BY FLORA ADAMIAN
Special to Asbarez
Last month, the Glendale Unified school board named Lisa Kaprielian as Richardson D. White Elementary School’s new principal. With more than 20 years of experience in education, Kaprielian has worked diligently to climb the administrative ladder. Starting out as an elementary school physical education teacher and substitute, Kaprielian spent the last three years as R.D. White’s assistant principal before earning her current position — an achievement she describes as a dream come true.
“The last three months have honestly been so emotional and so exciting, the love that I have felt from everyone, I’m honored to take on this position,” Kaprielian said. “You know, sometimes you dream about it: ‘Oh, it would be awesome to be the principal of R.D. White.’ And then it happens. And it still sometimes feels like a dream.”
In her new role, Kaprielian hopes to build upon the knowledge and relationships she’s acquired over the last three years at R.D. White.
“Of course, my role is going to be different, but my purpose is still the same,” Kaprielian said. “My purpose is making sure that our students are reaching their full potential, that our staff is happy. I’ve built some strong relationships during the last three years and my goal right now is — in that first year — to strengthen those relationships all centered on trust.”
Linda Junge, Kaprielian’s former supervisor at John Muir Elementary School, noted that Kaprielian is the perfect fit to be R.D. White’s new principal, and that she could not be more pleased with the announcement. While serving as John Muir’s principal, Junge directly supervised Kaprielian for four years, promoting her from sixth-grade teacher to a teacher specialist. Together, Junge and Kaprielian established John Muir’s dual-language immersion academy.
“During those three years, [Kaprielian] served in quasi-administrative roles and grew from a respected teacher to a powerfully effective instructional leader,” Junge said. “Her support of teachers was such that in 2012 she was voted Teacher of the Year by the Muir faculty.”
Although a Northridge native, having attended Ferrahian Armenian School in the San Fernando Valley, Kaprielian finds her current placement in Glendale a meaningful opportunity to give back to the local Armenian community.
“I came from a private Armenian school and a part of me wants to give back to that, but I service a lot of the Armenian students and families being here in Glendale. So that somewhat gives me some peace of mind,” she said.
Kaprielian appreciates the city’s large Armenian presence, but finds a distinct beauty in the district’s diversity as well.
“I think it’s beautiful to be here in Glendale, with such a large Armenian community,” Kaprielian said. “And, you know, I picked up some words in Farsi and being able to sing a song in Farsi or say a few words in Arabic or in Spanish, even — we’re just such a melting pot. We have such a variety of different cultures and languages here in Glendale; it’s nice to see all of that.”
Glendale’s cultural diversity, Kaprielian said, allows students to learn from each other, to empathize with and grow from one another’s differences.
“They’re in a classroom learning from each other,” Kaprielian said. “Kids, oftentimes, share everything. Whether it’s something that they ate, something that their grandmother said — they’re constantly sharing.”
Despite having acquired decades of experience in the education sector, Kaprielian hadn’t always imagined herself in her current field.
“My senior year in high school, I thought I was going to be a physical therapist, so I attended Cal State Northridge, majoring in physical therapy, because I was an athlete throughout my whole life — I played basketball, ran cross country — and I loved helping people. So, I took two of my passions in life — athletics and helping people — and I thought, you know, I’m going to be a physical therapist and help those heal from their sports-related injuries.”
Coaching basketball and working with kids on a daily basis, Kaprielian thought she was set on her path to physical therapy. A relative, however, suggested that she instead consider education.
Surprised that she had never before thought about teaching, Kaprielian immediately switched her major from physical therapy to education, a decision she says she has never regretted.
“The field of education is — words can’t describe what a great profession it is,” Kaprielian said. “There are definitely challenges, but it’s super rewarding. And if anyone wants to get into education, I would just say to go for it, get their feet wet.”
Even after moving up the administrative ladder, Kaprielian still makes it a priority to create individual bonds between herself and her students.
“Now, it’s just a different relationship that I’ve built with the students,” she said.
It’s important for students to know that they can rely not only on their teachers, but other adults at the school as well, according to Kaprielian. She enjoys being out on the yard at recess time to be visible and observe interactions among students.
“Oftentimes, if parents have questions about or concerns about students not getting along or having difficulties, I’m able to say, well, I saw them at recess time or at lunch time playing and they were walking arm-in-arm — they’re totally doing fine. So, it’s knowing the outside. The teachers know what’s going on in the classroom, but sometimes they don’t see the dynamics on the playground — that’s when I get to step in. It’s almost like the teachers and I work together — I’m their eyes when they’re not there,” Kaprielian said.
Kaprielian uses her Armenian background as an asset to help her communicate with new Armenian immigrants, helping them transition into American culture and society.
“We have many families that come from Armenia or from Iraq — they don’t know the language. Being able to communicate in Armenian just eases some of their anxiety,” she said.
“When there’s a parent who only speaks Armenian, and every time she has a question about her child’s homework or the Thursday folder or upcoming activity, she would come to me,” Kaprielian said. “She felt comfortable, she knew I would answer her questions. We spoke the same language, and I think they transitioned a lot easier because of that.”
Armenian students, too, find it easier to connect with Kaprielian given the fact that she is able to understand them on a cultural level.
“When the kids hear me speak Armenian, they go crazy,” Kaprielian said. “And I don’t go out and tell them — they might know it from my last name, they might ask me. But it’s always fun to throw out of some the Armenian words when they least expect it and the look on their faces of just pure shock, ‘You speak Armenian? You are Armenian?’ And that’s how you connect with people, it’s similarities that bring you together. Whether it’s language, whether it’s where you live, it’s those similarities that bring people together. So, if their language, their culture, is something that is similar with someone else, they’re happy about that.”
Although her Armenian identity often complements her work as an administrator in Glendale, Kaprielian explained that difficulties still exist with regard to prejudice. However, she strives to work past these obstacles and, instead, uses her Armenian identity as a way to understand the differences that exist in society, bridging gaps along the way.
“Sometimes there are challenges just as with any type of culture or race, there’s always some type of discrimination, but I think that’s just the world in which we live in and I just try to focus on the beauty of each individual and the strength of each individual and to get to know who they are and, kind of, eliminate some of those barriers that are between us,” she said.
Looking to the future, Kaprielian hopes to make the most of her new position by creating meaningful relationships and serving her community.
“I act with integrity, I’m honest, I’m open, I follow through with what I say, and, you know, that’s an area that builds trust. I just want our staff, our parents to know that I am there for the benefit of their students, for the best of their kids. So, my first goal is just to make sure that our teachers are happy, that our students are happy, and I want our kids coming to school loving the school, waiting to come back,” Kaprielian said.
Junge confirms these character traits. Kaprielian, Junge said, is a strong leader who inspires respect, loyalty and commitment.
“Mrs. Kaprielian has a deep understanding of what students need from their elementary experience in order to thrive and succeed in middle and high school,” Junge said. “GUSD and R.D. White could not have done better. She has a heart for students, and will help her school rise to ever-greater outcomes.”