Principal Heidi Perry — who is wrapping up her fourth year at Willett Elementary School — has been honored with an Excellence in Education Award from the Yolo County Office of Education.
The office honors one administrator and one special program from each school district in the county each year. This year’s awardees include the Nu Alpha Kappa Latino Mentorship Program at Holmes Junior High School and Perry, who received the Excellence in Education Award for outstanding service by an administrator.
“Ms. Perry’s leadership exemplifies the qualities we seek in the development of collaborative teams with a focus on student learning,” Superintendent Winfred Roberson said in his nomination letter.
Perry started with the district in 1990 as a paraeducator substitute.
“When one of the regular paraeducators got sick, I subbed, working with students in small groups and assisting the teacher,” Perry recalled.
Initially, she worked with Suzanne Lilliedoll. Perry eventually became a regular paraeducator at what was then West Davis Elementary (now César Chávez Elementary), and later moved to the Children’s Center, where Perry served as “secretary and custodian, as well as lunch and breakfast preparer.”
She decided to get a teaching credential and did her student teaching in the district. She got a job at Pioneer Elementary, teaching first and third grades, and later became a teacher on special assignment at that campus. She essentially functioned as a vice principal during the years when Pioneer was the only campus serving local students living south of Interstate 80, when Pioneer’s enrollment grew so large that the principal needed extra help.
When Harper Junior High opened in 2004, Perry went to that campus as a vice principal. After four years at Harper, Perry moved to Willett as principal.
“My favorite part of the day is being in the classrooms with students, or out on the yard with kids,” Perry said. “I also love working with teachers, and developing our staff.”
Being an effective principal also involves “things that are like running a business: budget, facilities, operations, scheduling, hiring.”
Like every elementary principal in the school district, Perry is preparing for the bigger class sizes that are expected next year, as the school district has trimmed its budget to get a lingering deficit under control.
“It’s really going to be difficult, but we have a really strong staff, with a lot of great skills,” Perry said. “We will try and find ways to reduce that adult-to-student ratio. Our PTA and Site Council are wanting to have more parent volunteers in the classroom to support teachers and work with students next year.”
Willett also has several veteran teachers who are retiring, including Lilliedoll, with whom Perry worked during her first year.
As a principal, Perry is focused on several things: “I want our kids to be in a really safe environment. I want them to feel cared about in school, supported at school, so that they have an environment that is conducive to learning. I consider our community a family, with everyone involved in what’s happening with kids in terms of moving them forward.”
For several years, Willett has been the Davis school district’s highest-scoring campus on the state’s Academic Performance Index. Perry said part of the way the school achieves that high score is by helping struggling students do better.
“We look at data consistently, but especially at the beginning of the year, looking for ways to help kids in the achievement gap,” Perry said. “We have reading specialists go in, and direct support for the specific things we see on the tests. We are constantly assessing kids and finding out what we need to do to support them in the classroom.
“Our teachers are very good at seeing when a student isn’t ‘getting it’ and putting interventions in place to support them. It’s a constant spiral — retesting, reassessing, reteaching, looking at new ways of teaching.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at email@example.com or (530) 747-8055.