Petersen moves to new role in district office

Petersen moves to new role in district office; veteran Turlock principal chosen to lead Fox Road
Posted on 07/02/2021
Eric Petersen

A familiar administrative face will take on new duties this year in the Hughson Unified School District, which means there will be a new principal at Fox Road Elementary School.


Eric Petersen, the principal at Fox Road the past two years who led Hughson Elementary for five years before that, has been named the Director of Student Support Services. It is a new job for the district.


“This position was created because there is a desperate need to reconnect our families to our school system,” explained Superintendent Brenda Smith. “To do this, we will be focusing on supportive programs to address mental health and wellness, connections to school, support to homeless and foster youth, creating good habits in the area of attendance and positive behavior.”


Replacing Petersen at Fox Road will be Jeff Persons, who has spent the past 20 years as an elementary teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Turlock Unified School District.


Both men begin their new jobs July 1.


Petersen brings plenty of experience to his new role. He’s been in Hughson for the past seven years, but before that has worked in five other school districts in three counties as a teacher and administrator in traditional and alternative education settings.


I feel this job is a perfect blend of my skills, passions and experiences,” he said.


He will work across the district overseeing all aspects of student life outside of the classroom -- health, mental health, mentoring, campus safety, attendance, discipline, foster youth and homelessness.


To start, Petersen said his priorities will be attendance, student mental health following a year of pandemic-related distance learning, creating mentoring opportunities and working to implement the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system across the district.


He expects to interact with students, staff and parents – “sometimes from afar by overseeing programs and implementing changes, etc.  Other times, I'll be working directly with at-risk students and their families, while also working alongside teachers, counselors, psychologists and administrators.”


“The key to being a successful educator, in my opinion, is to create positive relationships with students and your staff,” Petersen said. “I have a true heart and a passion to help at-risk students and I love to see them overcome obstacles, persevere through trials and to succeed.”


Replacing Petersen at Fox Road won’t be easy, but Smith said Persons stood out among the applicants.


“He has the qualities of leadership that we are looking for to lead our schools,” she said. “In his interview, it was obvious that he prioritizes creating positive relationships with staff, students and families. He is positive and has an outgoing personality.”


Persons is a Turlock High graduate who was named one of California’s top administrators last year by a statewide organization. He looks forward to working with staff and students at Fox Road, which teaches fourth- and fifth-graders only.


“I’ve had lots of elementary experience, though it will be different focusing on just two years,” he said. “I’m excited about the possibility of getting to know the students and their academic, social and emotional needs. I want to help them understand their potential before they move on to middle school.”


Known as Dr. Persons to his current students – he has an Ed.D. in educational leadership from CSU Stanislaus – Persons said he draws inspiration from his mother, a former fifth-grade teacher.


“She always mentioned that fourth and fifth grade were, in her words, ‘The best grades!’ ” he said.


Persons’ favorite all-time teacher also was his own fifth-grade instructor – Dr. Abe Fineberg in Livermore.


“He really focused on working individually with students to maximize our strengths. He instilled for me a love of learning,” said Persons, who wants to do the same for his new Hughson students, who have endured so much upheaval since March 2020 because of the pandemic.


“One of the things Eric told me is that the students and staff and families at Fox Road pivoted with grace (during the pandemic),” Persons said. “I really want to build on that and the lessons we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, which is the impact that in-person instruction can make and the use of technology and just understanding our own resilience.”


He's also excited about joining a district that he’s heard so many good things about.


“I honestly think that the positive energy that is shared by the Board, leadership and staff comes out of the tremendous pride and care they have for the students and families of Hughson,” he said. “It will be great being a part of this team of Hughson Unified.”

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