The principal and assistant principal are shown on dress-up day.

Information provided by Hollister School District

New Rancho San Justo Middle School Principal Deborah Armstrong and Assistant Principal Samantha Rivas returned to the school this year after previously working together at Rancho and Hollister High School. 

Armstrong is originally from Cupertino, and has spent time living in Georgia and California. She noted how education is her second career after 15 years in marketing. She started her teaching career at Rancho, where she taught math and science for five years before pursuing an administration role at Hollister High School. She taught there for a year and then served four years as an assistant principal. 

A signature endeavor at the high school for Armstrong and Rivas was working together to launch the Baler Wellness Center that opened in the midst of the pandemic. They came to know each other well while assigned to the project and development of the campus Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) effort at Hollister High.

Armstrong’s priority at Rancho is establishing a positive school environment from the outset. Staff members set that tone on the first day of school with a special dress-up day. For the broader community, the goal is to rebuild trust while emphasizing positive communications with students. Some immediate changes include holding one lunch period for all students and altering the system for breaks between classes.

Longer term, the new administrators are aiming for improved academic results and test scores, and one related area of focus is on improving attendance, which has lagged post-pandemic. 

Rivas started teaching at Gilroy High School for a few years before moving into counseling. Rivas spent the past five years at Hollister High School, and echoed the importance of opening and running the Baler Wellness Center where she coordinated school-based resources as well as community-based organizations’ involvement. 

Rivas said the pandemic had a “huge effect” on students that will continue to show impacts for a long time. Sometimes students need a “soft place to fall” by checking in with someone. She also said the primary goal for Rancho administrators is to build culture. That will include promoting involvement in extracurriculars such as clubs and the Associated Student Body. 

This article was submitted by the Hollister School District.