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Model alternative high school in Ventura gets new principal

Incoming principal focuses on trust
Monday, August 8, 2011

A longtime Ventura teacher with advanced degrees in counseling and educational psychology will take over as principal of El Camino High School at Ventura College this year.

Cheryl Burns spent 20 years teaching at Portola School in the Ventura Unified School District, during which she got two master's degrees at California Lutheran University.

"I always liked building individual relationships with students," Burns said. "It helps students move along more quickly. It builds their trust so they feel like they can succeed. It's just always been a real strong part of my teaching."

Burns came to Ventura to attend graduate school at CLU in the 1980s and never left. After Portola, she spent a year as a dean at Hueneme High School. Then Teresa Johnson hired her as an assistant principal at Ventura's adult school.

"When we had an opening here, there was no question in my mind about who would be the best candidate," said Johnson, who is principal at the adult school and was principal at Portola when Burns worked there.

Johnson credited Burns with leading efforts to revamp curriculum at the adult school to make sure the work was as rigorous as at regular high schools. Burns also developed a program to help students who had not yet passed the California High School Exit Exam.

"Cheryl looks at each student as an individual," Johnson said. "She finds the best within them. She takes the best, and she builds on that strength to help them bridge the gap into other areas where maybe they haven't been as successful."

Burns grew up in Montana and always wanted to be a teacher — a goal that was solidified in seventh grade. That's when she had Julie LaCross as a teacher and mentor at Baker High School in Baker, Mont.

"She made a big difference in my life," Burns said. "She was just a heck of a role model for me. She was the one who took me to college campuses."

After high school, Burns went to Eastern Montana College, earning a bachelor's degree with a focus on general and special education.

In 1986, she started teaching at Portola. She liked it from the start.

"It was just so much fun to see the spark when something captured (the students') attention or when they finally got something," she said.

Burns worked in Portola's learning center, helping students who had challenges in regular classrooms. Portola went from being a low-performing school to a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon campus in 2005. "Cheryl was one of the main reasons that happened," Johnson said.

Burns is taking over the principal position at El Camino for Kelsie Sims-Schneider, who is moving to Sunset School as principal.

El Camino, recognized as a model alternative campus, is an independent study school that offers college-prep courses.

It offers students a myriad opportunities, Burns said. Programs work around students' schedules, allowing them to pursue acting, sports and college courses. The campus also gives students access to regular high school activities, including a prom, clubs and internships.

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By Cheri Carlson 805-437-0260

Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories this summer on new principals at Ventura County public schools.

© 2011 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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