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News Item: Homepage

Vista Academy Welcomes Principal Benjie Walker and Assistant Principal Melanie Paliotti

By Lindsay Mineo


Last November, after three and a half years as Assistant Principal, Benjie Walker was named Principal of Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts. As she’s getting started in her new role, we checked in to see how things are going, what she’s most excited about this year, and where she sees Vista Academy in the long run.


Principal Walker came to Vista Academy during the second year of the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) candidacy process. In her first role as Assistant Principal, she jumped right into the IB coursework with the teachers and even created her own teaching unit using the IB method. She saw how passionate and hardworking the teachers and the rest of the staff were, and was excited to be in the trenches with them. 


When the previous principal, Mrs. Hancock, moved on to a new position, Walker was very excited for the opportunity. “The school community was so supportive of me being the new principal,” says Walker. “I had already experienced a lot of the tasks required of a principal, but I am still very much learning my new role. There’s a lot to take on, but I feel so supported and that it was meant to be.” Hanging on her door is a sign with the phrase, “do what you love and love what you do.” She feels she is truly living this sentiment as principal, being out there every day with students and teachers and cheering them on.


Principal Walker’s philosophy is that it’s important as a leader to know where the school has been and where the school is going. Her number one goal is to maintain the momentum that was already in place and continue to make the transition to her leadership as seamless as possible. “When you have an outstanding program being developed, you want to keep it going,” she says. “I want everyone to know I’m here to support and listen to them and to put our students at the center.” Like all teachers and staff at Vista Academy, Walker is determined to make decisions that are in the best interest of all students.


What can we look forward to from Principal Walker? She wants the IB, arts-integrated program to be maintained and bloom for years to come. She’s proud to be principal and excited to see what’s possible for the Vista Academy school community in the future. IB is a constantly evolving and growing program, and Vista Academy will be there to meet the needs of all students.


Principal Benjie Walker at VAPA
Principal Walker high-fives a student at Vista Academy.


At the same time that Walker was named principal, a new assistant principal was named: Melanie Paliotti. Paliotti has been an educator for 20 years and has experience in a variety of grade levels and settings. She is also involved in the IB community and teaches IB coursework at the university level at CSUSM. Paliotti taught teachers at Vista Academy, Casita Center and Vista Magnet Middle School courses culminating in the official IB certificate in Teaching and Learning. During this process, she quickly fell in love with the Vista Academy community, the school’s philosophy, and the passion of the students and teachers. Paliotti was thrilled to become Vista Academy’s IB Magnet Coordinator. She attended every collaboration and helped teachers through the IB candidacy process. “I was like the bee that pollinates,” she says. “I’d fly from one grade level to the next to help teachers improve instructional plans and outcomes and to align the curriculum.” 


Together with Walker, Paliotti worked with the prior principal, and she was happy to move into the assistant principal role after Walker became principal. One of the primary benefits of this move is that the school is able to maintain consistent leadership. It takes time to build relationships with teachers, staff, and parents.


So what’s Assistant Principal Paliotti’s leadership style? “I believe my role is to be a servant leader,” she says. “I am ready and willing to roll up my sleeves and do what needs to be done to help teachers make the magic happen for their students. I’ll do whatever it takes: set up tables and chairs, clean up after events, plan and collaborate with teachers - anything to give back to my community and move our program forward.”


Paliotti has never seen a group of teachers more dedicated and passionate about what they do at any level and in any of the states she’s worked in. “They love what they do,” she says. “You feel it when you walk on campus.” She loves to give tours and share the dynamic program with visitors to the campus. “It’s an honor and privilege to be among such passion.”


For both Walker and Paliotti, it’s not about the titles. They believe principals and assistant principals are educators, like the teachers, and they are here to support the students, staff, and the community. Walker and Paliotti want to encourage teachers to take risks and try new strategies. They believe that it’s OK if something doesn’t work because that’s how students, and teachers, learn. Both Paliotti and Walker want the teachers to feel comfortable being open and sharing what they’re trying. “We’re more than willing to jump in, brainstorm, and have that open conversation with our staff. This high level of collaboration is what makes Vista Academy’s program flourish!”

Posted by: Lisa Contreras, District Admin, Vista Unified School District Published:2/26/18
Audience: Homepage and Homepage