Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, Alicia Conliffe will move from teaching third grade at Richmond Elementary to working as the new principal for Saint Ann School.
"I'm so honored and excited to serve the families of Saint Ann. I'm walking into a great program," Conliffe said. "They're really blossoming right now."
Saint Ann School has been in need of a permanent principal since their former principal, Asteria Galacio, died in December 2017. Throughout this current semester, the school has had a temporary co-principalship from Judy Tanaka and Elaine Janson, two "retired" educators who will be more than pleased to relinquish their position to Conliffe as the permanent principal.
Conliffe said that Saint Ann School already has a strong staff and is a great school on a trajectory of growth. She aims to bring her diverse educational background to further build on that trajectory, while also nurturing an environment that prepares students to succeed after moving on from the school.
"The academic rigor [at Saint Ann School] creates students that are well prepared for high school and collegiate success. Most Saint Ann students go on to honors and AP programming offered at Burroughs High School," she said.
Part of it is the staff, part of it is the nature of the small private school. Part of it is something deeper. Saint Ann School is a private Catholic school in the Diocese of Fresno. It's located at 446 W. Church Avenue in Ridgecrest.
"I'm excited to be part of the school because Christ is welcome in every classroom, and I think that makes a difference for children," she said. "They gather every morning to spend time honoring God and honoring their country. It's a beautiful thing."
Being a Catholic school isn't the only thing that makes Saint Ann stand out, according to Conliffe. She said that the school has very clearly defined and fairly enforced rules, which result in well-behaved students. In addition, the smaller class sizes allow Saint Ann teachers to better individualize education for their students.
"Class size is important because it's critical to be able to diversify your instruction and really be attentive to different academic levels in one classroom," she said. "Children do not all learn the same. Children are all unique and special learners. When a teacher has a smaller class size, they're better able to meet individual needs rather than treating the class as a block."
Conliffe said that Saint Ann already has a rich arts program which she hopes to help develop, but she also wants to boost the school's STEM programs. She has connections with personnel on Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. She said she's talking with them to try to build cooperation to develop STEM programs at Saint Ann School.
Being a Navy wife has given Conliffe a diversity of education experience (her husband is Cmdr. Matt Conliffe, NAWS China Lake's current executive officer). She said she has taught in California and Nevada, but also in Japan and Germany. She's taught English language education, elementary school, and college classes. She's also worked in curriculum development and been a teacher mentor, wherein she trained new teachers.
With all that diverse experience and travel, however, she made the interesting note that her first ever teaching job was actually at another Catholic school in the Diocese of Fresno.
She said that having experience in so many different places will be a major help in her new role as principal. She's seen so many different programs that work well, as well as ones that don't work, and has developed an understanding of how a good school should function.
Conliffe will miss her time of being a teacher in the classroom, but she said that she looks forward to the work she can do as a principal and the positive influence she can make on curriculum, budgeting, policy, and so on.
She said, "I have loved being in the class, but now I'll able to impact them in a more profound way."