Point Dume welcomes new principal

Rebecca Johnson, a classroom teacher at Grant Elementary School in Santa Monica, replaces Chi Kim as principal of Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

Rebecca Johnson, a classroom teacher at Grant Elementary School in Santa Monica for the last 15 years, this Thursday will officially take over as the fifth principal of Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School since it reopened in 1996. Johnson is replacing outgoing principal Chi Kim, who is leaving to take a position with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation after nine years of running the Point Dume school.

“The teachers, the staff and the parents have been extremely welcoming and friendly,” Johnson said in a phone interview Monday during her first full day on campus. “My goal is to continue the outstanding progress the school has made in recent years.”

Johnson has worked in education for 29 years, including 22 as a classroom teacher and literacy coach. It is her first time serving as a principal. As a professional trainer for the California Reading and Literature Project, Johnson helped teachers to implement reading materials and expand their teaching strategies, and trained newly credentialed teachers as a support provider and instructor for a state program called Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA).

She has also organized and run afterschool academic intervention classes for students, and worked in special education from preschool to middle school as an instructional assistant. Johnson is also a graduate of Santa Monica High School.

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Outgoing principal Kim came to the school in 2002 after three years as principal at an elementary school in the Bay area. During her tenure at Point Dume, the school made marked academic progress, being named in 2010 as a California Distinguished School.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t ever have left [PDMSS],” Kim said last week.

But Kim said she could not pass up the chance to work for the Gates Foundation, which recruited her as an education program officer. The foundation works to provide health and education to impoverished people worldwide. Its United States program works specifically to improve public education.

“It’s sort of a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Kim said. “They really are trying to change the world and make it a better place.”

Another highlight of Kim’s tenure is the “Teaching Garden” program, which engages students in hands-on experience with organic gardening. Point Dume students have traveled to other schools to help build organic gardens. Kim co-founded the program, which has been adopted nationally by the American Heart Association, with Malibu resident and child nutrition activist Kelly Meyer.

In 2009, PDMSS added 33 solar panels at the school with the help of private donations, becoming the first public elementary school in Southern California to add to the local power grid.

Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Laura Rosenthal, a past president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, said Kim’s arrival in 2002 ushered in a period of stability after the school went through three principals since reopening in 1996.

“She brought a consistency and a dedication, a creativity,” Rosenthal said. “She just brought so many new innovations, and it was her energy and her real love for everybody.”

Rosenthal lauded Kim’s efforts to expand the school’s green technology, recycling and healthy food programs.

“It’s the whole mentality of making sure things don’t get wasted,” Rosenthal said. “That people are conscious. I think being a marine science school and the kids always going down to the beach and to the tide pools ingrains a certain sensibility about our environment. She reinforced that on so many different levels.”

Still, Rosenthal expressed confidence the school could move on and continue to improve.

“[Kim has] done a tremendous job with that school, but we also have wonderful teachers and other staff there,” Rosenthal said. “So I think that the school’s going to be just fine, and I think that we all need to welcome Rebecca with open arms.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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