Education was the last career field 18-year-old Kim Little planned to enter. The El Dorado High School graduate didn’t know what she wanted to do, so she went to community college for a while. Then she needed a job and answered an ad in the Mountain Democrat for an instructional aide position for a special needs student at Camino School. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve done some babysitting so…’” she said.
She got the job and 20 years later, Little has been an instructional aide, a bus driver, a custodian, a volleyball coach, classroom teacher and Title I Reading Specialist. This school year, Little, 38, begins her first year as the new principal of Sierra Ridge Middle School, a school she attended as a member of the first graduating class 25 years ago.
“I found that I loved working with kids. Anything the district asked me to do, I did,” said Little. She remembered being asked if she wanted to drive a school bus and going to training to learn how to do it. “I was one day away from my 19th birthday when I had to pick up kindergarteners for the Round-up Day. A mom came on board the bus with her kindergartener, took one look at me and asked me how long I’d been driving.”
After seven years in classified positions at Camino, Little decided to go back to college and get her teaching credential. “I planned to come back to Camino and teach there, but after I graduated, they weren’t hiring.”
But the Pollock Pines School District was. Little grew up in Pollock Pines and attended both Pinewood Elementary and the then brand-new Sierra Ridge Middle School. “It was kind of surreal to see my former principal, Ralph Haslam, and my first grade teacher, Cheryl Hall, on the interview panel,” said Little. She was hired as a first grade teacher at Pinewood and later, when her mentoring teacher, Cheryl Hall, retired, Little became the Title 1 reading specialist.
Never one to forgo a challenge, Little went on to get her master’s degree and Administrative Credential. “I wasn’t planning to become a principal, but when Kevin Monsma became our superintendent and Brent Malincote became principal at Pinewood, I could see the kind of principal I wanted to become — putting kids first and helping teachers become better teachers.”
Last year, Little had the opportunity to work with the Sierra Ridge staff when she became administrative designee, taking over for the principal at the school one to two days each week while continuing to work as Title 1 reading specialist at Pinewood. “It was kind of rough last year doing both jobs, but now I know my staff and the staff at Pinewood and Sierra Ridge work tightly together,” she said.
When Sierra Ridge Principal Rich Callahan retired, Little was asked to take his place at Sierra Ridge, bringing her full circle. “It’s kind of neat to walk these hallways again,” she said.
She has more history with the Pollock Pines School District than just her own. “My mother was the transportation supervisor for many years and she was in the first graduating class from Pinewood.”
Her son graduated from Sierra Ridge this year and will be attending El Dorado High School, to his relief. Her 9-year-old daughter will continue at Pinewood, so this will be the first year Little and her children haven’t been at the same school.
Husband, Robert, is a forester working for Cal Fire at Mt. Danaher and the family lives in Camino. “We are very outdoors oriented — growing up in this area, you have to be,” said Little. She recently took up running and had fun doing a mud run. “It makes you feel like a little kid again.”
Working in a middle school setting after an elementary school will be a challenge, but Little is looking forward to it. “As a Title 1 teacher I saw 65 struggling readers every day. This will be more of a balance and I get to see more kids in a lot of different ways,” said Little. “I haven’t worked with middle school students for 10 years, but I know about 95 percent of the students and parents coming in to Sierra Ridge.” It seems that everywhere she goes — Hawaii, San Luis Obispo, El Dorado County — students recognize her and come up for a hug.
Her focus for this year will be to build school culture and expectations for students and staff. “Instructional strategies and materials change, but how we treat kids doesn’t,” said Little. “I don’t want to lose sight of treating people kindly and respectfully.”
Measure K money is funding renovations to the district — upgrading technology, repaving at both schools, painting both the district office and both schools. Sierra Ridge is now in the throes of being repainted inside and out after having 20,000 board feet of lumber replaced on the wooden-sided school. The school will look fresh and clean for the first day of school in August, with Little there to greet each incoming student.
“I’m planning to be here for a while. It’s been almost 40 years — why leave now?” said Little with a smile.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.