Native San Diegan takes over at Monterey Ridge
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
It is sort of a coming home for Monterey Ridge Elementary’s new principal, Michael Olander.
The native San Diegan — he grew up in East County — said after living out of San Diego County for the past decade he wanted to live and work closer to his extended family, especially since he and wife, Blythe, are awaiting the birth of their first child in a couple of weeks. He said they plan to name their daughter Shelby.
“I’m happy to be back home,” he said. “I was looking to come back this way.”
As for joining Poway Unified School District, he said, “This is a dream district for an administrator. It is an innovative district on the cutting edge. The support it provides to its students, families, teachers and administrators is top notch.”
The new Poway resident comes from West Orange Elementary School in the Orange Unified School District. He was principal there since 2008. Prior to that he was an assistant principal at Temecula Elementary School for two years. Before becoming an administrator he was an elementary teacher in the Temecula Valley Unified and Cajon Valley Union school districts. His classroom focus was with special education students in third to fifth grade.
Olander did not initially plan to be a teacher. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in counseling psychology from San Diego State University. His career began as a marriage, family and child therapist and later became a therapist and behavioral specialist for the Cajon Valley district. He earned his multiple subject teaching credential at Christian Heritage College and school administration credential at Chapman University.
“During my time as a behavior specialist and counselor at Anza (Elementary School) I realized the tremendous impact that teachers have on students; the level of impact that I could never attain as a counselor,” he said.
Olander said he did not intend to work with elementary students either. Initially, he planned to teach biology and psychology in a high school, but once he was offered to work in special education for third- to fifth-graders, “I absolutely loved it. I realized this is an age group I really enjoy working with.”
He said that is the age when teachers can have the greatest impact on students who are fun, happy and still enjoy going to school and interacting with their teachers.
“I really felt it was important to give kids a positive first experience,” he added.
As for why he chose to leave the classroom and become an administrator, Olander said, “I always wanted to make a bigger difference and best opportunities for kids … in schools.”
Olander said his goals at Monterey Ridge include creating the “best environment” for students as they develop socially, emotionally, behaviorally and academically. In addition, he wants to continue developing the school’s “innovative instructional practices” and “keep Monterey Ridge the world-class school that it is.”
When he is not on campus, Olander said he and his wife enjoy activities like riding dirt bikes, snowboarding and going camping in the desert. For the past 10 years — even though it meant making regular trips from Orange County — he has also played baseball in a San Diego adult league.
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