“I’ve always wanted to be a principal of an intermediate school or high school,” he said. “I’m excited about being principal of a school that I attended.”
Handshakes and high fives are a big thing for me. It’s really about getting to know the students by name.
Ryan Eisele, new principal of Kastner Intermediate
Eisele and his wife, Sara, have been married for 11 years. They have three children: Addison, 8, Trenton, 6, and Brooklyn, 2. They enjoy swimming, playing games, going for bike rides, and share a love for Chicago Cubs baseball.
“I had to brainwash the kids early,” Eisele joked. “Everyone here is either a Giants or a Dodgers fan.”
Eisele is also very involved in his church, North Park Community Church, has coached his son’s baseball team, and enjoys watching his daughter’s dance recitals.
Ready to tackle challenges
“My immediate challenge is moving into a school that has been under construction all summer,” Eisele said. “But other than that, it’ll be keeping up with the changes in education. I think all new principals and the entire district will face the challenge of maintaining the Clovis culture as we grow really fast. At Kastner specifically, it will be helping teachers transition into a new phase of testing and teaching with inquiry-based learning, and embracing the opportunities presented by Common Core.”
Handshakes and high fives for everyone
“Handshakes and high fives are a big thing for me. It’s really about getting to know the students by name,” Eisele said. There are nearly 1,050 students enrolled this year. “I like to walk around the amphitheater at lunch time and visit all of the different groups of kids and ask them who their favorite teachers are or what they’re involved in. If they were performing or if they’re on the football team, I want to be able to mention to them that I saw them onstage or that they did great out there on the field.”
“Making a difference the Clovis way in mind, body and spirit” is this year’s school theme, which expands on the district’s theme, Eisele said.
Army of Doc Buchanans
“We fall back onto the ‘Doc-isms’ (things Doc Buchanan used to say). He was famous for his quotes; the man was just so full of wisdom,” Eisele said. “Every principal will fall back on Doc’s Charge and be inspired by what he’s instilled in all of us. It’s like he’s created this army of Doc Buchanans throughout the district.”
Sonia Torossian, Riverview Elementary
A heart for elementary education
Torossian began attending Clovis schools when she entered sixth grade at Dry Creek Elementary. She was then a student at Kastner Intermediate and Clovis West High School. She earned her teaching credential and master’s degree at Fresno State and taught kindergarten at Cole Elementary for four years. She served as GIS at Garfield and Cole elementary schools. In the 2013-14 school year she moved to Clovis North Educational Center to be a learning director. This year she has returned to the elementary environment, as principal of Riverview.
Torossian and her husband, Serop, have been married for 20 years. They have three children: Luke, 13, Lauren, 11, and Trey, 7.
“(The children) all play competitive club soccer, so literally when I leave (school), it’s to pick up someone from practice and take them to another practice,” Torossian said.
“Getting to know all of our families and our students will be my biggest challenge,” Torossian said of beginning the year in a new school. “I made it a point to know all 800 students by name at Garfield.”
At Riverview, she has 762 students.
“It’s very important that I know my students by first name, and the families as well,” she said.
Making an impact
“I love this age; I think it’s so exciting to be a part of a child’s education from the ground up,” Torossian said of elementary students. “The parents are the first teachers and the most important teachers, but I love … that we get to watch them grow. I love when former students come back and tell you what an impact you made on their life. That’s the most rewarding.”
The Golden Rule
“I have a life motto — that is truly just to treat everyone the way you want to be treated,” Torossian said. “I think that can go into the business world, educational world, into relationships into parenting.”
Riverview is going along with the district’s theme of ‘making a difference,’ Torossian said.
“It’s not just about test scores or sports achievement or any kind of accolades — it’s about ‘do I like coming to school here? Am I proud to be a Ram? Am I excited to see my teacher every morning?’
“I want the (students and staff) to be happy to come here and then actually be sad at the end of the day to go home.”
The writings on the wall
“There’s a lot of traditions and history in our district that we will never ever give up,” said Torossian, who has “Doc-isms” printed on the walls of her office.
“All of them are Doc-isms. (Aug. 12) when he passed away — I really wanted him to come see it, and I won’t have that opportunity now. They’re not just words, but they are who we are.”
“We all have Doc’s Charge up on the wall,” she said of the framed document that hangs in nearly every staff member’s office at all Clovis schools. “We read it, we look at it. I refer to it when I’m reflecting, and I’m like ‘I don’t know what to do here’… I read it and focus and then I know that the decision I make will be what’s best for kids.”