Ensuring all students have equal opportunities to achieve success is one of the ultimate goals of ACSA’s 2012 Secondary Principal of the Year, Cheryl Domenichelli.
As principal of John C. Kimball High School in the Tracy Unified School District, Domenichelli said she became a school administrator to work toward closing the achievement gap and reforming the system to meet the needs of all students.
“It may sound cliché, but I am truly pursuing a passion of mine – to work towards a system that values students for who they are and what they have to offer to our society,” she said.
Domenichelli said she did not set out to pursue a career in education; in fact, it is her fourth career. She said she entered the teaching profession after volunteering at her own children’s schools. She began as a middle school science teacher, and then moved to the high school level, teaching science and art.
“It was there I began to see the need to work in the arena of equity in education and systemic education reform,” Domenichelli said. “As I began the journey in equity work, it was clear that the realm of influence for systemic change was limited from the teacher position. I most certainly could influence 180 students but the needs were greater.”
She then pursued her administrative credential, and took a position as vice principal at Deer Valley High School in Antioch USD before taking her current position in 2008.
“I believe the only way to achieve a better future for us all is through the education of our children,” Domenichelli said. “To that end, I am still on a journey that leads me to work toward a better educational system for our children; as I have moved along my professional continuum, I have been fortunate to work with people who have similar goals and passion for education.”
One challenge Domenichelli faced in her career was opening Kimball High School in 2009. The first year, the student population was 900; last year it was 1,960. This kind of growth required an adjusted curriculum, new activities to meet student needs, and professional development for more than 20 teachers – all while ensuring a quality education for all.
“The model of the school is centered on equity and access for all students,” she said. “We are focused on providing a learning community where all students are supported to reach their highest potential. We also believe that our community should be actively engaged with our school and therefore have supported that on many levels.”
Tracy Superintendent James Franco said despite the demands before her, Domenichelli tackled the challenge of opening the new school with ease.
“Organizing such a large-scale project could be daunting for some, but not Cheryl,” he said. “Her positive attitude and cooperative nature made the complex and lengthy task run smoothly and has led to a phenomenal school and campus environment.”
Another challenge Domenichelli faces is balancing instructional leadership with the day-to-day needs of running the school. Like most educators, Domenichelli finds there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. She strives to ensure a strong curriculum is at the heart of the school, and works to get all the players on board and support them in their endeavors to deliver that curriculum to students.
“At KHS, we believe everyone on this campus, from support staff to administrators, is necessary for the process of teaching and learning. Taking care of these groups is equally important to establishing curricular programs. The balancing and giving each component the attention it needs and deserves poses the greatest challenge,” she said.
Domenichelli said her favorite part of the job is interacting with students, and she works to provide the best academic programs for them. She said she is fortunate to have a group of students who are well connected to the school.
“It is most rewarding when students are comfortable with the school, take ownership in their academics, and are excited to be a part of the learning community,” she said.
Domenichelli said ACSA has been a great support to her throughout her career. While earning her administrative credential, her professor said she should join. Since then, she has taken advantage of the many benefits membership has to offer.
“Trainings, support and a lens to the greater arena that encompass and influences education are provided by ACSA,” she said. “ACSA also provides opportunity for individuals to collaborate with others outside of their immediate district and to work on more global issues influencing education today. I have personally been able to broaden my understanding of education as it is situated in the state and national context. This is invaluable to me as an instructional leader and allows me to be more effective at my own site and within my own district.”
Domenichelli said she could not have been successful at her endeavors without the support of those around her, and she is proud to be one of many educators who work every day to better the lives of California students.
“No one accomplishes anything alone,” she said. “Without the support of those I work with, my family and friends, none of what has been accomplished would be possible. Every day, the dedicated educators I work with give their all. I am fortunate to work with such wonderful people. Whether classified, certificated or management, they all contribute to what I have been able to accomplish. The shared passion and vision for student success is what unites us in our pursuit of excellence for all of our students.”
Domenichelli will be formally honored, together with all Administrators of the Year, during ACSA’s Leadership Summit, Nov. 8-10 in San Diego. To register, visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit. The 2013 ACSA Awards season is now open. Visit www.acsa.org/awards for details.