Head of the Class: Connor connects at Walnut Grove

New principal enjoys fostering culture, partnerships

During class time, you're likely to find the principal of Walnut Grove Elementary School in his office, which is adorned with greeting cards, children's books and snapshots of his family and former classes.

But during recess or before and after school, Chris Connor is outside, working to connect with Walnut Grove's hundreds of students and their families. One way he does that is through rugby, as Connor traditionally takes his rugby ball out to recess and teaches children how to pass and catch.

"I work hard to get to know families because having that partnership really helps kids do well," Connor said.

Connor, 33, has spent all of 2016 getting to know Walnut Grove Elementary as its new principal. He was appointed to the job on an interim basis in January after then-principal Jan Steed was promoted to a district-level position. Connor was a vice principal at Pleasanton's Fairlands and Mohr elementary schools before being appointed to Walnut Grove.

Connor applied to become the permanent principal in the spring and was awarded that title in April.

While he's been an educator for over a decade, Connor says he "always" wanted to enter the field, dating back to his upbringing in Scotland. His parents were supportive throughout his education, which instilled in Connor the impact that adults can make in a child's life.

"I see the value in having adults in your life who are going to be there for you no matter what, and I try to bring that to the kids," Connor said. "I want them to know they can count on me to do the best for them."

Connor studied education at the University of Glasgow and taught in Scotland for four years after obtaining his bachelor's degree. When Connor and his wife, who was also studying at University of Glasgow, decided to get married, they spent two years getting the required paperwork together before moving to Livermore where his wife already had family.

Once in the Tri-Valley, Connor spent a year teaching special education students, then four years as an educator at an Antioch charter school.

Connor then went back to school, earning a master's degree in educational leadership and his administrative credential from California State University, East Bay.

Wanting to work closer to home after the birth of his first child, Connor then took a first-grade teaching position at Fairlands. After a year and a half, he was promoted to vice principal, a title he held at Fairlands and Vintage Hills Elementary simultaneously for a year before his assignment switched over to Mohr and Fairlands.

Connor's approach to being an educator has involved a great deal of learning. Early into his career, Connor had already taught kindergarten through sixth grade since he wanted to learn how each class level worked.

And with each new class or school, Connor's first goal has been to get to know every student by name, not a small task on a campus with 750 kids like Walnut Grove.

"Once you know their name, you can connect and talk more," Connor said. "It tells kids you value them."

As the school's new head administrator, Connor has also worked to grow its culture. One of the first things he did upon arriving at Walnut Grove was to set up three school rules that could easily be remembered (they are "responsible, respectful and ready to learn"). "Roadrunner rewards" were also established, in which children are publicly acknowledged for exhibiting positive behavior.

Connor said he embodies that notion of positivity as an educator who tends to "always believe the best in people." He wants to foster an environment where students, teachers and parents are engaged in learning.

As it is, Connor said, the Walnut Grove community is a dedicated one.

"When it comes to being there for the kids and working together, this school is amazing," he said.

In his spare time, Connor enjoys exploring the Bay Area and spending time with his wife, who is a veterinarian, their two young children and the family's six cats and dogs.

Connor has an annual salary of $127,143 as principal of Walnut Grove Elementary, located at 1999 Harvest Road.


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