Wondolowski takes over
September 19, 2014
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After coming in about 10 minutes late for her interview, new Cal High Principal Sarah Wondolowski rushed to quickly put away all of the extraneous papers and folders that she had been given while she had been away from her desk for the past hour.
She was quick to apologize for her lack of focus, and soon sat down to give us her full attention.
The remainder of the interview was filled with a sprinkling of text message notifications, gurgling blurbs from her walkie talkie, and random inquiries by students and staff about various issues to her secretary right outside her office.
The only word that can describe Wondolowski’s new life as a high school principal is frantic.
“I have never had a calendar that looks like this,” said Wondolowski, as she opened the calendar on her computer. “I have one, two, three, four meetings, here’s you guys right here. I’ve got another meeting here, two meetings right after school, and then the football game tonight.”
Wondolowski used this calendar as an example of what she said her biggest hurdle is this school year: her maxed-out schedule.
“I think the challenge for me personally is going to be able to maintain the relationships with students that I have,” said Wondolowski. “I’m in meetings all day, and very few of them are with kids.”
After serving as Cal’s assistant principal the past two years, Wondolowski interviewed for the school’s top post in July after longtime Principal Mark Corti accepted another job with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
She had only a few weeks of summer because she worked three weeks as principal of the district’s summer school program. Those weeks off, however, were filled with interviews for the position as well as her engagement.
“It was a very quick turn around because they wanted us to start on our usual start date, which is like, the middle to end of July,” said Wondolowski.
As a student, Wondolowski never really had any interest in a career in education. When she was studying political science at UC Berkeley she had full intentions of becoming a lawyer.
But during her sophomore year of college she realized that she was going to graduate early.
“Actually, it all comes down to football. I wanted an extra semester at Cal to be a student in the student section, so, I figured I’d tack on a minor,” said Wondolowski. “The fastest minor I could do was education, so I ended up doing that and finishing in three and a half years instead of three.”
After graduating Wondolowski went to go work for Oakland public schools, where she took part in an after-school program that focused on digital media and storytelling.
It was after she took this job that she realized that she was meant for a career in education.
“I realized I kind of long-avoided education because my grandma was a teacher, my great-grandma was a teacher, my mom was a teacher, my aunts were teachers,” said Wondolowski. “I just didn’t want to do what everybody expected me to do.
“But it was after I started working in Oakland that it was clear that that was kind of my true calling.”
Before becoming an administrator Wondolowski worked as a history teacher and leadership adviser.
Now that she’s principal, Wondolowski says that students probably won’t notice much of a difference on campus.
The one thing that students will probably see the most is the heavy implementation of Common Core writing in all subjects, as well as the effects of Common Core in other aspects of school-wide curriculum.
“Cal High is such an amazing school, and it’s got such rich traditions,” said Wondolowski. “Mr. Corti was such a strong leader. I can just hope to continue the positive direction that Cal High has been heading in.”
When it comes to the matter of student voice and its place on campus, Wondolowski regards it as a very important aspect to the overall well-being of the school.
“I think students need to have buy-in to their learning environment. I think students need to be heard and know that they are valued,” said Wondolowski. “It’s the adult’s job at the school to make sure that there is student voice and balance that against student needs, and figure out where the appropriate medium is.”
Perhaps the biggest indication of this attitude toward student voice was the town hall meeting she hosted on Sept. 3 to address concerns with closed campus. When asked if she would take this approach toward any other issues on campus, she said she didn’t have any on the calendar, but she would definitely be open to doing it again.
“At a high school what you [students] say has so much value, and some of the best ideas for change at a school can come from students,” said Wondolowski.
She says the best way for students to have their voices heard is to simply come up and talk to her whenever they see her on campus or at school events.
Despite her attitude toward student voice and input, students have mixed opinions on their newly hired principal.
“I don’t like [that Wondolowski is the new principal] because she won’t compromise with the seniors about off-campus lunch,” said senior Neal Warren.
The new closed campus restrictions have put Wondolowski in a bad light in the eyes of some students, but many others seem to be very happy she is the new leader at Cal.
“I really like her,” said senior Emily Olague. “She understands the students more. I feel like she’s going to make a lot of good changes for the school.”
Corti, who is now working at the district office with Career Technical Education and Athletics, before he will retire next year, also had some kind words about Wondolowski.
“She’ll be great, she’ll bring new energy,” Corti said. “She’s innovative, student-centered. She already has a great relationship with the staff.”
Seeing as how these last four weeks of school have been some of the most eventful at Cal, Wondolowski has certainly had her work cut out for her right from the very beginning.
Having to deal with angry students, bomb threats, and the arrest of a longtime coach is certainly a difficult way to start off the year, but she doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.
Perhaps her attitude is best summed up in the one sentence statement she addressed to all students during her interview, “Go Grizzlies!”