New Muir High School Principal Tim Sippel sets priorities in wake of Sheryl Orange’s departure
By Christina Anaya 07/26/2012
Tim Sippel, John Muir High School’s new principal, said his top priorities for the coming year include helping students improve their academic scores, especially in the areas of math and English.
But the No. 1 job for Sippel will be improving the self-image of his 1,100 students, many of whom do not believe in their own abilities to succeed in school.
Sippel said his biggest challenge will be ensuring “that every student has the highest expectations for themselves and their potential and are taking the steps needed to prepare themselves to succeed and thrive after high school.
“Our students are as capable and talented as any in the world, though some of them don’t yet see this in themselves,” Sippel continued in an email interview with the Pasadena Weekly. “We have pushed all of them to discover their fullest potential and ensure that the entire school community has the commitment to support students in this endeavor.”
Sippel’s own interest in education began when he was a student at a large public high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service in 1991, with a certificate of achievement in Latin American Studies. Later that same year, he was recruited as a bilingual teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District by Teach for America (TFA), a nationwide teacher corps that recruits non-education majors from top universities to teach for two years in under-resourced urban and rural communities. Sippel said he is one of only hundreds of TFA alumni who stayed on as educators beyond their initial two-year commitment.
“Teach for America was a new organization at the time I finished my undergraduate studies, and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to enter the education field,” Sippel said.
He later went on to receive a master’s degree in education from UCLA in 2004 and joined the Pasadena Unified School District in August 2005, as dean of students and assistant principal for Blair International Baccalaureate High School.
Sippel then served as assistant principal at Muir High from November 2008 to June 2011 under predecessor Sheryl Orange, who resigned in March after four years at the helm.
This transition occurred during a crucial time for the school. The campus had been undergoing a “reinvention” in the delivery of curriculum with the introduction of three career-themed “academies”: engineering and environmental science; arts, entertainment and media; and business and entrepreneurship. School administrators were also charged with the task of initiating standards-based teaching and placing a greater emphasis on giving students a stronger voice in school affairs and more opportunities.
Sippel, who helped bring about these changes, says the reinvention will continue at Muir under his tenure as principal. He will see to it that there is a strong support system for students and faculty alike.
“We are also engaged in planning and professional development this summer to improve the implementation of our college and career pathways and improve the academic performance of all of students, especially English and math,” said Sippel, who most recently served as director of the district’s College and Career Pathways Program. “We will also be engaging with various groups — teachers, parents and community members — to assess the current status of the school's programs and the degree to which the needs of students are being met.”
Sippel has his work cut out for him with the added pressure of continuing on Muir’s ever-improving Academic Performance Index (API) scores. On a scale of 200-1,000, Muir came in with a score of 569 in 2007, 601 in 2008, 610 in 2009, 631 in 2010 and 650 in 2011. A score of 800 is the state benchmark for all schools. Though its achievements have not been great, since the “reinvention” in 2007, Muir’s API scores have risen each year, with the 2011 scores being 81 points higher than those from 2007. The 2012 API scores will be released in September.
In a statement issued June 14, PUSD Superintendent Jon Gundry strongly supported Sippel in his new position.
“As a leading force in the reinvention that transformed John Muir, Tim brings an unparalleled depth of knowledge about the school, its students, staff and community,” Gundry wrote. “His vision, leadership and experience in developing the school’s wall-to-wall academy model, and in leading the district-wide Linked Learning Initiative, will help steer John Muir High School to the next level of academic excellence.”
Pasadena Board of Education members declined to disclose information about other candidates for the job of Muir principal, saying that information is personnel-related and confidential. However, Board member Ramon Miramontes said, “They were from other school districts, but I don’t recall the names.”
Board President Renatta Cooper said the board was satisfied with the applicant pool and the selection of Sippel from that group. Cooper said she believes Sippel’s familiarity with the school, and vice versa, allowed him to stand out among the candidates. His appointment will allow Muir to experience a smooth transition between principals, she added.
“I think his skill, knowledge, passion and dedication to John Muir High School is well known. I’m sure it came through in his interviews” Cooper said. “I’m thrilled. I don’t think there could be a better choice.”
John Muir student Kari Davis, who attended the high school while Sippel was serving as assistant principal under Orange and will be returning to the campus this fall as a senior, said she is disappointed Orange will not be at the school when she graduates.
“I don’t like the fact that there is not going to be any stability, because I wanted to finish my four years with the same administrator, Ms. Orange,” Davis said. “But they couldn’t have a picked a better person, someone who already knows the school.”
The feelings of admiration appear to be mutual.
“It is an honor to work at John Muir High School.” Sippel said.