Our View: Placer High principal has a big job ahead

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School’s out for summer, but Placer High School’s new principal won’t be taking much time off. He’s got a big job ahead of him. When Placer Union High School District officials selected Peter Efstathiu as the top Hillman recently, they reportedly found a leader who could communicate in every direction — to students, parents, teachers, administrators and board members alike. Efstathiu will need all of those communication skills, and more, to chart a new direction for a school that has lost its way last year with the leadership of former principal Bill Roderick. Placer High has a rich history of academic excellence and student performance in the classroom, on the field and beyond. Students have gone on to become Olympic champions, members of Congress, local business and community leaders and, yes, even principals of the school itself. Efstathiu would be wise to learn this history and leverage it. Placer pride runs deep in Auburn, and local alumni are looking for ways to get re-involved and re-energized in the school if they see a principal who feels the same way. Forming a community advisory committee of recent and longtime graduates would provide Efstathiu with the perspective he needs to move the school forward. Highly regarded by San Juan School District for his ability to connect with students, Efstathiu must build trust quickly with his administrative team and engage teachers — especially longtime instructors averse to change — in the partnership of learning. Teachers fighting for academic improvement and classroom innovation should be recognized and elevated; those who obstruct the path of progress should be disciplined. Placer Union officials must support Efstathiu in this effort. Outside the school, Efstathiu must form deeper relationships with the administrators and teachers of the elementary schools and middle schools that feed students to Placer High. The challenges faced at E.V. Cain Middle School are far different than those at Skyridge and Bowman elementary schools, and understanding these differences is the first step in making the students’ transition to Placer High a seamless one. Efstathiu would be well served to meet early and often with the Auburn business community, as well. Placer High’s open campus policy allows students off campus for lunch, a boon for some local restaurants and shops, but also a huge responsibility for teen drivers and students new to such freedoms. Talking with local merchants about student behavior and performance would provide Efstathiu with feedback he needs, deepen relationships with school benefactors and build stronger business community support for the school. Finally, Efstathiu must strengthen the bond with parents that frayed last year. Parents were noticeably confused and upset with the school’s response and communication regarding the security lockdown last October after a former student brought a BB-gun on campus. Asking for answers, they only received more questions. Student safety trumps all other parental concerns. Rather than waiting for an incident to react to, Efstathiu should strongly consider quarterly “school forum” sessions to update parents and the community on school security, communication improvements, performance benchmarks, top students and, most importantly, the challenges to be met. If Efstathiu and his team are proactive on this front, parental confidence will spill over into support for the classroom, athletics and extracurricular activities. Placer High School is a jewel in the heart of Auburn. It deserves — and demands — a strong leader who cares about students, but also one who cares about the community that supports it. Welcome to Auburn, Peter Efstathiu.