Roberta Kavanaugh knew where she was going, even when she was an
assistant principal at Washington Elementary School. The destination
was not Disneyland, but it was close. She is now the new principal at
Disney Elementary School.
Kavanaugh, 50, started her new post Monday with welcome banners
set up on campus, and friendly welcome-aboard hellos and hugs from
youngsters and teachers. She takes over as the head administrator for
the school from Linda Reksten, who spent 17 years at Disney and 21
years in the Burbank Unified School District.
Reskten left in August and was credited -- even by President
George W. Bush -- for turning around the school academically after a
dip in academic performance in the late 1990s. Reksten left to take
an educational consulting job helping turn around underperforming
schools around the nation.
Disney is a good fit for Kavanaugh, who since the 1970s has
catered her career in education toward working with children and
families who are not native speakers. More than half of Disney’s 452
students are learning English. Many are Latino.
Kavanaugh’s affinity to work with them and her knowledge of
Spanish were part of why she gravitated to the opening. But it was a
natural course for her career, which has taken her from Illinois
State University to Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and to
Burbank. Locally, she has taught in East Los Angeles, Pasadena and
Though she has taught since 1976, Kavanaugh and her family moved
to the Burbank Unified School District in 1997, starting with three
years as a bilingual education kindergarten teacher at Washington
“I feel like this is a population that I have something to offer
to,” she said Monday. “I can relate to them.”
Kavanaugh said teaching is still a love. But it was also time to
get a broader sense of the business, she added.
“I think basically I felt I always loved teaching, but I was
anxious to see the bigger picture within the district and understand
how the district operates from a different level,” she said.
That will mean dealing with parent concerns, planning and
discipline issues, as well as administering not just a classroom but
also a whole school.
She has some momentum because the school’s Academic Performance
Index scores have been rising.
“My goal is to keep the teachers motivated to keep that going,”
She also said she wanted to use her ability to speak Spanish to
get more Spanish-speaking parents involved in the school.
It is still the children that ultimately draw her.
“That’s the best part of my job, being around the kids,” she said.
“I can’t imagine any other business where your clients run over and
give you a big hug before they even know your name.”