New Vista Del Mar Union superintendent gets started
It may be Dr. Lois Peterson’s first semester as the superintendent/principal of the Vista Del Mar Union School District (during a global pandemic nonetheless), but the school feels like home to her.
When she heard about the job opening, she and her husband drove to Vista De Las Cruces School to think about the opportunity. When they pulled up to the Gaviota campus, she felt a sense of peace.
“It was kind of like magic. There were some horse riders with their trailers parked, and they sat in chairs under a tree,” she told the News-Press. “They looked like they were relaxing, and that told a story.”
It reminded her of her hometown of Fonda, La., a rural town of around 600 people. She liked the school’s connection to nature and farming and began drafting her application.
She loved that she could serve as a principal and superintendent, a role her friends thought was perfect for her as well. Her first job was at a single-school district, and she wanted to return to one.
“Being the only school in the whole district, it becomes a community center,” she said. “It brought me full circle back to my first job.”
Community is a keyword for Dr. Peterson. She strives to make connections between school employees and families.
“I really want to create a connection with the community and create this greatness,” she said. “A bold new vision building on a foundation of a strong history of connection.”
She’s heard of families with four generations of history in the school.
In her own family, she grew up as the third oldest of 15 kids. She played school with her siblings and knew, as a young child, that she wanted to become a teacher.
She has taken many positions in education, from teaching in the Kansas City area to earning a doctorate’s degree in San Diego.
As someone who moved around a lot, she’s not afraid of a fresh start. And she hopes to inspire her students to branch out, just like she did.
“I’m so delighted about what our school will be restored to be. We’re going to move forward and bring enrollment back,” Dr. Peterson said. “It’s my responsibility to support this vision.”
She has many responsibilities in the district, ranging from financial planning to tagging along in parent-teacher conferences.
But her favorite part of her job is the morning meetings. All 27 students video chat with staff, beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance.
This week, the students are showing off crafts during the morning meeting.
Dr. Peterson and three parent volunteers passed out supplies last Thursday evening to each student. They gave out pumpkins, construction paper, a Halloween mask and candy.
And she led the students to write thank-you letters to the volunteers. She had the youngest grades just draw a picture to share.
“I aim for a series of small things brought together that make people feel valued and loved. That way, they know we’re there for them,” she said.
One way Dr. Peterson makes students feel cared for is by celebrating birthdays. She contacts parents beforehand to see if they’d like to join for the morning meeting, and she buys a tub of the students’ favorite flavor of ice cream.
She said parents enjoy listening in on the morning Zoom calls. Kids chat among one another, and even kindergarteners socialize with the older students.
“It’s about creating a positive environment so that they achieve the highest level possible of learning and that they create that passion and joy for learning,” she said.
Dr. Peterson said she hopes the environment the staff creates allows for academic growth, though she understands families are struggling with a lot during the pandemic.
“We’re working so closely with parents,” she said. “What I try to fully acknowledge are all the feelings and anxiety people are facing in this difficult time.”
Her students are still learning remotely, and she is currently creating a re-entry plan. She said safety has been a priority, and she relies on her personal faith to give her strength as she makes decisions.
“I’m a reflective leader, and I think that when you give yourself time to have that quietness within yourself, it makes you open to give and receive,” she said.
It took reflection and two trips to Gaviota before Dr. Peterson applied to the position. She sees the joy she feels in her job as a sign it was the right fit.