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Seeing the ‘bigger picture’

Ryan Carter

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

Elementary School.

“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 said.

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.”