Yakich will finish out the year in Cloverdale, moving to Windsor’s Mattie Washburn Elementary in July

As students change grades and the natural end of year transitions happen, Cloverdale’s school district is preparing for a different kind of shift — one involving departing administrators. Susan Yakich, principal of Jefferson Elementary School, will be leaving the Cloverdale Unified School District at the end of the school year to start a job with the Windsor Unified School District.

Yakich’s last day in Cloverdale will be June 30, after which she’ll transition to being principal of Windsor’s Mattie Washburn Elementary. She was announced as the new Mattie Washburn principal during a Windsor Unified School District meeting on April 20.

Mattie Washburn serves pre-kindergarten through second grade students, which is directly in Yakich’s wheelhouse.

“I love working with the littles. Kindergarten is one of my favorite, favorite grades to teach, so it’s nice to come back to the littles,” Yakich said.

Yakich said she notified her staff of the change on April 20, and a letter announcing the departure of Yakich and Cloverdale High School Principal Christopher Meredith (who is also leaving the district to begin work in Windsor) was sent out on April 21.

“We will begin the leadership search process immediately,” said Cloverdale Superintendent Betha MacClain. “I will be gathering input from each school community and putting together a committee of stakeholders for each school site to participate in the multi-step hiring process. We hope to fill both positions before the end of the school year and will update each school community when we do.”

Yakich and Meredith are joining former Cloverdale Superintendent Jeremy Decker in Windsor; Decker left Cloverdale for Windsor Unified in July 2020.

Yakich started has been principal of Jefferson since July 2017. Prior to coming to Cloverdale, she held a principal position at McKinley Elementary School in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. She was an elementary school principal for 12 years in Southern California, as well as a teacher. She has a Masters in education from CSU Fullerton and a Doctorate in educational leadership from University of Southern California.

In her time at the Cloverdale Unified School District, Yakich has overseen the implementation of Caring Schools Community, a program and curriculum that focuses on social emotional learning (SEL), including implementing morning messages for the whole school and daily mindfulness check-ins with students.

“That SEL work and our mindfulness work is going to be more important than ever as we move forward with in-person learning, as we all have experienced a great deal of trauma during this pandemic,” she said.

“What I’m most proud of in these last four years is the partnership between our schools, school district and community. We have an amazing community here in Cloverdale that supports us from every angle,” Yakich said when asked about what she views as some of the biggest accomplishments while she’s been at Jefferson. “From funding sources to hands-on support and it truly is a partnership. I’m very proud of our collaborative efforts to support our students in any way possible. Our community has been extremely supportive during this unfortunate COVID pandemic and our students have been resilient and I’m proud of the work they’ve shown over the past year.”

In addition to work involving social emotional learning, Yakich pointed to Jefferson’s growth when it comes to building its literacy program. Specifically, she spoke highly of the school’s reading intervention program and development when it comes to building strategies for struggling readers and writers, as well as engagement.

“Our staff meet weekly to look at data, to talk about students and how we can best support them. It’s a very dedicated practice that we have continued,” she said.

Yakich’s work at Jefferson was recognized on a higher level last spring, when she was awarded the ACSA Principal of the Year Award for District 4.

Looking forward, she said that Jefferson, like schools across the country, will need to focus on how to best address learning loss mitigation and the social and emotional learning that’s associated with the pandemic and over a year of distance and hybrid learning. She noted, however, that many of Jefferson’s students have retained more information over the past year than some might think — including life lessons that students learned at home that they may not have learned at school.

“They got to see their parents and their guardians more, and their grandparents more. They had more responsibilities at home, they were doing more chores around the house,” she said. “Our kids are going to be OK. Teachers are really good at pinpointing what the students need and supporting them, so they’re going to be OK academically, and then all of us are going to be surrounding the students to support them in their social emotional learning as well.”

Yakich will continue as Jefferson’s principal through the end of the current school year, and said that even after that, she’ll still be around town.

“This truly is bittersweet. I am forever grateful to have been given this opportunity to be part of the Cloverdale Unified School District for the past four years,” Yakich said. “I greatly appreciate the professional guidance and support from the CUSD and school board that has allowed me to grow within the role of principalship and I truly look forward to hearing about the successes of our Cloverdale students and community in years to come. I am a resident of Cloverdale, so I’m excited to keep seeing the students and families out and about in the community.”

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