COMMENTARY: Rancho Santana School principal reflects on first semester

The Hollister School District writes that the approach to the new school is based on lessons learned from remote online learning.
Photo courtesy of the Hollister School District.

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When the first three staff members initially stepped foot on the new Rancho Santana School campus back in March following its construction, they pondered a simple question: 

“Where do we start?” recalled Rancho Santana School Principal Anissa Dizon. 

Fast forward to now, and the newest Hollister School District campus is off to a great start with the opening of classrooms in August. 

Looking back to the spring, though, Dizon mentioned there were numerous finishing touches to resolve such as furnishing the rooms. As the first principal of Rancho Santana, the veteran educator had to think beyond instruction and school culture. It was a bit overwhelming at the time, Dizon acknowledged. But all went well with the help of her core team, and she embraced the opportunity to design spaces and solve facility issues. 

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “Every day is a gift, and I love my job.” 

Rancho Santana School is located off Fairview Road and Sunnyslope Drive. The district’s 11th school, sits on 12 acres with an 850-student capacity. The campus includes an administration building, library/media center, 35 classrooms, a playground and other recreational facilities. 

The principal spoke recently about the new school’s successful kickoff in the midst of a pandemic. In fact, the unique circumstances dealing with COVID-19 issues helped to push her toward this role. Dizon started teaching in Gilroy before moving to the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District, where she spent time at each of the campuses over a 15-year span before joining the Hollister School District’s administration team in 2016. 

“It has definitely been a journey,” she said. “To be honest, way back when I first heard about Rancho Santana, I just had a little bug in my ear and I thought ‒ it would be cool to be the principal there.” 

She has enthusiastically embraced the leadership role overseeing a staff that includes 30 certificated teachers with a student enrollment of about 570. Rancho Santana School includes TK through eighth-grade classes. There is one classroom for TK and one for eighth grade as well, but then there are multiple classes in the other grades. Back in February, the district didn’t expect to start with middle school classrooms, but community demand changed the outlook. 

“We had enough to begin with and we have a lot of new families from outside our area who moved into this area ‒ and then all of the Gabilan Hills students,” she said. 

All of the students and teachers from Gabilan Hills transferred to Rancho Santana, while the former Gabilan Hills campus remains home of the Hollister Dual Language Academy. 

Dizon explained her high expectations for the new school leading up to the opening. 

“I really made a point of saying, I didn’t want this kind of a glass-castle philosophy,” she said. “I didn’t just want it to look pretty. What really sets us apart are the staff and the scholars.” 

She highlighted how the staff supports her vision and philosophy. 

“Let’s be innovative,” she said. “Let’s do something different.” 

Part of that approach has included reflecting on lessons learned from remote online learning.

“The staff makes all the difference,” Dizon said. “It’s just beautiful the way they’ve built their relationships with students.” 

Even the aforementioned furniture selection fits into that mentality, with some flex seating, standup desks and traditional desks.

“We’ve learned students can learn anywhere,” she said. “They logged on from a car or laying down or outside. They don’t have to be sitting.” 

She said the transition from remote learning to in-person learning at Rancho Santana has gone smoothly. She noted the district did a good job providing safety guidelines for COVID-19. 

“We have to make sure the students feel safe,” Dizon said. “If scholars don’t feel safe, they’re not going to learn. Our focus for this year is relationships. It’s all about relationships.”

Hollister School District