EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Dr. Richter; future principal of RHS

DANIELLE BENNETT

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RJUHSD has selected Dr. Nicholas Richter as Roseville High School’s new principal. Over the last week Richter took some of his first steps around campus to meet with the RHS community.
Richter’s past experience includes working as a principal at Williams Jr./Sr. High School, an assistant principal at Woodland, Yuba City, and River City High Schools, and a math teacher Yuba City.
While working as a principal, Richter set his focus on programs that offer students college credit in high school. In Williams Jr./Sr. High School district, Richter oversaw the transition to an early college high school – or a school that integrates dual-enrollment courses into the curriculum.

(JORDAN DEL VALLE TONOIAN / EYE OF THE TIGER)

Last week, over the course of two interviews, Richter shared his past experiences and goals for Roseville High School moving forward. Below is a transcript of these two interviews.

What initially drew you to have an interest in Roseville?
Well, Roseville Joint Union High School District is a great district to work in. You’ve got a great community. It’s a very stable district. You’ve got a lot of high performing schools. The more I looked into Roseville High School, the more it fit a lot of the things that I felt I could bring. I was a huge AVID proponent. I’m bilingual, so I know there’s a population here that we could definitely reach out to. Also, when you look at the history, being at a school that’s got a long history is something that I’ve experienced throughout my career. And I enjoy that history because you can tap into it. And you can really help students relate to where we’ve been in the way we do things. And then you can start focusing that towards the future.

I know that you have worked closely with dual enrollment before. That’s something that’s very new to our district and new to our school. What would you hope to do to further that in our school?
Well, dual enrollment is one of the areas that I think is the one of the New Horizons in K-12 education – really, it’s going to start becoming K-14 education. And I think that as soon as our high schools and our districts start to realize the opportunity we can offer students – if I told you right now, free college, you will kind of perk up and go ‘yes, how do I do that?’ And there’s a way that the community colleges and high schools can partner up where we can offer students a free college opportunity and both of us stay cost neutral. The benefit to the students and the benefit to parents and community is just incredible. So it’s definitely something that’s on the horizon that we can explore. And my last high school [that I worked at] was an early college high school. An early college high school by the way is a high school that has all of the dual enrollment integrated within the curriculum.

What are you hoping to do to be able to connect with students and build that relationship in your first year here?
The biggest thing is to go out and meet them. The biggest thing is to do things like this, where I get to meet the students that are doing it. I enjoy walking the campus and being in classrooms – I hope it doesn’t freak out the teachers, but I’ll be in and out of classrooms all the time, shaking hands [and] introducing myself. Watching students do the things they do – sports, drama, the dance productions. I’ve already been invited to a dance production. So those are the kinds of things with seeing students just become their own people. That’s the way you connect with people.

What approach are you hoping to take your first year here?
The first thing I think that needs to be done is to learn and understand and really get to know Roseville High School and the school community and students and see those things that we’re very proud of and see the areas that we want to continue to improve in. There’s so many great things going on. I really want to understand how that works. We build on the things that work well. And we try to strengthen things that aren’t doing as well for us.

I know you are bilingual in Spanish. When did you initially learn Spanish? Are you native speaker?
I’m not a native speaker. I started taking classes in high school. And I met a young lady [Veronica] who I ended up marrying. We’ve been married for what will be 20 years next week. And for her parents and her grandparents, the only language they spoke was Spanish. So even though I started taking the classes in high school, I had kind of a personal motivation to continue to learn. So I actually ended up getting a major in Spanish when I was in college. And then as a teacher in California, I’ve worked with a lot of ESL or ELD students. And in my current job, we’re 94% Latino community. And so basically all of our parent meetings are conducted in Spanish, all of our letters and newsletters that go out to parents are in both languages.
[At RHS] I had a parent come tonight to the meeting night. She said she wanted to really find out if I was really bilingual. So she asked me a few questions in Spanish. She said I passed.

