For National Principals Month, we are highlighting school leaders who have made valuable contributions to their schools and communities. A few of the people they’ve impacted the most tell their inspiring stories. This week, Sarai Kaller shares about her sons’ former principal, Teri Dudley.

Sarai Kaller | Parent

When I think of all the reasons why Teri Dudley is a great principal, one that stands out is transparency. She keeps the parents at River Heights Intermediate School in Eastvale, CA, informed about everything and anything that is going on at the school, from academic goals to technology updates to behavioral issues. There are no surprises ever on anything.

For example, she hosts a regular monthly “coffee with the principal” for parents. She sends out a monthly email to families. And she welcomes parents who have anything they want to discuss with her about their child.

Both my sons, Israel and Nathan, now attend high school, but I remember four years ago when I was a brand-new parent of a seventh grader. I was sitting in the “coffee with the principal” meeting, and I was nervous because it’s a big school with more than 1,000 students. My son Nathan had a mistake with his schedule. At the meeting, Ms. Dudley asked about him, including his name and what elementary school he had attended. She made it a point to know who I was, who my son was, what the issue with his schedule was, and how she would get it taken care of. She has the type of personality where you just trust her that things will get done.

Since that first meeting, I’ve seen her do the same thing at every meeting with parents. She has a very hands-on approach that shows the parents that she cares.

Left to right: Israel Kaller, Principal Teri Dudley, Nathan Kaller, and Superintendent Sam Buenrostro at River Heights’ NJHS induction.
Left to right: Israel Kaller, Principal Teri Dudley, Nathan Kaller, and Superintendent Sam Buenrostro at River Heights’ NJHS induction.

Both my boys were active in the school’s National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) chapter, and I was an involved parent in the chapter. I appreciated her support of the program and, even more, of the school’s academic focus. The school offers a very challenging academic program that gives students the opportunity to earn high school credits before they enter ninth grade.

Sometimes students at other schools are not necessarily aligned with whatever vision the principal has for the school. But at River Heights, Ms. Dudley expects the NJHS students to be the leaders of the school. They set the example for their classmates because they are constantly reminded that they need to set an example. The NJHS kids run the orientation for incoming seventh graders, so you have the NJHS kids telling the new students how important it is to strive for good grades, take honors classes, participate in community service, and more. So, when it comes to Ms. Dudley’s vision for River Heights, the NJHS kids are the ones who spread the word.

My boys always felt that she was there for them, and they respected her because they knew they couldn’t mess around. I think she genuinely knows her students, and they know that she knows who they are. She understands what the students are capable of, and she challenges them all the time.

She also has great relationships and support in the community from business, political, and civic leaders. My boys took part in lots of community service opportunities, which is very important at the school. When the school creates those opportunities, it brings people together, and I think it helps the community grow together and become more cohesive.

Ms. Dudley is incredibly dedicated to the school and is so generous with her time. When we had PTSA meetings during COVID, she would log onto our Zoom calls in the evening even if she was driving her child somewhere or had other things going on. She didn’t need to be on, but she was. I know that after 5 p.m., most people don’t really want to deal with whatever work issue is going on, but not her. If you send her an email at 10 p.m., she’ll respond if she’s awake.

I’m sad that my boys are not at the school anymore. But I could not be happier about the education they received and how it prepared them for high school.

About the Author

Sarai Kaller is the parent of two graduates of River Heights Intermediate School in Eastvale, CA. This article first appeared in the October issue of Principal Leadership.

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