New leaders at Maze Middle School want to ensure all students feel like they belong.
Principal Christian Woods delivered the message as she entered her first year at the helm of the Hollister School District site. She is joined by new Assistant Principal Shanieka Richard on the Maze administrative team.
Woods underscored priorities such as focusing on school-wide common instructional strategies, an emphasis on social-emotional learning, alternative discipline practices to keep students in the classroom, and added opportunities for extracurriculars, to name a few.
“We are looking at ways to keep students in school instead of suspension,” said Woods, stressing how discipline should be used as a teaching tool. “We want to keep them here. We want to work with them through the things with which they might be struggling.”
She and Richard think alike, as the assistant principal said she will emphasize engaging with students and fellow staff members.
“I see myself mostly connecting with students,” Richard said. “I can be a disciplinarian if I have to be, but it is purely out of care for the students and their future. I want them to be well-rounded citizens.”
Woods and Richard shared their backgrounds, passion for education, and expectations for Maze.
Woods noted how she was a teacher for the Pajaro Unified School District in Watsonville for 16 years, teaching English and the arts. She taught K-12, but mostly at the middle school level. Subsequently, she coached new teachers for three years while working for the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project and spent the past three years with the San Benito County Office of Education in an Instructional Support Services administrator role.
There, she provided county-wide professional development, coordinated a new teacher introduction program, organized annual student county events, and assisted rural schools.
“I supported principals at those schools with their growth and development as leaders,” she said.
She grew up in Corralitos and now lives in San Benito County with her husband Ken Woods, principal at Calaveras School, and two teenage daughters, one of whom heads to college this fall.
She said her family environment growing up inspired her path into education.
“I think it was in my blood a little bit from being raised in an environment where my parents were always service oriented,” she said. “I just grew up with that as a mission. That is why I’m in education.”
Woods said she has a firm belief that students need both social and academic support.
“That’s very important to me, that students feel like they belong,” Woods said.
Her colleague Richard said she has felt welcomed to Maze by staff and students along with the Hollister community, where she moved to two years ago. This is her eighth year in education, with all that time in different teaching and leadership capacities. She taught in Texas and most recently came from Britton Middle School in Morgan Hill.
This is her first year as a full-time administrator, but she noted time spent as an administrative intern—where she oversaw creation of teachers’ professional development practices—and working on the district’s guiding coalition in Morgan Hill, where she worked with site leaders across the district on creating common curriculum and assessments.
She has wanted to be in education since early childhood.
“I had an amazing first-grade teacher,” Richard said. “She made me feel seen. We read books that were relevant to me. I’m from a very small town in Texas. The population of students who look like me was a small number.”
In her new role, she feels overprepared in the sense that she came from a Morgan Hill school with about double the enrollment.
“I have more of an opportunity to make deeper connections because we have a smaller student population here at this school,” she said.
Richard said she and Woods “complete each other in a leadership capacity.”
“I want this school to be like a well-oiled machine,” she said, relaying expectations. “We have all the systems in place. People know where to go to find resources.”
Woods said the two have discussed ideas for new lunchtime club activities as another way to keep students engaged. With regard to mental wellbeing, Woods said the school will focus on school-wide social emotional implementation processes and partnerships with community-based organizations, along with more parent involvement so families can help reinforce the topics being taught at school.
Ultimately, the goal is to improve academic performance, especially in language arts and math.
Woods said she feels “incredibly blessed” to have a staff with varying levels of experience.
“I just think it’s really great to see that mix of experienced teachers collaborating with new teachers coming out of school,” she said. “It makes it a fun, energetic, exciting work environment.”