Changes coming at Orondo School

Newly appointed Orondo School Principal Lance Young and retiring Principal Mille Watkins. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)


By Darlene Paterson
Empire Press Correspondent

Orondo School Superintendent/Principal Millie Watkins is retiring at the end of this school year. Watkins has been at the school for the past 14 years.

Watkins is very connected to the community and has mixed emotions about leaving.

“This has been the highlight of my career,” she said. “The community/family feel of our school makes it a great place to work. The parents are supportive, the students are good kids and the teachers have their heart in this for the right reasons.”

During her tenure, Watkins has encouraged her teachers to combine the “art and science” of teaching.

“The art of teaching is what we remember about our favorite teachers, those who made teaching personal and interesting,” Watkins said. “In the science of teaching, we know our specific targets and help students measure their personal progress. Our staff is dedicated to the students’ success.”

Regarding retirement plans, Watkins said, “My husband and I plan to stay in the area. We look forward to spending more time with our out-of-state family. I love to read, so I’d like to catch up on that and I may do some part time consulting work. I have not made any concrete plans yet.”

Newly appointed Orondo School Principal Lance Young with Vice Principal Alicia Lopez. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)

The school board has chosen Lance Young, who has been Watkins’ assistant for the past four years, as principal and Alicia Lopez, an 11-year veteran teacher at Orondo Middle School, as vice principal.

“Hiring people who know the school and its programs is an advantage for all,” Watkins said. “Lance is a quality educator with a passion for kids. We are partnering to provide a seamless transition.”

Young is excited about the new position but also feels slightly overwhelmed.

“We are a small school with the same regulations and recording requirements as large schools,” he said. “I will also have federal programs to deal with. And our business manager, transportation director and head cook are retiring at the end of this school year, so there is much to accomplish. I am glad to have good help from Alicia Lopez. She is a high-energy, organized person and we work well together.”

One of Young’s goals is to see every classroom begin each day with a team building meeting. “We want to build a sense of community, challenge and cheer each other on and set goals,” he said. “I am looking forward to expanding this concept until it is a part of who we are.”

A program that has become a hallmark of Orondo School the last few years is Positive Behavior Intervention and Support or PBIS.

“Alicia and I will place a premium on this as we train new staff,” Young says. “We believe student misbehavior opens an opportunity for mentoring and growth. We treat each child with respect whether earned or not. Recognizing misbehavior is more about what they are struggling with, not disrespect. We seek to provide support and help students toward positive change. Our school culture has become much more positive and supportive by following this framework.”

Lopez says she is looking forward to serving in her new position. One of her favorite things about Orondo is the opportunity to build strong relationships.

“Relationships make a big difference and I look forward to continued interaction with my students and their families in my new leadership role,” she says. “Our job here is not only to teach math, reading and history, but also social skills, life skills and career readiness skills. We try to look at the whole child.”

Lopez will perform administrative duties in the mornings and teach history to middle school students in the afternoons.

“Time management will be my biggest challenge,” she says. “Between admin duties, teaching and meetings, I will still need to find time for class prep and family time. I have a husband and three little ones at home that need me.”

With a principal and vice principal now in place, the school board is actively seeking to fill the superintendent position. A public meeting was held March 23 to organize a list of requirements and qualifications for the new position. Following the meeting, this employment opportunity will be posted. The application process will close at the end of April and a new superintendent chosen by the end of the school year.

A smooth transition is anticipated by all.