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New principals at Santa Barbara, San Marcos high schools prepping for Fall

Two new principals in the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) sat down with our reporter Beth Farnsworth to talk about their new posts.

Elise Simmons has taken the reigns at Santa Barbara High School (SBHS) following John Becchio’s move to Human Relations at SBUSD.

At San Marcos High School (SMHS), Richard Rundhaug will serve as Interim Principal for one year following Ed Behrens move to a teaching position at Santa Barbara Junior High.

Our recent back-to-back disasters, the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides, along with a number of tragic student deaths, has Simmons putting safety as her top priority.

“It’s going to be a very important year and a critical year for us, to be honest about what’s been going on and also really be cognizant of how much we’re taking care of ourselves and each other,” Simmons said.

Five miles across town along Hollister Road, there’s a new face on the Royals’ campus at SMHS.

“I know that there’s probably some people out there saying, ‘Can we trust this new guy? What’s he all about?'” Rundhaug said.

The two principals both agree that their campuses are in healing-mode, for a different reason.

For a man who admittedly has what sounds like the word “ruined” in his last name, Rundhaug would be among the first to tell you that he’s a “fixer.” Years of controversy at SMHS from social media threats to deep divisions linked to Behrens’ ousting, left the SMHS campus reeling.

“Recognizing that, one of my biggest priorities is to be a relationship builder,” Rundhaug said. “That’s what my calling is at this point, is creating an environment where people feel very welcomed here, that their ideas will be heard.”

Back along Anapamu Street at the 140-year-old SBHS Dons’ institution, Simmons echoes the same sentiment. Both principals used the word “inclusion.”

“Just really making sure students are ready for life during high school and after high school. College and career readiness is huge,” Simmons said.

Simmons is uber-focused on compassionate classrooms, self-care and resiliency, and will implement what she calls “social-emotional learning.”

Each principal stressed the importance of life after high school for students and engaging their parents long before graduation day.

“How do you deal with life and obstacles and failures?” Simmons stated. “And so, that is something that I think all of our schools struggle with and SBHS does as well. It’s how do we truly engage all of our parents in helping us educate these young people?”

Rundhaug believes the key to connecting with parents is not necessarily just through their child’s grades or school curriculum, but what he refers to as “unsealing students’ dreams.” He said that often starts in the Counselor’s Office.

“If you end up telling a student, ‘You took this career inventory and this is what it said you’d be good at or what your interests would be,’ it changes the dynamics.” He went on to say when relating to parents, “When you put it in the context of ‘we’re trying to get your child from Point A to Point B … we want the best for your child.’ Man, that’s a game changer.”

Simmons spent the past 20 years at the SBUSD in various roles including Assistant Principal at SBHS. Most recently, she worked as Principal at La Cuesta Continuation High School and was instrumental in helping students there achieve their academic goals.

Rundhaug came from Arizona where most recently, he worked as a school superintendent in Goodyear. He said when it comes to handling challenges on campus, he’s tackled “them all” from bomb threats, fires, academic dips and recently, a high-profile student/teacher sex scandal.

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