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New building heads include a car DJ, a Pizza Hut fan & a magician

Meet Your Administrators: Jonathan Haga, Nathan Peltz, Allison Woodside de Carrillo

Forest HillsThere are three new principals in the district this year. SNN gets to know them in this edition of Meet Your Administrators.

Name: Jonathan Haga
School: Central Middle

Education: The suburban Chicago native earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in early childhood education from Michigan State University. He also earned an administration certificate from the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

Other positions held in education: Most recently, Haga was assistant principal at Burton K-8 School in Grand Rapids. Before that, he was an elementary teacher for Godwin Heights Public Schools, water polo coach at Rockford Public Schools and a pre-kindergarten teacher for Chicago Public Schools.

Haga and wife, Kristin (courtesy)

How about jobs outside education? ​​”Growing up I was a lifeguard, but during my time pursuing my master’s degree I worked for a company selling ads for phone books,” he said. “Talk about a difficult sell; when was the last time you used a paper phone book? But it taught me how to see value in everything and work with people, even when they don’t see the need or value in something. Being able to have conversations and speak passionately about a topic.”

Family: Haga and his wife, Kristin, an instructional specialist at Godwin Heights Middle School, have three children: Camden, 7; Lyla, 6; and Beckett, 1. No pets: “Three kids at home under 8 is enough wildlife as it is.”

Any relation to former longtime Ada Township Supervisor George Haga: “No,” he said with a laugh. “I do get that a lot.”

Hobbies/Interests/Little-known talent: “Whatever makes my family happy, whether that’s in our swimming pool, cooking them pancakes on my blackstone (griddle), going to Deer Tracks Junction or (Frederik) Meijer Gardens… Maybe my biggest talent is having no shame,” he added with a laugh. “I can play a whole lot of different sports, be in a play, I can engage in all kinds of ways… whatever they want me to do with them, I’m in.”

On middle-schoolers and the lessons they inspire: “It’s fun for me to be able to create learning opportunities to help teachers motivate them to be the best versions of themselves. That’s the goal.”

Haga in middle school (courtesy)

A former high school and college water polo player, Haga coached for four years at Rockford Public Schools, leading his teams to two state championships. “Coaching water polo was what really gave me an insight into the adolescent mind… and of the different ways you have to continue to motivate and engage them at this age. That’s what I think about: How do I show students how they can get to the ‘tomorrow version’ of themselves, whatever that might be.”

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school? Middle school was transformative for Haga. “Seventh and eighth grade were very different for me,” he said. “Seventh grade, I wanted to be friends with everybody. The class clown. Having fun. I followed my sister, who got all the A’s. I didn’t do poorly, but my focus was more on athletics and friends.”

In eighth grade, Haga broke his ankle doing a slide tackle playing soccer, and said wearing a cast up to his hip for six months helped shift his focus. “I started to see the value of school, of reading, and that’s how it all kind of came together for me, seeing how hard you have to work to accomplish your goals.” 

Motivator song? “It depends on the day: maybe it’s country, or if I know I’ve got a big meeting, then maybe it’s rap… Nappy Roots’ “Good Day” is a good one… I am the DJ in the car who will listen to a minute of a song and, if I’m not feeling it, I’ll look for what’s next. Drives my family crazy.”

Nathan Peltz is the new principal at Pine Ridge

Name: Nathan Peltz
School: Pine Ridge Elementary

Nathan Peltz with wife, Rebecca, and daughter, Annalise (courtesy)

Other positions you have held in education: Peltz worked from 1999-2003 as a teacher of students with cognitive impairments in grades 4-6 in Grandville Public Schools. After that, he taught fourth grade in a general education classroom at Cummings Elementary, then took a dual assistant principal post in 2016 at Grand View Elementary and Century Park Learning Center.

How about jobs outside education? Growing up in Troy, Peltz earned his first pocket money at age 13 delivering newspapers and bagging groceries. He also has experience working in a cheese factory, a bagel shop, a toy store, waiting tables, camp counselor, and as a delivery and maintenance worker. “I think I’ve done pretty much all the jobs,” he said.

