At its Tuesday, April 20 meeting, the Hemet Unified School District (HUSD) board approved one of Idyllwild School’s sixth grade teachers Nicole Picchiottino as the new principal of Idyllwild School effective July 1. Principal Matt Kraemer is retiring.

One of Idyllwild School’s sixth grade teachers Nicole Picchiottino takes on the role as the school’s principal July 1.

“I am here to serve,” Picchiottino said during the interview.

“Nicole is going to be a tremendous replacement for me,” Kraemer said. “I have been working with her to make sure it is a smooth transition.”

“I am eager to connect with our community partners and build those relationships as well,” Picchiottino said. “They are an asset to our school and we couldn’t exist without them.”

Having taught through this last year gives Picchiottino an advantage as she steps into her new role. She knows exactly how teachers have needed to adapt to online and hybrid learning models and the impact it has had on staff and students.

(((APPEND)))“We will be really sensitive to that as a staff,” she explained. “I think we all feel like this is a new baseline and maybe a new platform for growth where there is going to be a new normal. I know that is an overused term, but we can make that as great as we want it to be, which is a beautiful thing because we do have what I would call a fresh start in a lot of ways. That is definitely a positive. You can view it through different lenses, but I choose to view it as a positive.”

“Our district is very focused on equity,” Picchiottino said. “That is something I know has been a focus for quite some time. Do I know all the ins and outs of that yet? I don’t. I can just say that as a school, we take those things very seriously and I will cross that bridge when that time comes. If instances do arise, we are very sensitive to that. I can’t speak to individual situations because that is not my place. I think it is important every school has a plan in place and has a system and structures in place to address those issues.

“When you think about equity, you think about all kids,” she said. She went on to discuss all the things that arise in schools — racism, socioeconomics, students who struggle with learning and mental health. “It is important we are communicating inclusivity. We can make it clear what our expectations are here at school and then we just have to handle each particular case.”

Picchiottino started teaching at Idyllwild School three years ago and has spent her career with HUSD.

“I was a principal before in Hemet,” she said. “I was actually an administrator for seven years. I just thought, you know, it was the right time for me to come back. I am better prepared now than ever. I love the school. I love the community. I really am excited about the opportunity just to be here. I am super humbled that I have the opportunity, and so when it opened up, I thought, I am just going to go for it and see what happens. It all came to fruition in a really wonderful way.”

She talked about her Idyllwild roots and moving back after some time in Hemet.

“I had worked in Hemet for the last 17/18 years,” she explained. “When I was in seventh grade, we moved to Hemet and I was in Hemet pretty much through my adult life. I had my daughter. She went through school down there. My husband is also native Idyllwildan and we went through school together. We were in kindergarten together. We decided once our daughter moved out — we have always wanted to come back — we moved back up here. I drove off the Hill to teach for a couple of years and then this position opened up for sixth grade, so I have been here for the last three years teaching sixth grade.”

Picchiottino previously taught at Bautista Creek Elementary.

“My father-in-law opened Bautista Creek and was principal there until he retired,” she said. “It’s all in the family.

“It was really wonderful just to start teaching back up here, and then now to move into this role is even more fulfilling. I can’t wait to serve the community and serve the kids and the staff. It’s a really incredible opportunity.”

Her mother also attended Idyllwild School.

“My mom also grew up in the community,” Picchiottino said. “So, my mom went through school here. I also went to elementary school here. I walked the halls and played on campus. It was a really special time and it has really come full circle.”

“I wasn’t a Hillbilly,” she said. “I left at the end of sixth grade and I didn’t finish seventh and eighth grade here. I didn’t get the title. And it is such an honor to be able to hold that title as Hillbilly.” She added, “The kids really cherish that. They really love the honor of being a Hillbilly.”

Picchiottino graduated from Hemet High School. She stayed near home for college and received her bachelor’s and master’s from California State University, San Bernardino.

“The beautiful thing is I am here,” she said regarding her time at Idyllwild School. “I have been here for three years, so I understand the dynamic here at the school. My plan is to carry on the good things that are happening. We have a lot of really great staff, committed teachers and students I am really excited to serve. And you know, it is one of those things you don’t really know until you get in that seat and decide how you are going to proceed. I imagine we will come up with that plan together as a staff as we move forward. As I take the seat, we look at next year. Next year is going to be a very unusual year coming back. We are going to be in recovery and rebound mode, initially. So, that will be our focus, then getting right back to business as soon as we feel like we are ready to do that and try to get back to normal.”

Regarding any plans from the district how next year will go Picchiottino said, “We don’t really have any answers yet. Right now, we are just trying to finish out this year and fill any gaps that we can. We are just so lucky to have the kids back in school. It’s not perfect. We’d love to have them every day and we’d love to have them all but it’s definitely a positive step for them. They are getting back with their friends. They are getting some socialization again and they are in front of a teacher. My role right now is to just continue to focus on student learning and the well-being of my students.”

It is no secret our youth have struggled during the lockdowns and with online/remote learning. Nationwide, mental health issues skyrocketed over the last year.

“They were so excited,” Picchiottino said regarding the demeanor of the students when they first came back to school. “I think I am really fortunate. For sixth grade, we have less than 30 students this year. And so, Miss [Lindsay] Baldwin and I, who care deeply for kids, were both very much in tune to how kids are doing. If we saw some things happening online, we just really tried to embrace those kids. They were all just really happy to be back. There was a sense of relief being able to see their friends, be in the classroom and come to campus. They wish they could be here all week.

“Because we had so few students coming back to in-person we were able to get them all here safely two days [a week],” she explained. “We still have some students online. We have this dance that we do between online and supporting the kids in the classroom, but it works well. It seems to work well.”