Top Leader of Orange County 2021
Red Hill Lutheran School in Tustin
There’s a very long list of leadership skills that Red Hill Lutheran School Principal Paul Marquardt embodies.
“Personable, humble, spontaneous, daring, funny, sociable, approachable and fearless leader … unifying, available, visible, involved, devoted, smart, supportive, encouraging, dedicated, caring, selfless, positive, compassionate, appreciative, hands-on, actively-involved, steady, a visionary and advocate” were some used to describe him in his nomination essay.
But for Red Hill Lutheran School parent XueMei Zeng, something else also comes to mind.
“He is the beacon of our school,” said Zeng.
Marquardt, who was named Parenting OC’s Top Leader in the annual School Heroes Awards, was nominated by Zeng.
“It is humbling to be singled out at a school, because a school is like a family and everyone is critically important, so to identify just one person has that odd feel to it,” he said. “However, I am appreciative of the blessing that I have to work with such an amazing teaching and support staff of people, for them to want to nominate me is such an honor.”
Marquardt has worked in education for 30 years, serving as an elementary teacher, athletic director, coach and school administrator — as well as a college professor and assistant dean at Concordia University. He earned a master’s degree in Educational Administration and a doctorate in Organizational Leadership. He began working at RHLS in July of 2016 and is in his fifth year of serving as the principal there. He first became a school principal in 1993 — something he hadn’t planned.
“That was not an initial goal for myself early in my life,” he said. “I realized that I loved working as an elementary school principal and had been given the gifts to do that role and then was presented with an opportunity at RHLS that was a great fit for my skillset.”
Marquardt led a successful school reopening following COVID-19 closure. A student shared gratitude for the principal’s determination: “He didn’t do it for his own benefit, but for us.” Marquardt organized staff for rapid-fire deployment of 350 desk shields, personally rolling up his sleeves for their installation.
Despite the 2020 challenges, this year RHLS was recognized as a 2020 Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School — for which Marquardt personally acknowledged each employee with a handwritten “thank you,” telling them how instrumental they were to the achievement.
“That is a success story that I feel proud of as a school community, because it takes everyone in partnership to achieve that status of educational excellence and then to be recognized for it on a national level,” Marquardt said.
And there’s no sign of any slowdown for Marquardt in working to provide students with unique learning opportunities. This school year, students are focusing on the Wonders of Space as an educational theme, including a recent event where some of their questions could be answered via live radio by astronauts aboard the International Space Station as they flew 254 miles over the Southern California area on Feb. 10.
“I truly enjoy the feeling of having done something that helps someone else be more effective and more successful,” said Marquardt. “I think this is also at the heart of all teachers.”
He said that although this past year certainly tested his leadership skills, most leadership positions will often have skills tested.
“Which is why you must continue to self-evaluate and build positive and supportive relationships with those you work with,” he said. “Obviously the unique events of this past year’s COVID situation were challenging in new ways for everyone, including educational leaders, and more so, classroom teachers. … I strive to always be the calmest person in the room and utilize common sense as much as possible in all situations. Like many people, I think that we all can use a bit more calmness to think through our situation. Additionally, I believe that fortitude is something I tried to develop to help others and me on a daily basis.”
“I am both honored and humbled by this nomination, which is a testament to the groundbreaking work that began with my stepfather, Mr. Ken Holt, when he founded Fairmont in 1953. From our humble beginnings to becoming one of Orange County’s premier schools, I remain inspired by the hard work and dedication of our teachers and staff, and encouraged by our remarkable students who are changing our world for the better.”
Fairmont Schools Chairman David Jackson is an entrepreneur who has been involved in education for over 40 years. After selling his airplane washing business in 1979 he approached his stepfather, Kenneth Holt, founder of Fairmont Schools, intending to work for only a few months as a stopgap. But Jackson fell in love with education and has remained at the school ever since. Over those 41 years, he has grown the school to five campuses with 2,000 pre-K-to-12th-grade Orange County students and thousands of additional students overseas. His vision has led to some of the most innovative programs at a school where more than 90 percent of the students apply and matriculate to top 100 colleges and universities. The miracle of Fairmont is that it is not a selective school but helps students of average and above average achievement maximize their potential. Jackson has the belief that all students, regardless of their background, can find success if given access to the right curriculum and teachers. With this in mind, Fairmont offers need-based financial aid to hundreds of students each year, and Jackson is the primary driver of this effort. If there is an award for leadership or vision in education, he is someone deserving of that award.
