Following months of obstacles and encountering new territory starting in the summer of 2011, the Valley Home Joint School District is starting 2012 anew. Rolanda Desrosiers-Lewis represents the new era for the 170-student K-8 district after being hired as the new Superintendent/Principal to be a permanent replacement for former administrator Thomas Kevin Hart.
“I’m taking it as, ‘this is a new beginning.’ I’m working with the community and staff. I’m just moving forward…we’re moving on from here,” Desrosiers-Lewis said.
She noted that right now she’s watching and learning. She wants to focus on building relationships within the school and the community.
Near the end of 2011, the Valley Home Joint School District Board of Trustees moved forward with finding someone to fill the top administrative role permanently. The trustees put Hart on administrative leave and then compulsory leave after he was arrested over the summer. He remains on unpaid leave due to his ongoing legal issues.
Retired Oakdale school district superintendent Fred Rich helped the Valley Home district get the school year started by filling the role until the school trustees hired Desrosiers-Lewis out of a field of 17 candidates.
With a clean slate in front of her, Desrosiers-Lewis has a few goals in mind for the district and discussed her vision.
“I really want to bring the district to the 21st century…,” she said.
She reported that the common core is being reviewed and that she is looking toward 2015, when the state assessments will change. She and the board will analyze what instruction looks like now and what will need to change to meet the common core standards for the state. Intervention, other materials, and what English learners need in order to acquire the language skills are being looked at more closely.
She noted that she’d also like to bolster the school library and that they will be looking into library grants. As well, she’d like more communication with parents and to tap further into the resource of “Power School,” an online student information system that the district currently has in place.
Desrosiers-Lewis has been in education for 36 years – as a classroom teacher, a school vice principal, principal, and district administrator. Most recently, she was the Director of Curriculum for Modesto City Schools. There were pros and cons to being in the more urban school district, she said. There are many layers in a big school district so it takes longer to get things done, she noted, while at Valley Home “it takes two minutes to talk to everybody” on the campuses. At MCS she formed close connections with the county Office of Education and brings those connections with her to Valley Home.
“Having those relationships is key,” she said.
Valley Home school board president Heather Duvall agreed, noting that Desrosiers-Lewis has a “great background in curriculum development,” and coming from a large district, her resources and contacts will be of help to Valley Home School.
Desrosiers-Lewis said that one of the most appealing aspects of the administrative post in Valley Home is that she’ll still be able to connect with the students. Instilling optimism and confidence in the campus community is another one of her goals.
“If people love to come to work and to school then half the hard part is over,” she said. “I like doing the out-of-the-ordinary, which excites the students, so they enjoy being here. That’s what I try to create – that atmosphere. Just really high morale.”
She added that there are already a lot of good things happening at Valley Home School, including good test scores and a supportive, successful parent club.
“We’re really happy to have a person who brings so much experience and enthusiasm to our district,” Duvall reported. “That’s what made her stand out the most.”
Desrosiers-Lewis is also the first woman to fill the Superintendent/Principal role in the Valley Home school district.
“I think it’s exciting,” Duvall said about hiring Desrosiers-Lewis. “We’re seeing women in leadership positions in the schools more and more… It’s exciting to see that in Valley Home as well.”
Desrosiers-Lewis said she plans to be with the district “for a good period of time” and noted that it takes at least three years to see real differences. She said she’s working on updating policies and that the Valley Home School board members are setting goals and are very interested in developing a strategic plan. She feels that with a plan they can get things done more quickly and that it’s important that everyone has a common goal.
“If we have a common goal, then everybody’s working in the same direction,” Desrosiers-Lewis said. “Change happens when everyone is pointed in the same direction.”
“We’re hoping to continue to improve test scores… ensure the students are getting the best education possible, and getting all the curriculum requirements and program offerings that are available to them,” Duvall added.
One thing Desrosiers-Lewis wants people in the community to know is that she has an open door policy and makes herself available to talk to students, staff, and parents.
On a more personal note, Desrosiers-Lewis and her husband live in Ripon where they ride horses, do animal rescue, enjoy making jewelry, and belong to a garden club.