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Woodside middle school principal moves into superintendent's office

Continuing individualized instruction, social and emotional learning, design thinking and communication are top priorities for Steve Frank

After nearly two decades with the Woodside Elementary School District, Steve Frank is now filling the district's top management role.

In addition to his new role as superintendent, which began July 1, Frank will continue to serve as the middle school's principal, at least for the 2019-20 school year, he told The Almanac in a recent interview. Frank began his tenure as middle school principal in 2014.

The new role comes at the perfect time, as the district is in "good shape," he said.

"I'm comfortable with the community and know the people here the staff, teachers and parents," he said. "The transition has been fairly seamless."

In the middle school role, Frank, 45, will manage meetings with families about high school choices and help students with high school applications. District officials decided that teachers should be appointed to act as deans for each grade level to manage day-to-day middle school operations, such as overseeing report cards, student discipline and scheduling.

Bjorn Wickstrom, a Spanish teacher, will oversee sixth grade, according to the district's website. Science teacher Melissa Bowdoin will oversee seventh grade, while Jennifer Mull, an English and language arts teacher, will fill the role for eighth grade. Each is working toward administrative credentials and will each receive a $20,000 stipend for their work as administrators, Frank said. The district will save over $100,000 by not hiring a full-time middle school principal, he said.

Priorities as superintendent

Frank, who joined the district in 2002 as a social studies teacher, would like to continue the district's initiatives, which are social and emotional learning -- in which educators teach students to assert their feelings directly, be mindful, make decisions, work well in groups and be self-aware, among other skills; "design thinking," which encompasses project-based, hands-on, multidisciplinary ways of solving problems; and communication.

In addition, he'd like to further the district's work on "differentiated instruction" -- developing lessons tailored to meet the individual needs of students in the same classroom.

For example, social studies and science projects and labs are commonly differentiated at the school through activities that are open-ended, choice-driven and collaborative, according to the district website. Although differentiated instruction is in place at the middle school level, Frank would like to see this method of instruction expand in kindergarten through fifth grade, especially for mathematics.

Differentiation is especially important in a district where parents are often well-educated and want to make sure their children can go even further than prescribed grade-level standards, he said.

"It's one of our most challenging and pressing needs," Frank said. "There's a number of families that want to make sure their children are really learning at school. The cookie-cutter approach is not ideal in education. Every student is an individual who learns in different ways."

The state will adopt a new social studies curriculum in the next couple of years, he said, adding that he can leverage his past experience teaching the subject -- he was a middle school social studies teacher for seven years before moving into administration -- to evaluate the district's curriculum.

Frank said he will evaluate the district's communication with the public through its website and Wildcat Weekly newsletters. He'll work with the school board to see "how to better" it, he said.

He will also focus on how to save money and add to district reserves, he said, adding that he wants to make sure there's enough money in district funds if there were unforeseen costs, such as a tree falling on a classroom. He doesn't anticipate any major construction or bond initiatives in the near future.

"I'd like to add to our existing programs and continue to get better, not spend more money," he said.

Frank said he's glad to continue working in a K-8 setting, and that he plans to have time built into his schedule every day to visit classrooms.

The students, he said, are what motivate him. "I don't want to cut down on the amount of time I spend around kids."

Then and now

Before becoming middle school principal, Frank, a Menlo Park resident, served as the K-8 assistant principal for five years, according to the district's website.

Originally from Napa, Frank graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in psychology, and earned a master's degree in educational administration from Santa Clara University, according to the website.

In April, Beth Polito announced she would leave her post as the district's superintendent at the end of the school year to head of the neighboring Las Lomitas School District.

Frank said Polito had discussed his potential transition into the superintendent role if she were to leave for "a number of years."

He has an annual salary of $200,000. He earned $153,877 as principal last school year, according to the school district.

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