New Carmel Creek School principal excited at prospect of new school year

Carmel Creek School’s new principal, Lisa Ryder, is embracing the Solana Beach School District’s theme this year of “honoring the past, treasuring the present and building for the future.”

As the third principal in the Carmel Valley school’s 21-year history, she reflects on those who left their Cougar paw prints on the school, from the “pioneering” first principal, Dorothea Wilson, to the innovative efforts of Terri Davis, who led the school for 18 years before retiring in June.

Ryder talks with Davis nearly every day as she seeks to continue the school’s legacy, a place where kids feel safe to take risks, to create and explore, where teachers are happy and collaborative, and families are so actively involved.

“It’s a pretty fantastic community that Dorothea and Terri created, and for me to be able to come into this environment, I am deeply honored and I am committed to continuing their vision,” said Ryder, who has worked 10 years in the district and 23 total in education. “It’s sheer joy … Carmel Creek is just an amazing place.”

Ryder, who grew up in San Diego, lives in Carlsbad with her husband and two children. Most recently, she served as the principal of the district’s Child Development Center, which is accessed by 2,700 district children for pre-school and after-school enrichment programs.

Ryder’s education roots are in speech and language pathology — she started her career at a nonprofit, non-public school housed in the same campus as the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The school had a kindergarten and pre-kindergarten day program for medically fragile patients, such as children who were going through chemotherapy or were on the autism spectrum. It was Ryder’s job to get them back into the public school system.

“I’ve always been part of the public education system and I believe in public schools,” she said. “The Solana Beach School District has been amazing. It’s a place that has always taken a child-centered approach, and it’s a place where we can be brave with our visions and our visions can come true.”

In her 10 years with the district, Ryder has worked as a speech language specialist, an inclusion specialist and a special education teacher. She also has leadership experience, serving as the summer principal at Skyline and Solana Vista Schools.

Working at the district level, she developed an understanding and appreciation for Solana Beach’s emphasis on strategic planning — how children always come first in every decision that’s made. She said her leadership style is still evolving, but she believes she has strong integrity, strong ethical values and is “deeply dedicated and passionate about educational excellence.”

Ryder has been impressed with Carmel Creek’s teachers, who over the summer have gone through professional development and spent lots of time in their classrooms prepping for the school year.

“It’s just one example of the lifelong learning values that the teachers have here,” she said.

The teachers are brilliant at what they do, she added, and she can’t wait for them to return on Aug. 18.

Stacks of Carmel Creek yearbooks going back to 1994 await the teachers in the staff lounge, for them to find the paw prints they value most from the school’s history. The teachers will also write down on hearts what they love most about the school and set goals written on paper bricks to represent building for the future.

At least one teacher will have special insight on the past — new kindergarten teacher Megan Laughlin is a Carmel Creek graduate.

Since taking on the role of principal in June, Ryder has really enjoyed the community connection aspect of her job. She has met with the co-chairs of the PTA and the Solana Beach Schools Foundation, and said the investment families have in the school is “remarkable” — an entire community coming together for the good of the children.

“It’s so exciting to work with the amazing, professional and dedicated parents in this district,” Ryder said. “In this role, my job is to support the families, to create memorable opportunities for the children and to support teachers to continue their paths of achieving excellence in learning.”

Over the weekend, she attended a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten play date at the park, meeting students and families who were just as eager for school to start as she is.

Ryder said she is just “tickled” and overcome with excitement when she steers her car onto Carmel Center to come to school.

“To be the principal of Carmel Creek, words can’t express how excited I am,” Ryder said. “I’m so overjoyed with this opportunity, I truly am.”