Tualatin associate principal finds success by listening to students
When Claudia Kis was named as a new associate principal at Tualatin High School this school year, she was neither a stranger to the district nor the city.
Both of Kis’ children graduated from the same high school where she now works. (Her youngest son, Nano, took home first place in the state shot put competition in his senior year.) She and her family have lived in Tualatin since 2008.
“I know this school well as a parent,” Kis said, adding that she has a deep emotional attachment to the school as well.
So far, Kis loves her job at Tualatin High School, even though she admits it proved a major learning curve in getting to know the programs, protocols and rules at her new job.
At Tualatin High, Kis’ duties are split between herself and two other associate principals.
Previously, Kis was in the Woodburn School District for 17 years as both a teacher and administrator. She served six years as an associate principal there.
Kis, who was born in Argentina and grew up with Spanish as her first language, heads the bilingual program at Tualatin High and has experience teaching English as a second language.
Kis first came to the United States as an exchange student, living with a family in Marshfield, Missouri, for a year. When she returned to Argentina, she received degrees in psychology and translation. She and her family eventually relocated to the United States permanently, fearing that Argentina was becoming unsafe.
Kis said her psychology degree has helped her over the years because “it allows me to look at (student) behaviors and try to understand why people do things and why they don’t do others, and why they think in certain ways.”
When dealing with parents, teachers or students, Kis said she approaches them working under the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can with the information, abilities and skills they have. In the future, they will know better and do better.
“Nobody gets up in the morning and says, ‘I’m going to ruin my day today by making bad choices or having a problem with my teacher or skipping classes,” she said. “I think that that premise helps me approach the work. When a kid gets in trouble, knowing that he didn’t purposely do that that day, that there’s a reason he or she is doing that … and I firmly believe that every behavior has a function.”
Kis said it’s up to the adults to figure it out what’s going on with students. It could be that the class is too hard, that the student is lost, that they are having a problem with another student, or that the pacing is too fast.
She said little is gained by punishing a student for skipping class with in-school suspension.
“It’s like I’m making things worse if I do that,” Kis said.
She said students come to school with many different layers of issues — ranging from adults who may have failed them to those who have mental health issues — and the last thing she wants to do is to make someone feel miserable after they’ve been through so much.
“I couldn’t do that,” Kis said. “That’s why I’m happy where I am, because I have a district that believes in the same thing I do, and my principal is adamant about: ‘Let’s try to figure out what is the behavior and … what is happening with these specific kids so we can support them.’”
Kis admits there are times when she has to punish students in order to follow school protocol, but at the same time, she will connect with the school’s social worker, a counselor or perhaps a specific teacher to help out.
What Kis enjoys most about her work is making connections with students to help them learn and grow.
“I have that ability to connect with kids, and that’s what keeps me going,” she said.