Principal Kirstin May welcomes students on the first day at Baywood Elementary, home of the bears.
A familiar face is at the helm of Baywood Elementary. After 15 years with the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, Kirstin Garrison May began her new role as principal. She is looking forward to her first assignment as top administrator.
“The year is off to a great start,” May said. “We spent a lot of time over the summer dialing in our systems and procedures to maximize our student safety and site efficiency. We have gotten positive feedback from our community about the strong communication from the site and teachers. Our students seem happy and are adjusting well to the school year.”
Baywood Elementary has about 350 students in classrooms for preschool, transitional kindergarten and K-5th grade. At different points across those ages, children learn more than classroom curriculum.
“One thing that is a struggle is learning about life balance and discovering what they truly value in their friendships,” May said. For instance balancing video games and being active outdoors. Balancing school with extra-curriculars and sports. Finding out what friends are and how to make good choices.”
In her role, May hopes to bring new programs to the school includeing the start of elementary athletics for 5th graders with a school flag football team this fall; students will have access to the Innovation Lab with aide and teacher guidence; STEAM Classes for 3rd-5th graders; a garden program with One Cool Earth, and student acces to non-traditional classes such as floral design, yoga, and Latin dancing among others.
Returning to campus is the popular “Buddies” program where upper and lower grade classes partner to “establish a strong Baywood culture.” The school is also run as a dual-language immersion (DLI) program meaning students learn in two languages, in this case Spanish and English.
There are inherent difficulties that come with being a principle. May says student discipline is a part of her job she is not as excited about, yet it is necessary.
“It is important to be consistent, fair and look for every learning opportunity available for the student,” she said. “Especially at elementary school, the focus is about making better decisions. It can be time consuming to investigate situations that occur on the playground and make sure students, staff and parents are informed of incidents.”
Beyond education, school administrators and teachers must be prepared to address issues affecting a safe and positive school culture. May’s priorities are school safety, communication, and a supportive community.
“Before school began I visited the homes of our incoming kindergarteners to start to establish our strong partnership with the families,” May said. “They got a special shirt provided by our PTA and a pencil. I got to know the student and family and tell them about our program and answer any questions.”
Additionally, school related messages are sent home weekly and community events are planned for the future to help create an informed and engaged population.
Studying how others learn has always been fascinating to May, which convinced her early on that she would be a teacher. She attended primary and secondary schools in San Luis Obispo before earning her Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies with an emphasis in elementary education and ay multiple subject teaching credential from Cap Poly. After teaching at Del Mar Elementary School in Morro Bay for four years, May returned to Cal Poly for her master’s in educational leadership and administration and earned an administrative credential. Over the years she also taught at Baywood Elementary and later stepped out of the classroom to help build a robust intervention program and lead a team to help students catch up from distance learning as the MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) teacher.
May said that although she is ready and excited to take on the job as principal, she will miss her time in the classroom and the connection that brings with both students and families.
“Watching a student ‘get’ something for the first time, seeing it click, those are the goosebump moments that help to remind me I’m doing the work which is aligned with my life’s purpose,” she said. “I think I’ll miss reading aloud to students the most,crying with them at the end of a good book, matching readers with books and sharing the love of literacy. I’ll still get to do that as principal, but in a different way.”
When asked what she would change about the school district, if she was given a magic wand, her positivity shines through.
“I think we did wave the magic wand — we have an amazing team in place at Baywood. We learned at a staff retreat in August that we have over 385 collective years of teaching experience at over 85 different schools! That just wows me every time I think of it.”
Of course, there is always room for imporvement and funding is at the top of that list.
“Many people are excited about the addition of transitional kindergarten to public schools, but what some people don’t know is that it doesn’t come with additional funding,” she said. “We are adding a required grade level which means facilities, furniture, and staffing without the additional money it costs to fund the program. We are excited about TK too, but in an ideal world, we would get the funding to support the mandated program so we don’t have to sacrifice elsewhere.”
Kirstin and her husband, a licensed marriage and family therapist for the County, live in San Luis Obispo with their three children.