Education/degrees: Peltz graduated in 1999 from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and teaching, with an emphasis in special education with emotional and cognitively impaired children. He earned a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2009, and currently is taking additional, higher-level coursework at GVSU in educational leadership, though not for another degree. “I just enjoy it because it gives me more connections, just to collaborate more than anything, with people outside my usual work network.”

Spouse/children/pets: Wife, Rebecca; daughter Annalise, 2; and two dogs, Mabel the miniature labradoodle and Darcy the West Highland terrier.

Hobbies/Interests/Little-known talent: “I like to run. I’m trying to get myself set for the Riverbank Run, and I’m kind of a hack on guitar. 

“I also like doing magic tricks. When I go on vacation, there’s always that weird store I try to go to and get one more magic trick. I love pulling one out at lunch or during other, non-structured times; students definitely connect really quickly. I did it in my interview too. One of the rounds was a student interview and I had my backpack with me, so I pulled a couple out.”

Peltz, circa toddler time (courtesy)

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school? “I was quiet,” Peltz said, “but at the same time I probably had to be kept on track because I liked to be silly and goof around. I loved science and reading, (specifically) about planets and outer space, and weather. Even today when there’s tornadoes, I just think being a storm chaser would be so fun.”

The biggest lesson you have learned from students is… “to have fun. School today gets so busy and you can get so weighed down. You have to have fun at school, in the classroom, with your staff, to make those connections.”

If you could go back to school, what grade would you revisit? “Probably kindergarten, because it was so hands-on. It was a Montessori school, and as a kid that hands-on was just the best. I just wanted to keep learning. I still remember my two favorite teachers, Mrs. Tracy and Mrs. Blue.”

Woodside de Carrillo with husband, Nicolas, and son, Leo (courtesy)

Name: Allison Woodside de Carrillo
School: Ada Vista Elementary

Education/degrees: The Harbor Springs native earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Central Michigan University.

Allison Woodside de Carrillo is the new principal at Ada Vista (courtesy)

Previous positions in education: Having cemented a passion for teaching and the Spanish language while studying abroad during her time at MSU, de Carrillo worked in Ecuador from 2011-2016 as a teacher of elementary, middle, high school and adult students, and ultimately moved into a vice-principal position there. She then served as principal at Burton School in Grand Rapids from 2016 until this spring.

How about jobs outside education? de Carrillo bussed tables in a restaurant and worked at a retail outdoor store, at a bicycle shop doing sales and basic mechanics while a student at MSU, and was a barista at a coffee shop in Ecuador. “Working in retail and in the restaurant business really teaches you a lot about how to interact with adults, which I think is a huge part of the principal role. You learn to generate conversation, regulate your emotions, maintain professionalism and meet people where they’re at.”

Family: She met her husband, Nicolas, during her time in Ecuador. They have a son, Leo, 11 months, and dog, Darla, a 40-pound pit mix, adopted from the Humane Society.

Hobbies/Interests/Little-known talents: An athlete and musical theatre aficionado, de Carrillo also enjoys photography and has traveled extensively. For three summers, she served as a chaperone of sorts for young members of the  Carnegie Hall National Youth Orchestra. 

As for a little-known talent, “I love to sing. Not a lot of people know that about me,” de Carrillo said. “And I used to do triathlons and want to get back into them.”

Woodside de Carrillo, circa elementary school (courtesy)

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at Ada Vista? “I was a little bookworm, for sure, anything that had to do with reading. I still remember my first- or second-grade teacher would do storytime every day and she had the best voices. She was really quirky, she had allergies, and looking back I realize she wore a mask all the time; she would not have been out of place today. I loved Animorphs too, and doing the Pizza Hut Book It challenge. I still love Pizza Hut to this day.”

The biggest lesson you have learned from students is… “One of the first things that come to mind is how to be kind. Looking back, as an adult, I think a lot of us really struggle with how to interact with each other, how to forgive, how to disagree without it turning into a shouting match. Elementary students can get caught up in those emotions — it’s something we all need to work on — but kids are much, much better at forgiving each other and moving on.”

If you could go back to school, what grade would you revisit? “Third, because of that reading teacher with the voices. Also Mr. Joneson, my fourth-grade teacher at Blackbird Elementary. He traveled a lot (and) every summer, and he would talk to us a lot about his experiences and what the world was like.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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