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This New Principal is Ready for Anything

First-time principal Courtney Ochi (San Diego ’14) did not expect things to go this way, but the corps prepared her for the unexpected.

By Faviola Leyva

Photo by Faviola Leyva

November 16, 2020

A woman stands in the school courtyard with a face mask on

The last time I was in a school, it was March in Los Angeles and the elementary was full of life. Six months later, on a chilly September morning, walking into Lemon Grove Academy Elementary in San Diego County feels eerie. It’s a school day with no children in sight on a campus for 400.

I walk up to the makeshift front office in the outdoor courtyard to check in. I get my temperature checked (98 degrees Fahrenheit) and sanitize my hands. And then I meet 28-year-old Courtney Ochi (San Diego ’14), who, after six years teaching and leading in charter schools, has just become a first-year principal in a district school where she’s never taught.

She’s ready for a year when no one knows what to expect. In the corps, Ochi taught every grade from transitional kindergarten to fifth in two years. “So I learned to not expect anything,” she says.

Ochi grew up in a household with her mom and grandparents in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. She got a strong education in a private school and decided to pursue teaching in hopes she could recreate similar opportunities and spread the love for learning she developed as a little kid.

Ochi comes every day to the nearly-empty school, where teachers have the option to lead remote learning from their classrooms. She logs on to Zoom and observes every class every week, working to match students’ names with faces. 

She’s trying events like online “Coffee and Lunch with the Principal” where families can drop in and chat. “Each family is different and in a unique situation,” Ochi says. “But if we don’t create space to listen, we’re not really getting to the heart of how we can create a partnership and support.”