Charles Howell has been settling into his new principal position for more than a month now, but the real test will come Tuesday on Galt High School's first day. He replaces former principal Bernie Olmos, who left the district after being offered a teaching position for this school year.
Howell, who is coming to Galt at a time of transition, said he didn't realize at the time he applied for the position that the district's superintendent was leaving. Tom Gemma's last day was June 30.
The new principal is also starting at the same time the district opens a new comprehensive high school. Liberty Ranch will serve only freshman and sophomores to start, with upperclassmen being added in the coming years.
In the beginning, Galt High's student population will drop from the average 2,300 of years past to 1,700 this year, and by about 600 each subsequent year after as more students are moved to Liberty Ranch.
Howell, a Washington native, last served as a principal at the elementary level, but has high school leadership experience as well.
While sitting in his campus office and wearing a satin red tie adorned with a large "G," presented to him by a former Galt High vice principal, Howell spoke Tuesday with education reporter Jennifer Bonnett about the upcoming school year and his excitement over getting to know a new community.
"It just doesn't seem like a school until the kids get here," he said.
Q: As its new principal, what is your biggest focus for Galt High School?
A: In the state of California, accountability is always huge, so we'll be looking at our Academic Performance Index scores and all of our students' examinations.
I believe our English-language learner program is going to need some major work, because that's where the lowest scores typically are.
Q: Raising test scores have long been an issue of concentration for former Galt High School principals. How will you make this a priority?
Charles Howell at a glanceAge: 60
Married to his wife, Diane, who is also a school principal.
Children: Marcy and Russell, and six grandchildren with one on the way.
Hired in June as Galt High School's new principal, where his starting salary will be $113,963.
Last worked for the Central Unified School District in Fresno.
Holds a master's degree in educational administration; bachelor's degree in math with a minor in coaching.
Hobbies include playing tennis and golf with his wife. He is also an avid reader who said he has several books going at one time; some professional, some self-help and mostly pleasure.
Was a drum major in his high school band whose school colors were the same as Galt High's. He still plays brass baritone horn.
Favorite quote: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," Albert Einstein.
A: That's going to be difficult to say now. With the new high school opening, the demographics here will be different. And a lot of the direction of the high school will come from the new superintendent, who has yet to be hired.
Q: Are there any changes you plan to make?
A: It's very difficult to change an organization; it usually takes three to five years.
I need to observe what's working and what's not working, and evaluate. We're still fleshing out who's going to be at the new high school and who's going to be here. … It's an exciting time to be here.
Q: I understand you're coming from a Fresno school district that serves 14,000 to 18,000 students. What will be the biggest adjustment here, where the district serves roughly 2,500 students?
A: I've been in two other high schools that are smaller, where I didn't have a lot of people at the district level to do research. Being in a small school, we'll have to deal with it.
The big district is not the norm for me.
Q: What challenges do you see in dealing, for the first time, with two comprehensive high schools in one city?
A: There's a perception that, being Liberty Ranch is the new high school, they're getting all the new stuff. That's not the case.
There will be a friendly rivalry, and we want to make sure it stays that way. We want to create a community. That's going to be a challenge.
Q: How do you plan to make the transition easier for students who may have started at Galt High but will be attending Liberty now?
A: I'm not worried about Liberty Ranch's transition. I want to make sure we have a good transition here.
I'm going to be a lot more visible than people in this position in the past. I'm out before school, at lunch, and I attend a lot events. I think my visibility is going to bring a new dimension to the school.
Q: What kind of skill set do you believe a principal will need over the next few years, given the budget climate?
A: They're going to have to be real creative in how money is spent … and be able to make the school work.
Principals in small schools basically wear all the hats - curriculum, athletic director - and now you throw the budget in there.
But money's not everything. If we do it as a family, we can move forward together.
Q: Have you done anything fun since moving to the area?
A: My wife and I spent two nights golfing at Stevenson Ranch. We've also been to Lake Amador, Folsom, Old Sacramento. We're getting to know the Delta.
Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, and why?
A: Probably my parents.
My dad only had an eighth-grade education and worked two jobs. He was a quiet man, but when he spoke, people listened.
But he had Parkinson's, so my mother was forced to get a job and take care of him at the same time. My mother is pretty much a saint.
I learned a lot of my work ethic from my parents.