Meeting Pali Elementary’s New Principal

By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter

It was a whirlwind start to the school year for new Palisades Charter Elementary School Principal Gary Saunders, but on his first Wednesday afternoon as Pali’s fearless leader, he found a moment to sit down in his new office and catch up with the Palisadian-Post.

“It’s been an amazing first week,” he said with a grin.

And while he’d only had about half a month to get to know the campus before students came streaming through its doors, Saunders wasn’t showing the slightest sign of weariness.

A Virginia native and son of two teachers, Saunders told the Post that education has always been near and dear to his heart.

He’s been an Angeleno for more than 20 years, raising five kids of his own and sending them to LAUSD schools.

He’s worked as an educator for well over a decade, teaching everything from pre-k to ninth grade, and most recently was splitting time as the assistant principal of two different schools in the South Bay area.

So Saunders has seen it all—and now he’s ready to settle in at the helm of Pali Elementary.

He steps into an enviable position: Pali already has excellent test scores, devoted teachers and extremely active parent groups.

So with things already headed in the right direction, what goals can Saunders set for achievement?

He told the Post one focus would be fostering a “collaborative, team atmosphere” among parents, teachers and students. That means keeping parent volunteers active in the classroom, and finding ways to build empathy and develop a culture of support among classmates.

In all things, he added, there should be a high level of engagement and interactivity between students, teachers and their curriculum: “It can’t just be worksheets.”

Saunders has a background in instructional technology, the study of education tools and how innovations in the classroom can help engage students.

He’s excited to see what new approaches to learning Pali Elementary can explore and employ on a class-by-class basis.

But for now he’s busy getting to know his new school and community.

Saunders told the Post he has his entire supporting cast—from teachers to his front office and building management staff—to thank for a smooth transition.

They’ve helped him iron out the start-of-year logistics, giving Saunders more time to visit classrooms and meet parents.

“It’s been a great time getting to know each other,” the principal said, adding with a laugh that he realized parents at a recent meet-and-greet didn’t know who he was until he mentioned that he was the new principal.

So now when you see Saunders around town, tell him you recognize him from the Post—and maybe point him in the right direction if he’s out looking for a cup of joe.