New Vista Superintendent has music in mind

On one of her earliest days on the job, incoming Vista Superintendent Linda Kimble walked to school.

The new administrator joined a local mother, her school-age children and her three-year-old on their daily route to Grapevine Elementary School. The 2.2-mile, one-way trip adds up to nearly nine miles daily for the mother and toddler, a distance that even Kimble, who runs marathons for fun, deemed excessive for the family.

The exercise was part of her strategy to fill “gaps” in services such as nutrition, transportation or information that interfere with students’ learning. Afterward, she began revising school enrollment policies to limit the distance that elementary students have to walk.

“We said this is clearly an obstacle for kids,” she said. “We have amazing schools, but can the kids get to them?”

Kimble, 52, started Jan. 2, replacing former superintendent Devin Vodicka, who spearheaded plans to introduce educational technology and “personalized learning” programs to the district. Under his watch, the district won a $10 million, five-year grant from XQ: The Super School Project to transform Vista High School into a “high school of the future.”

Kimble plans to continue those programs, and to build others in the district. High on her list is adding music education for all grades. Although the district has award-winning high school marching bands, she aims to introduce music instruction starting in kindergarten.

“If we had a cohesive arts education starting in kindergarten, what would it be like by the time they got to high school?” she asked.

It’s a project she undertook at the Anaheim Elementary School District in Orange County, where she served as superintendent before joining Vista. Enlisting donations from the Carlsbad-based National Association of Music Merchants, Disney and Yamaha, she equipped the district with instruments, hired teachers and added music classes for all students.

“When she got here, there wasn’t one instrument,” said Michelle Harmeier, assistant superintendent of human resources at Anaheim. “We had 24 schools and 19,000 kids, and there was no music. She left the district with three-year implementation of a music program that was affecting every kid... She has a vision, and she knows how to bring people together with her hard work to make it happen.”

Kimble is also expanding plans to help each Vista campus develop signature programs that attract students and families.

For instance, Temple Heights Elementary School opened as a leadership academy this year, based on the “Leader in Me,” an educational program adapted from author Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." And Grapevine Elementary School will start a dual language immersion program in Spanish and English in the coming year, she said.

That was also a strategy she brought from Anaheim, where she helped schools refashion themselves with specialties in visual and performing arts, or STEM, (science, technology, engineering and math,) Harmeier said.

Kimble joined Anaheim Elementary in 2012 after working as superintendent for Monrovia Unified School District. She also served as superintendent for Keppel Union School District and Acton-Agua Dulce Unified in Los Angeles County. She started her career in education as a bilingual and migrant education teacher in the Palmdale School District at what she said are some of the poorest schools in the region.

“That really shaped my work to fill gaps in students’ needs,” she said. “So I really brought that sense with me when I came to Vista.”

Kimble was born and attended school in Glendale, and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in educational administration and her doctorate in educational management from the University of LaVerne. During college, she studied in Cuernavaca, Mexico, an experience that made her appreciate the opportunities offered by American schools.

“I pretty quickly realized the advantages we have here are because of education,” she said.

Her fluency in Spanish and background in bilingual education helped her connect with families in the Anaheim Elementary district, said Keith Sterling, communications director for Anaheim schools.

“The majority of our students and families in Anaheim are Spanish-speaking,” Sterling said. “So I think there was a sense of comfort or relatability with Linda. Many of them said they were surprised to learn she spoke Spanish, pleasantly surprised.”

On weekends and breaks, Kimble tests her limits by competing in marathons and ironman competitions, but hastens to add that she does it more for the challenge than the elite competition.

“I’m not good at it,” she said. “I just do it.”

Her husband is a musician, composer and computer programmer. Her two daughters and his four sons are grown now, and Kimble and her husband are expecting a grandchild in April.

Kimble visits Latin America on a regular basis, a habit that allows her to keep American education in perspective, and to offer aid to people in those countries. After learning that Guatemalan babies with cleft palates aren’t able to get specialized baby bottles there, she began traveling to Antigua, Guatemala, each year for the past decade to deliver supplies of the simple, but life-saving product.

“You forget how lucky you are if you don’t step out,” she said

deborah.brennan@sduniontribune.com Twitter@deborahsbrennan

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