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New principal takes on Ruhkala Elementary

By: Lauren Weber, The Placer Herald
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A new face will be joining Ruhkala Elementary this fall, as Principal Gary Yee leaves his position. Yee, who assumed the role of Ruhkala principal when the school opened in 2005, has worked within the Rocklin Unified School District for 15 years. He won’t be leaving the education arena; he’ll be joining Ackerman Charter District near Auburn, as the superintendent/ principal at Bowman Elementary School. As Yee’s role shifted through his years in the educational field, he said he’s always made it a priority to remain in the classroom and as a face the children know. He began his career with RUSD as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Parker Whitney for four years, where he also became teacher in charge for one year. Soon after, he returned to school to earn an administrative credential. As luck would have it, an assistant principal combined with a band teacher position opened at Antelope Creek Elementary that combined both roles Yee desired (Yee previously worked as a music teacher in other districts). Throughout Yee’s 15 years at RUSD, he said he took notice of Rocklin’s focus on families and the well-managed explosive growth the district survived with help from RUSD Superintendent Kevin Brown. Yee said he also found the district to have “the very intentional focus on students, always.” One of Yee’s memories from his years at Ruhkala may have been the first memory many have of the school – the dedication ceremony for the school named after the Ruhkala family in Rocklin. Almost 50 members of the Ruhkala staff attended along with the Ruhkala family, Yee said. Roy Ruhkala encouraged the students to get educated and concluded with a “Go Quarry Cats” encouragement. The Quarry Cats became the school’s mascot soon after. “It was just a great way to start,” Yee said. Ruhkala Elementary, located on Turnstone Way, shares a campus with Rocklin Academy, a kindergarten through sixth-grade charter school. Because of the shared campus, Yee said the school has formed a relationship with the academy. “A sense of healthy competition,” Yee said. “Competitive spirit has instilled in us a sense of urgency to be innovative and definitely to be very service oriented.” One of the “very defining programs” Ruhkala founded, is called Quarry Cat Friday, with teachers teaching their passion or hobby in a weekly class that doesn’t coincide with the core curriculum. Classes such as line dancing, Spanish, puppetry, harmonica and gourmet cooking have been among the classes taught. Yee also made it a priority of his to continue teaching through his years in administrative roles. He directed the third-grade spring musical and regularly spent time in the classroom. And whether it’s being out on the schoolyard, in the cafeteria or walking through campus, being visible is key to being a successful principal, according to Yee. “Always take time to be with the kids,” he advised the incoming principal. Chosen to take on the role of Ruhkala principal is Melody Thorson, who has been with RUSD for 10 years. She currently serves as the coordinator of instructional services and previously taught at Rocklin elementary schools. At a recent RUSD board of trustees meeting, Thorson was welcomed to her new position. “She’s sort of a natural-born leader,” Brown said. “She always seems to rise to the top. We knew she was going to do a stellar job there as she has at any other job in the district.” Thorson also shared her excitement for what’s ahead. “I’m very excited to continue my journey with Rocklin Unified School District,” she said. She said she plans to “go out there and make a difference.” Placer Herald’s Lauren Weber can be reached at laurenw@goldcountrymedia.com.