SAMOHI — Laurel Fretz, a veteran teacher and administrator in various California school districts, will be taking over the reins as principal of Santa Monica High School for the coming school year.
She replaced outgoing principal Hugo Pedroza, who is leaving to become the assistant superintendent of human resources in Lompoc. Her first day was July 1.
Fretz was chosen out of an initial pool of 80 candidates, said Debra Moore Washington, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Fretz comes most recently from a position as the director of curriculum and instruction at the Centinela Valley Union High School District, where she served for two years.
She’s held a variety of administrative positions, and also taught high school science classes.
Her experience and background in those areas set her apart from the crowd, Washington said.
“She’s particularly good at knowing what teaching strategies to look for in a classroom,” Washington said. “She can make sure good teaching is happening for the students in that room.”
Her level of expertise made a real impression, said Debbie Mulvaney, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Samohi, who was part of the selection committee.
“I felt she was respectful of individuality as well as a good leader,” Mulvaney said. “She seemed to be able to bring people together toward a common goal.”
Skills like that will be critical in a diverse environment like Samohi, which teems with 3,100 students and an extra layer of administration to lead the five houses into which the student population is divided.
“There are a lot of people who have been there a very long time,” Mulvaney said. “They’re used to doing things the way they’ve been doing them.”
Fretz plans to accomplish that by keeping her focus, as well as that of teachers, administrators and staff, squarely on the students.
“What I want to push fairly early on here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a house principal, custodian, teacher, secretary or landscaper. We may have 30 different job descriptions, but we’re here for one reason, to increase student learning,” Fretz said. “Whether we do that through teaching, or making sure the environment is clean and warm when we’re ready to go in the morning, it plays an important part in student success at Samohi.”
Increasing student learning on the teaching end means a three-pronged strategy, Fretz said — engagement, focused learning targets and assessments.
Engaging students in their learning can mean switching up curriculum to include open-ended questions that stretch their thinking, or cause them to connect with the material in different ways.
“They are interested in the world, interested in what’s changing out there and they have something to contribute to that,” Fretz said of high school students. “They’re ready to solve big problems, and very capable of solving complex issues and discussing them.”
Focused learning targets keep both students and teachers on track, by making sure that students are embracing all of the materials they need to be successful after they’ve left the classroom.
That has to be data-driven, Fretz said.
If data shows that students aren’t mastering certain areas or concepts, the administration will work with teachers to ensure that professional development focuses on those subjects to ensure kids are getting the education they need.
Critical to that is the third prong, assessment.
“We should not have to wait until August to find out how we did last year,” Fretz said.
Fretz got her first introduction to the district at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, and has spent the first part of this week exploring the town and school she means to call home.
She’s excited to begin work in the district, which she believes has a number of strengths, like great programs, bright students and involved parents.
Although challenges await, particularly in terms of the achievement gap, a topic on which the district as a whole received low marks in a national study, Fretz believes that the community is prepared to meet them.
“When issues and problems come up, we have to take them very seriously and work to solve them. We have to remember we have a wonderful high school here,” Fretz said. “People in the community love this school, and there’s not a person I have talked to that’s said otherwise.”