2021 California Science Education Conference

Nicole DiRanna

2020 Award Winner
Administrator Leadership Award: Nicole DiRanna

What lessons have you learned in helping others and how do you feel administrators can support science education in a more robust way?
I know that my job is to help build quality science education. That statement, while simple, has layers of complexity. To build quality science education is not just about teachers and students. The approach needs to be systemic Every player on the team needs to be knowledgeable and invested in science education. This includes the superintendent, district office personnel, board members, parents, students, community members, teachers and classified staff. Administrators can best support science education by being the active knowledgeable voice at the decision making table and rarely take “no” for an answer.

How has your leadership role impacted your view of science education?
I have always believed that science education is a right for ALL students. As an administrator, I have been able to leverage that belief to impact a broader audience. In San Marcos, under my leadership, science is now and will continue to be a priority. We got to this place because we had vision and took action through grants, professional development, use of materials monies, and through relationships with our community partners. I believe that the real work in science education is done by the teachers and they deserve strong site and district leadership who can position them to implement quality science education without obstacles. We have empowered science educators to become advocates that lead in and outside of our district. In addition, I also recognize the importance of building administrator leadership around NGSS so that they can support their teachers in quality ways.

How has COVID caused you to branch out/innovate in the way you share information with others?
While COVID has certainly upended our “normal”, I see two positive effects COVID has had on education. First, the pandemic has reinforced the need for quality science education for all of our citizens. Imagine where we would be in this crisis if the US was scientifically literate! Second, because we are so committed to our science vision, we have developed a community where barriers to meetings have been erased. Pre-COVID, getting people together within the same site, let alone across the district or county, was nearly impossible. Now thanks to video conferencing, we are able to gather across the city, across grade levels and across content areas. Our exchange of ideas has grown exponentially with an impact on instruction and student learning. Teachers are more likely to post questions and seek answers on social media. Educators are more likely to jump on a quick zoom to check in with each other about a lesson or an idea. Leadership is able to communicate more effectively and efficiently. COVID has changed the way in which we communicate and develop professionally and I hope that we continue these good practices in our post COVID world.

Why are you passionate about science education?
My love for science definitely came from my mom. It started when I was little and we would go to the tidepools to explore. We would walk along the rocky shores and my mom would be so excited when we found an organism. She would ask me a lot of questions, "what do I think it eats?" "how does it breathe?" "what else do I notice?" and then she would ask the question, "do you want to pick it up?!" She built my confidence for exploring and engaging the world around me. She encouraged me to get my hands dirty in the learning and discovery of my surroundings. She taught me that science was a habit of mind.
These lessons I brought to my classroom My passion for teaching science education came from my students. I would take my students to the ocean, just as my mom had taken me, and I watched my students open their minds about the world around them. I witnessed them build connections from what they knew and assimilate new learning. I listened as they generated questions that helped them construct their own understanding. In these moments I felt and knew the power of education. Science is a habit of mind.

My passion for leading quality science education came from watching students have an inequitable experience in a science classroom based on the teacher the master schedule had selected for them. I believe that all teachers want to be dynamic and I believe that sometimes, the lack of materials, instructional pedagogy, or resources can be obstacles. My job is to help remove those obstacles so teachers have a clear path to dynamic teaching and learning.

What does this award mean to you?

This award was really completely unexpected. While it is wonderful to be recognized, I do the work I do because quality science education is how we are going to change the world. I think that every science teacher deserves leaders who not only understand the power that science has on a student’s life, but a leader who utilizes their power and position to make science a priority. Leaders should create opportunities for teachers to grow in their own practice because it is directly connected to the science education our students receive. I am so honored that our teachers would go out of their way, take time from what I know is their busy life, to nominate me for this award, and it honestly humbles me. Thank you to my teachers in San Marcos USD. You are the ones making a difference, we are better because of you.


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