Hills principal gets new local post

Carmel Valley’s Grove moves to high school

A couple of local schools are in the midst of a principal switch, just weeks before the first day of school. Two well-liked principals are graduating on to the next level; Laurie Francis is leaving Del Mar Hills Academy to take the helm at Carmel Valley Middle School, replacing Michael Grove who is moving on to lead San Dieguito Academy.

Both principals say the move is like coming home as Francis is returning to the middle school level where she started out and Grove is returning to the high school where he had his first-ever teaching gig.

While Francis is just moving to a school across town, Grove is moving a little farther away which makes it tough to say goodbye to his staff, students and to the community.

“It’s sad to leave the Carmel Valley community,” said Grove. “It has been a fantastic experience.”

While Francis is joining a whole new district, Grove is merely moving up in his. He has worked in the San Dieguito district for his entire career, starting out as a teacher for nine years at San Dieguito Academy and La Costa Canyon. He then served as an assistant principal for three years at Oak Crest Middle School in Encinitas before getting his first principal position at Carmel Valley.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to start,” said Grove of Carmel Valley. “It was incredible, it was a great place to start as a principal.”

Grove has served as principal at Carmel Valley for the last six years. He said he has enjoyed most the relationship between the staff, parents and the kids, which over the years has really developed.

Parent Teacher Association President Comischell Rodriguez worked alongside Grove for three years with her involvement in the PTA, her two children passing through the school under his watch.

“Mike always made time to talk to parents and reassure them that their kids would indeed grow up to be wonderful people,” said Rodriguez. “At a time when everyone is so nervous about what to expect next, he established confidence and assurance that everything would be okay. This is indeed a talent.”

Middle school is such a transitional age and Rodriguez said that Grove helped inspire them and allowed them to explore their passions through the school’s numerous lunchtime clubs and activities. She said he also made the campus feel safe and non-threatening and that his door was always open for students and parents alike.

“That’s the hardest part about transitioning in the summer, I didn’t get an opportunity to say goodbye in person,” Grove said.

He said luckily, he is close enough to visit.

Francis, however, is staying very close. In fact at Carmel Valley Middle School, there’s a good chance that she will see the faces of many former students when they come for seventh grade.

Francis spent seven years leaving her mark at Del Mar Hills; her handprint is even forever imprinted in the Helping Hands wall in the front of the school. She came to Del Mar after spending seven years as a middle school principal, the six years before that she taught at the middle school level.

“It’s a dream experience,” said Francis of Del Mar Hills. “I felt blessed coming in here and even more blessed seven years later.”

Francis said the experience was heightened by her relationship with her “phenomenal” staff, the teachers that she said she would choose as friends, who were warm, hard-working team players who were always innovative in their instruction.

“It’s hard to leave,” said Francis. “It’s bittersweet but it’s also time.”

She knows she is leaving the school in a stable position, saying it is poised for success. She said her leaving gives the opportunity for someone else to come in and offer a fresh pair of eyes, a new perspective.

At Carmel Valley, Francis will be the fresh pair of eyes, already last Thursday she was moving things into her new office, brightening up the room with a big pink flower. She is anxious for school to start on Aug. 25, to meet her students.

“I really, really enjoy middle school kids,” said Francis. “I enjoy their humor and their candidness.”

Francis said she also enjoys middle school teachers, as she said it’s a certain breed that chooses to work at this transitional level. She said she feels blessed to walk into the school and come to work with another phenomenal staff; one she said has a great reputation.

“I feel like I’m just really, really lucky,” Francis said.

The Del Mar Union School District is still coming up with a plan for her replacement.

“On behalf of the board, we wish her the best,” said Annette Easton, board president. “She will be missed in our district.”

Her strong leadership is something the board said they will miss most noting that Carmel Valley and the San Dieguito Union High School District is lucky to have her.