Heritage Oak Private Education
“I feel incredibly grateful to receive this nomination as a Top Leader because it validates the work I do with my team of teachers, students and colleagues. To be recognized for something I’ve been so passionate about for more than 30 years is an honor, and it makes me feel proud to know that I continue to have a positive impact on the teachers and students that I guide and mentor.”
Middle School Director Latrese Jackson leads with a humble and kind spirit, always educating and encouraging those around her to be the best that they can be. “She is not someone who leads from the top,” says teacher Tina Bloomingdale. “She is alongside us every step of the way.” Like most administrators, Jackson practically lives on campus and does not abide by “working hours.” She arrives early and is at traffic daily helping get students out of cars. Her “breaks” consist of creatively encouraging others (such as dressing up as an elf and delivering cocoa in December) and helping students, parents and teachers. She also takes time to visit with alumni and welcomes them to campus events whenever possible. Last year, when school closed due to the pandemic, she transitioned her middle school into a high-quality, fully online program within days. When told that the traditional eighth-grade graduation would not be possible, she decided that was unacceptable and planned an outdoor ceremony, which ended up being one of the first “distanced” graduation ceremonies in OC. Jackson’s career in education spans over 30 years. Prior to Heritage Oak, she worked for 17 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher, school psychologist, student intervention counselor and middle school assistant principal. As the Heritage Oak middle school director for the last 13 years, she implemented a House program, International Student Program, Student Safety Classes, High School Prep Classes, a Debate program, a Kindness Crew, the National Junior Honor Society, and more. This year, her responsibilities increased as she added “Online Academy (OA) Principal” to her title.
Fullerton School District
“This award is not about me. It is an acknowledgement of our team at Fullerton School District. We have a strong community with parents, staff and community members all working together as a team with the purpose of empowering our children. We are working collectively to give them opportunity and prepare them for lifelong success. I am humbled and thankful that I get to work with this team and in this community.”
March 16, 2020 is a day that many people embarked on a work-from-home way of life — but not Fullerton School District Superintendent Robert Pletka. Not only was he one of the few staff working daily in the office, he was leading the charge and setting the example for all FSD staff. Every day while the schools were temporarily closed, Pletka with a smile under his mask committed to serve grab-and-go meals to FSD students five days a week. Seeing and hearing about the challenges families were facing and with donations from the community, FSD provided food to families in need, flashcards to help with math facts, jump ropes to keep kids active and art supplies to foster their imagination. Always looking ahead, Pletka began planning early on how to make the upcoming school year a successful one. Summer months were spent making sure school sites were prepared for the day when students would be attending school in person. PPE and sanitizing equipment were purchased. Thermometers, thermal imaging and hand-sanitizing equipment were purchased and installed. Hand-washing stations were added, and additional areas to house students were secured. It didn’t end there. Pletka secured hotspots for students without home Internet. Continuing to make sure FSD was prepared and ahead of the curve, he led staff to research and purchase technology needed for teachers not only to return to the classrooms but to reopen the schools. As the district continues to evolve and learn that every day brings new challenges, one thing is for certain, Pletka will continue to lead FSD with a positive outlook and progressive approach.
St. Bonaventure Catholic School
“I am incredibly humbled by this nomination. I represent a group of selfless and dedicated St. Bonaventure Catholic School leaders. In reopening our school amidst the COVID pandemic, I realized that we have the best leader at our school — it is not any ONE of us, it is ALL of us.”
In September, St. Bonaventure School opened with in-person instruction for 80 percent of the school population while the remaining 20 percent followed from home in a groundbreaking approach during this unprecedented time. As one of the few schools in California to reopen, it was an incredible achievement thanks to the inspirational leadership of Principal Kim White. She was able to get faculty, staff and families behind the mission of educating in a safe environment. In her 20-plus years of education, there has been no greater challenge, and reward. White has been principal of St. Bonaventure School for three years and was assistant principal for four years prior. Her motto is “there is no job too big or too small.” This determination and drive has enabled students to succeed and thrive during a crisis. An innovative and creative reopening plan completely reconfigured the campus to accommodate for five days of in-person instruction with social distancing and safety protocols. In addition to the logistic management, she created a synchronous classroom with virtual and in-person students. With the use of Swivl Robots, students at home are seen and heard live in the classroom and vice versa, creating one greater classroom. To perfect the academic product further, White changed the school’s teaching methodology to a Blended Learning Model. This combines teaching methods of the traditional classroom and online learning, and has made instruction delivery effective. St. Bonaventure’s achievements have made White a leader among her peers with her guidance to other schools in the Diocese of Orange. White leaves no stone unturned and works tirelessly to ensure the school receives all grants it is entitled. She is a leader who walks in the everyday trenches.