Head of the Class: Munsell reaches out at Harvest Park

New principal looks to make middle school fun

As a little girl growing up in San Lorenzo, she already had her sights set on becoming an educator, playing "school" instead of "house" with her Barbie dolls and writing down her intent to become a teacher in first grade.

So it felt fitting for Robin Munsell that she show that note declaring her future career path to the parents and staff of Harvest Park Middle School during her introduction several weeks ago.

"I always loved teaching and learning and helping kids," Munsell said.

Munsell, 34, was appointed Harvest Park principal at the end of September following Ethan Cheever's resignation about three months into his tenure. Munsell was a top finalist after interviewing for the job when it initially opened up in the spring, but after the Pleasanton school district selected Cheever, she returned to her position as assistant principal at San Ramon's Gale Ranch Middle School.

Munsell spent the last four years in that role prior to becoming Harvest Park's principal. She started off her career in education at Castro Valley High School, teaching English there for seven years.

Munsell's passion for education "was always there," she said, recalling how she recognized the importance of education as a high school student learning about the correlation between education and literacy levels and prison rates.

"Seeing that correlation was very eye-opening," Munsell said. "How can we help kids so they have a better life?"

Her desire to help students and have a larger impact on a school community led Munsell to the Harvest Park principal vacancy.

"It's a passion of mine to work with teachers, too, in implementation of new standards and technology," Munsell said. "That's why it's really exciting for me to be a principal and to help support students and staff and work with parents as we make lots of changes in education."

Munsell said her biggest undertaking as Harvest Park's new principal has been getting to know everyone. Since the initial introductions, she has been meeting with teachers individually and started book talks with staff and parents around "The Growth Mindset" by Carol Dweck.

As a leader, Munsell said she is energetic and likes to have fun with students and staff.

"We need to make sure everyone is learning, but we can do that in a fun way," she said. "You often ask people to think back to middle school and they say, 'I'd never want to go back.' So how can we make middle school somewhere that's fun, inviting and safe for everyone?"

The Harvest Park community has been welcoming and supportive, Munsell said, adding that the transition has been "a great learning experience."

"Harvest Park has a great reputation in the community," she said. "So many people I meet say, 'My kids went there!' or 'My grandkids went there!' Being able to be a part of that rich history is pretty cool."

When school isn't in session Munsell can likely be found traveling, as she enjoys visiting new places during breaks. Up next is a trip to London over winter recess.

Munsell received her bachelor's degree in English from University of California at Berkeley, her teaching credential from San Jose State University and her administrative credential and master's degree in educational leadership from Mills College.

She earns an annual salary of $131,762 as principal of Harvest Park Middle School, located at 4900 Valley Ave.

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