Aaron Jetzer, principal of the new Eastwood Elementary School, talks about the school’s first day; about a lesson he learned as a young teacher; and about a unique physical-education course offered at Eastwood. The husband and father of two previously served as principal of Culverdale Elementary School. He hopes to create a generation of explorers – excited to come to school every day. How? Read on…
What’s it like to be principal of a brand new elementary school?
It is awesome! I am honored the district trusted me with the opportunity to build a school and community. The opportunity to hire every staff member, select flexible and innovative furniture, and implement systems that we believe are best for children is a dream.
Describe the first day of classes.
There was a buzz of excitement that still persists! I loved seeing the looks on kids’ faces as they met new friends, and hearing their excitement as they walked into classrooms and met their teachers. The parents shared the same energy, and it made me realize … we created something really special.
Q. Tell us three things people might not know about you.
- I was a financial analyst for General Electric before realizing I wanted to be a teacher.
- I love Cuban food.
- I walked on and made the football team at the University of Arkansas.
Q. What was your first job as a teacher?
My first job was teaching middle school math and science in the inner city of Los Angeles. I learned that if you get kids to believe in themselves, they can achieve far more than they ever thought possible. Kids believe in themselves when they know you believe in them.
Q. Growing up, who was your most influential teacher?
My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Koppleman. He made learning fun and was the first teacher who catered my learning to my interests. There were always opportunities to extend the learning and he held me accountable as a student and a person.
Q. What distinguishes Eastwood from other elementary schools?
We’re doing what the research says is the right thing to do. We address the whole child: We play, we create, we have fun, we learn, we teach, we read, we provide the best instruction for each child, we explore math, we investigate science, we study history, we program robots, we make a mess, we innovate, we question, we sing, we do whatever it takes to connect to our students. We work hard, and we have fun.
Q. Tell us about the unique furniture.
All of our seating is designed to provide student choice and create different zones for learning. We wanted to provide flexibility for the students that maximizes their ability to focus and learn.
Q. And unique classes?
Life moves fast … we wanted to help students slow it down. Yoga provides excellent health benefits and mental benefits. We aim to improve each child’s emotional quotient because we know that will help them improve success throughout their lives. Mindfulness, focusing on being present in the moment, helps children understand themselves and be the best person they can be.
Q. What are your goals as principal?
It’s my job to create the climate or the “feel” of the school. I want people to feel happy, welcomed, and excited to come to Eastwood. My goal is to create a school that best serves the needs and interests of the students and community of Eastwood. I want kids to be excited to come to school every day and I want parents to feel like we are the best option they have in choosing a school.
Q. Why do you think the Irvine Unified School District is so successful?
The District trusts schools to do what is right for our students. Our guiding values are lived individually and exhibited organizationally. We hire people who have integrity, are trustworthy, value collaboration, empower others, and are lifelong learners. That coupled with parents who share those same values and a city that supports our vision is a recipe for success.
Q. Best way to deal with an unruly child?
Show them that you care. The word discipline means “to teach.” I always try to get to the core of what’s causing the behavior, and develop a plan to move away from that place. The idea that “kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is at the heart of discipline. I want them to know I care and I will do anything to help them.
Q. In a letter to parents, you posed the question: “Who are Explorers?” Why?
I want everyone to recognize that we each have our own definition of an exploration…and that everyone is correct. Some people see an astronaut, others see a robot, while others see a historic explorer. We share the idea that as we embark on an awesome journey to achieve our personal best, we push boundaries to reinvent what is possible. Our job is to guide students on that path.
Q. You use a very cool robot logo on your weekly emails to parents. Tell us about it.
One of my teachers, Jamison Luke, was brainstorming ideas and landed on this. He captures the essence of being a playful explorer. Jamison has created many versions of “Clint” for a variety of events and themes, and he has taught all of the teachers and students how to draw him.
Q. What would be the title of your autobiography?
Be Brave. Be Awesome. Be Explorers.