Elementary Principal and Secondary Co-Administrator of the Year

August 7, 2017

ACSA is honoring this year’s Administrator of the Year Award recipients, and each is being profiled in EdCal leading up to the formal awards gala at the 2017 Leadership Summit in San Jose.

Reaching more students: Mistee Hightower-Guzman, vice principal of East Avenue Middle School, Livermore Valley Joint USD

When Mistee Hightower-Guzman decided to study instructional leadership, she knew she wanted to reach more than the 70 or so students in her two core classes. Becoming an assistant principal allowed her to do just that, and to learn from amazing administrators what it takes to be a great leader.

Now, as vice principal of East Avenue Middle School in Livermore, she has been named Secondary Co-Administrator of the Year.

“The daily interaction with the kids is what I enjoy most about being in education,” Hightower-Guzman said, adding that mentor-colleagues from New Haven and Livermore continue to challenge her to do the work she does.

She served as an assistant principal at Pioneer and Cabello elementary schools and Alvarado Middle School in New Haven Unified School District before taking the vice principalship at East Avenue in Livermore Valley Joint USD.

Throughout her career, Hightower-Guzman has been an essential partner in supporting and increasing achievement for all students, said LVJUSD Director Amy Robbins.

“She is an engaged partner to her principal and helps to round out a dynamic team,” Robbins said.

Among Hightower-Guzman’s achievements have been providing training in culturally responsive teaching, supporting and further developing the special education and Response to Intervention programs, managing safety operations and developing activities that ease the transition for students from middle school to high school.

“All students come in with a unique set of gifts, challenges and needs,” she said. “They inspire me to be creative and think outside of the norm in order to give them what they need to be successful and good, healthy and sound people.”


Hightower-Guzman said it is the little wins she experiences every day with students, staff and parents that bring her the most pride. “If someone tells me my suggestion was helpful, or they thank me for supporting them, that makes me happy,” she said.

She remembers a special education student who came to her school with a number of behavioral challenges at his previous site. The entire special ed team worked on a plan to accommodate his needs, and his mother expressed gratitude for one of the best years her child ever had at school. She was thankful for their ability to listen and create a space where he could experience success every day, and that his missteps were not held against him.

“That I have facilitated teams that put the needs of the child first is important,” Hightower-Guzman said. “I also especially love to see the growth in students from sixth grade to eighth grade. Some of my kiddos have matured beautifully, and it’s a treat to be able to witness that metamorphosis.”

As ACSA closes in on the 2017 Leadership Summit, Nov. 2-4 in San Jose, reflecting on the theme “Leading Beyond Limits” is appropriate. Hightower-Guzman said the idea means you do what you need to do to support your teachers, aides, custodians, clerical staff, students and parents.

ACSA has played an important role in supporting her own growth as a leader, providing timely and appropriate professional learning, particularly on equitable education, as well as deciphering how current legislation impacts schools and students.

But she said she would never be able to accomplish what she has at work without the support of her family at home.

“When I made the decision to move districts several years ago it was really tough. My husband encouraged and supported my decision, knowing that the move would affect our lives at home as well,” she said. “You can’t be a successful administrator without the support of family.”

And then there’s her mother, Cheryl Hightower, a former Alameda County superintendent, whom Hightower-Guzman said has inspired her more than anyone else in her education career.

“Through all of her jobs, her consulting business, and the sometimes daily counsel she’s given me, one statement was a constant theme, ‘It’s about the kids, not about you,’” Hightower-Guzman said. “In all decisions I make, programs I create, I keep that in the back of my mind. When we work to keep children first, we all win.”

Getting an early start: Margaret Lynch, principal of Cabrillo School, Wiseburn SD

Margaret Lynch knows that a good education begins early on – early in childhood as well as first thing in the morning. She begins the day by greeting each student at Cabrillo School as they enter the gates, showing every child that they matter to their principal.

For her excellence in leadership, learning and teaching, Lynch has been selected as ACSA’s 2018 Elementary Principal of the Year.

In her seven years as principal in Wiseburn USD, Lynch has proven herself to be an outstanding leader, communicator, problem-solver and agent of positive change, according to Wiseburn USD Superintendent Tom Johnstone.

“Under her leadership, Cabrillo School has maintained California Distinguished School status, California Gold Ribbon status and is also a Title 1 Achieving School,” Johnstone said, calling Lynch a “values centered leader.”

“She is willing to take a stand and commit herself to defend a position and stay the course,” he said. “She firmly believes and lives the creed that ‘with diversity there is strength.’ Margaret is a crusader for all students.”

Other words used to describe her are responsive, inclusive, positive and knowledgeable. Her experience spans more than 36 years in education as a teacher, special education resource specialist, coordinator of staff development, and principal.

“I spent seven years in the classroom and 20 years in other teachers’ classrooms supporting teachers through Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment,” Lynch said.

“As I went from school to school in BTSA, I saw and appreciated the difference teachers make in the classroom and noticed that the school administrator who set a positive tone, knew their teachers, knew their kids, and knew the curriculum were making a difference. I wanted to make a difference. The stakes are high in education and I’m drawn to the elementary years as the point of building a strong foundation for students in reading, writing and math.”

She said that the children she serves are her biggest inspiration and source of hope.

“My favorite part of each day is greeting my students with a high five and ‘good morning’ as we look in each other’s eyes,” she said. “I am inspired every time a teacher shares with me something they are excited a child has done or accomplished in the classroom.”

“Students who return to visit and share their memories of elementary school and what they are doing now also inspire me. When I became a parent and then a grandparent, I realized every child is someone’s precious daughter, son, or grandchild, and that has inspired me to continually improve education for all children.”

While Lynch is extremely proud of her team’s academic accomplishments in increasing the API above 900 and achieving Distinguished, Gold Ribbon and Title 1 Performing School status, citing excellent teaching and professional learning for the results, she also focuses on their achievements in addressing behavioral issues.

“We have implemented a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports system, teaching students the behaviors of school and reducing the number of discipline issues while building social and emotional skills,” she said.

“We have seen amazing results with early intervention, both in our special needs students and in increased kindness and compassion of our general education students as we teach the dignity of all students.”

Lynch, a lifelong learner, sites the resources and professional learning provided by ACSA membership as being helpful to her career path.

“I am grateful for my weekly edition of EdCal that informs me of the bigger picture in education. The ACSA publications are always research-based and easy to understand,” she said. “The principals in my district formed a principals’ book club where we select, read and discuss ACSA books.”

“I’m also grateful for all the ACSA Region 14 professional learning opportunities. Some of the most successful things I’ve implemented have come from ideas shared at my own ACSA Region 14 events. It’s a tremendous gift to have support from a network of other leaders in education.”

Drawing on the theme of the 2017 Leadership Summit, “Leading Beyond Limits,” Lynch spoke to the limitless power of innovative and cooperative educational leadership to create lasting change.

“We need to remember to say yes to good things for kids that make them excited to learn and figure out how to make those things happen and how to pay for it,” she said. “Programs that embrace the arts, the garden, are tremendous motivators for students and enrich the educational environment for our kids. We have a staff motto of ‘we’ll figure it out,’ so we say yes to good things for kids and then figure out how we are going to make it happen… together.”

All ACSA Administrators of the Year will be honored at the President’s Gala and Awards Celebration during Leadership Summit in San Jose, Nov. 3. To register, go to www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit.

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