Kathy Tyzzer came to the Davis school district in 2003 as the newly hired principal at Birch Lane Elementary School. She retires this month, 11 years later, as the longest currently serving principal in the school district.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Tyzzer said in a recent interview. “I love the opportunity to be with the kids and families for seven years” as students advance from kindergarten to the sixth grade.
“You get to see them all the way through,” she added, noting that junior high and high school, as configured in the Davis district, are just three years each.
And with younger siblings in the mix, “we have many families involved at the school for 10 or 11 years,” Tyzzer said. “We have lots of parent participation — the active parent community makes Birch Lane special.”
Tyzzer’s term as principal included Birch Lane’s 50th anniversary last fall, which was the occasion for a big party and community gathering.
“We gave a free T-shirt to everyone at school, with artwork designed by one of our sixth-graders,” she said. “It was a great way to start the school year.”
This year, Birch Lane also made the list of California Distinguished Schools; Tyzzer went to Sacramento last week to formally receive the recognition at an event hosted by the California Department of Education.
During Tyzzer’s watch as principal, Birch Lane also made news nationally and internationally when the school’s students sent a letter to the editor of the New York Times — in the form of an 11-foot-long scroll signed by more than 400 youngsters — netting coverage in the Times, newspapers in England and elsewhere.
The letter was triggered when Birch Lane students were distressed by an article in the Times reporting that publishers were releasing fewer picture books for young readers. Birch Lane librarian Lynne Sundstrom played a major role in organizing the school’s response, which included an effort in which Birch Lane youngsters read some 7,000 picture books, in addition to sending the aforementioned scroll to the Times — which reproduced it online, as well as including a portion in the print edition.
The book-reading effort became an annual event. This year, Birch Lane students logged about 18,000 books read.
Now, Tyzzer says it’s time to turn her attention to other things.
“I’m ready for the next chapter,” she said. “I have four grandchildren, and my husband is retiring from his science teaching job at the Explorit Science Center.” A trip to Alaska is in the works.
“But I will miss the kids!” Tyzzer said. “The kids are the most fun part of being a principal. Because kids are kids, they’re unpredictable. And because they’re young and they’re learning, and everything is forming, there’s always hope.
“Very often a kid who is struggling in kindergarten will become a successful sixth-grader. Many learning problems get solved with time.”
Tyzzer also plans to continue to stay in touch with education as a part-time coach working with new principals through the Sacramento County Office of Education.
“Being an elementary principal is a great job for someone that has a lot of energy,” she said. “It’s never boring! And the task changes every three minutes or so. No day is like any other.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8055.