At RHS we have a fairly large number of students for whom English is not their first language and their parents do not speak English at home. There’s a lot of people who speak Spanish. Do you anticipate situations here where you will be able to do the same thing as you did at Williams?
Absolutely, and one just happened [at the Parent’s Club meeting] when I introduced myself to parents and she started talking to me in Spanish and we started having a conversation, and it was just wonderful. And I think her sons were a little surprised. I may not look bilingual but I am and it just shows you can learn anything.

When do you find that it’s the most helpful to be able to communicate to someone in their native language?
Any situation where face to face conversation is important, because when you’re able to talk to someone directly instead of through a translator it makes the communication so much more personal. And I think that really goes a long way especially when you have situations where they might be tense and it’s nice to be able to communicate directly to someone so that they really feel like you’re hearing them. And I think that’s really important for a lot of our community – that you make sure that everyone is feeling heard.

And what has been the most exciting part about meeting the people you are going to work with?
You know, for me, having such a large team is just super exciting. I’m currently working in a very small school, and to have as much support staff and teachers is really exciting and what you can do with the group, with that much experience and that much expertise. It’s just really, really exciting.

What inspired you to go into education?
The initial thought of when I wanted to be a teacher was at this memorial service [after the shooting at Lindhurst High School] for this teacher who was my neighbor [named Robert Brenz]. And there was a quote by Henry Adams. It says a teacher affects eternity. They can never truly tell what their influence is. And that struck me in the number of people who were there. And my grandfather [Ralph Stessen], and he’s still with us. He’s 89 years old this year. He was actually a high school Spanish teacher, believe it or not. And he was an administrator and then went back to the classroom. He also has his doctorate. And he’s one of those guys that has an addiction to learning as well, kind of like I do. And he was very inspiring to me to continue my education and to continue being an educator.

In looking for a new principal, a lot of teachers felt it was important someone was very familiar what a classroom environment looks like. So what would you say to those teachers about how your teaching experience has influenced you as a principal?
I think it’s at the heart of everything I do. I think the lens that we have to look at everything we do is through the students’ eyes and learner. And the classroom experience is the basic unit of measure of our high school, of our schools in general. Because if we really want to affect long lasting change, or we want to inspire deep learning, it happens in the classrooms for the most part. And I think that understanding that that’s where really learning is occuring, the magic of what we do is occurring in the classroom with students and our own with our teachers, that should be at the core of all of our decision making.

What did you take from your time as a math teacher in your later positions?
My learning was it wasn’t about the math it was about the people. You don’t teach math you teach students. You just teach students math. And that was a huge learning for me. As an assistant principal your classroom changes. You’re teaching something different but you’re still always teaching. And as a principal again my classroom has changed. But it’s still about teaching.

So over the last couple of days, you’ve spent some more time with us at RHS. I was wondering if you can tell me about what has been like to spend a couple days on our campus and what you have been able to learn about RHS.
I’m just more and more excited the more I get to know people, and the more I learn about the high school, and what I’ll say is that I feel this incredible welcome. I feel so much just people reaching out and being very, very welcoming. The people that I’ve met so far have been so dedicated to Roseville and the students. And I’ve been very overwhelmed and impressed by that and I just am very much looking forward to working with more of the staff and then I can’t wait to get a chance to meet students. I still haven’t yet had the opportunity just to walk around campus and introduce myself to students. So that’s going to be a lot of fun when that happens.

In these first couple weeks knowing that you’re going to be our principal, how have you been able to connect with some of the staff within our district and on our campus?
I’ve been trying as much as I can to make connections and keep coming to campus. I met all the department coordinators – I think I’m going to get quizzed on their names later. I took lots of notes and studied. That’s the other thing about me, I always do my homework.

What do you find the differences between working in a smaller school versus on like RHS?
It’s the size of the team. You really have a lot more people to be able to work with, bounce ideas off of and you get a lot more momentum too and that’s one thing I’m really looking forward to as a we get our momentum going. It’s going to be pretty exciting.