“Honoring Our Own” is the title of the Association of California Schools Administration (ACSA) Region 18 awards dinner hosted at the Sheraton San Diego Resort and Marina on Harbor Island on Saturday, May 11th. And Coronado’s own Middle School Principal Karen Mellina will be honored that night — as Principal of the Year.
As the recipient selected from a pool of almost 100 eligible middle schools, Mellina is humble about the prestigious endorsement of her work, reasoning that her job doesn’t feel like ‘work’ at all:
“It is my passion. I love my students. I love my staff. I really love what I do. There’s a saying about finding a job you love and never having to work a day in your life. That is true for me at Coronado Middle School.”
Mellina credits her career trajectory to an instrumental mentor during her formative school years. “I wasn’t the best student,” confides Mellina, “school was hard for me. But I had a counselor in 9th grade who saw potential in me and encouraged me to pursue extra-curricular activities and a path that would ultimately get me into college. I didn’t know or realize it then, but college was where I found my passion.”
Mellina went on to earn a BA in psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, followed by graduate school in New Jersey at Seaton Hall with aspirations of becoming a counselor. During her counseling internships, Mellina was inspired to widen her professional scope to include a teaching credential.
Armed with a BA in Psychology and dual Masters degrees in Counseling Psychology and Education and Teaching, Mellina headed to the West Coast to put her expertise into practice:
“I had always wanted to move to California,” says Mellina. “I came to San Diego and must have submitted 100 resumes. About fifteen minutes after I dropped my resume here, Nancy Girvin contacted me for an interview.”
In 2003, Mellina started her career at Coronado Middle School as a 6th grade humanities teacher. She remained in the position for four years until she was encouraged by her peers and then-principal Jay Marquand to pursue her administration credential.
“Jay said to me ‘go get your admin credential,’ and it occurred to me that while I loved my 6th grade humanities classes, I could be a greater advocate for these kids if I were in a leadership position.”
In 2008, Mellina received her MEd, Educational Leadership and Administration credential and spent the next seven years as assistant principal at CMS. In 2015, she assumed the role of principal.
“These are the kids I am supposed to be educating,” says Mellina. “Middle schoolers are impulsive and fragile and in the process of navigating everything in between. There are so many kids at this age that ‘blend in,’ but I want those kids to be seen.”
While Mellina’s successful professional trajectory speaks for itself, the most applicable and discerning critics are her students. Seventh-grade girls: Ashley Kendricks, Avery Hunt, and Asiya Leyva were eager to share their praise for Mellina, finishing each other’s sentences in shared appreciation:
“She’s a good person. She’s always trying to do the best for the school and her students,” says Ashley. “It’s true,” says Avery, “you can talk to her about anything. She spends time with us that she could be doing something else. She’s really passionate about her work and her job.”
Praise for Principal Mellina extends beyond her middle school cohort too. CHS Freshman, Lera Hill shares: “The award is so well-deserved. She worked really hard for our school to give us the best education, and really got to know the students – she really talked to everyone.”
The common theme in students’ feelings heard by Principal Mellina is ‘echoed’ in Karin’s educational philosophy:
“It’s all about connections. I really want to know about these kids. It’s about building that trusting relationship. There is a lot of talk about restorative practice in education, but you can’t restore something that hasn’t been built in the first place.”
Mellina elaborates by sharing her tween-whisperer strategies with parents too:
“I encourage parents to be patient and to listen. To talk to their kids all the time. If parents spent just thirty minutes with no distractions talking to their kids, an amazing connection and trust can be built.”
On May 11, the Association of California School Administrators will honor Karin Mellina as the Principal of the Year. On that day, as well as the 364 others of this year and many more years to come, Karin Mellina will be honored by her students and the Coronado community where she continues to make a positive impact every day.