New faces in this year’s crop of Kyrene principals

Six new principals will be coming to Kyrene schools this year, as longtime leaders retire or move into new roles. Four of the new assignments involve Kyrene assistant principals who are advancing in position. Two of the new principals are experienced leaders joining Kyrene from other Arizona districts. Each was selected through a rigorous process Kyrene uses to identify strong leaders and with community input to match leaders to schools.

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Altadeña Middle School: Principal Juliet Riffenburg — Altadeña Middle School Principal Juliet Riffenburg is new to Kyrene, having spent the last six years in leadership at a K-8 school in Phoenix. Mrs. Riffenburg has served as an assistant principal and has taught multiple grade levels from first to sixth at a combination of Blue-Ribbon award winning, Title I and A+ schools. She also worked for ASU, serving as the campus administrator for the Fulton School of Engineering’s Summer STEM camps. Mrs. Riffenburg received her Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Arizona State University and her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University. Mrs. Riffenburg thrives on building relationships with those she serves and is excited to foster those connections with the Altadeña community.

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Kyrene de los Cerritos: Principal Dr. Mark Eley — The new Principal of Kyrene de los Cerritos Leadership Academy has roots in Kyrene. Dr. Mark Eley previously served Kyrene as a teacher and as Assistant Director of Community Education. Since that time, he has held a variety of leadership roles, from elementary and K-8 principal to Arizona Department of Education director. He brings 30 years of experience to the Cerritos Principal position. Dr. Eley holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Grand Canyon University (where he has also served as an adjunct professor), a master’s degree in education from NAU, and a doctorate in education leadership and policy studies through ASU.

Kyrene del Cielo: Principal Kristin Kingsland — Kyrene del Cielo students will have a familiar face in the principal’s office. Cielo Assistant Principal Kristin Kingsland is stepping into the principal role, following the retirement of principal Tammy Thaete. Mrs. Kingsland has been a Kyrene educator for nearly 30 years. She began her career as a special education teacher and has served as a classroom teacher, a Structured English Immersion Coach, a Student Advisor, and for the last eight years as an assistant principal. Mrs. Kingsland is an ASU graduate and holds a Master of Education in Counseling. She believes all students need to feel welcomed, cared for and inspired at school, and she will strive to ensure that every child at Cielo receives optimal learning opportunities and feels connected to the school community.

Kyrene de la Colina: Principal Emily Pieper — Kyrene de la Colina will also see continuity in leadership as Assistant Principal Emily Pieper takes over as Principal of Colina. Mrs. Pieper has served as Colina’s assistant principal for the last seven years and is a strong supporter of the school’s Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative. Prior to joining the Colina leadership team, Mrs. Pieper was an instructional coach and an elementary classroom teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Arizona State University and holds a master’s degree in educational administration. She is passionate about building positive relationships with students and families, and she looks forward to continuing those connections in her new role.

Kyrene de las Manitas: Principal Melissa Gradnigo-Taylor — Also rising through the Kyrene ranks is Melissa Gradnigo-Taylor, the new Kyrene de las Manitas Principal. Mrs. Taylor brings 25 years of educational experience to Manitas, having taught first through eighth grades in both private and public schools, and in rural, urban and suburban settings. She has been a teacher, a student advisor, and an administrator in schools across the country. For the last seven years, she has served as the assistant principal at Kyrene de las Lomas. Mrs. Taylor earned both her master’s degree in educational leadership and her bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. She is passionate about redefining and redesigning the educational experience of all students, to inspire them to find their purpose and ignite a passion for learning.

Kyrene Monte Visa: Principal Teresa Strickling — It’s a homecoming for the new Principal of Kyrene Monte Vista, Teresa Strickling. Strickling previously served as Monte Vista Assistant Principal for four years. Mrs. Strickling’s passion for education began in the classroom, where she held positions as an elementary teacher, a math and reading coach, and a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) supporting school administrators. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona and holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in administrative education. Mrs. Strickling is committed to ensuring students are challenged and engaged in learning opportunities that will continue to help them thrive. She looks forward to reconnecting with students and families as well as making new connections.

Erin Helm, the district’s executive director of communications and engagement, noted that the district continues to create opportunities for growth through what is known as Kyrene Aspiring Leaders Academy and to promote leaders from within. Prior principals Amy Gingell (Cielo), Kelley Brunner (Colina), Dr. Garth Cupp (Monte Vista) and Dr. Sarah Collins (Manitas) will remain with Kyrene in district leadership roles, with oversight of areas including curriculum, innovation and schools. According to Helm, Kyrene Superintendent Laura Toenjes and the Kyrene Governing Board have repeatedly stressed the importance of retaining high quality, experienced staff.

For the third year in a row, she noted, the board has approved stipends for employees who return and remain with the District this school year.



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