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Dr. Besler departing BR for new education post; staff reflect on school culture legacy

Dr. Amy Besler is leaving her post as Bear River’s principal to become a Director of Secondary Education for Elk Grove Unified School District, the largest school district in Northern California. Photo by Christina Levinson

Leadership drives a community, and as such, this school year marks a changed community at Bear River in the form of a new principal.

For three years, Bear River’s Principal Dr. Amy Besler has been busy developing and implementing our school’s Core Values, interacting and forming relationships with students and staff members, and generally changing Bruin school culture to be more positive and inclusive. As of today, she has announced her resignation. According to Dr. Besler, this was a very difficult decision to make, but one that brings her renewed joy and excitement as she considers the possibilities that lay ahead of her.

“I will be in the role of Director of Secondary Education for Elk Grove Unified School District, which is the largest school district in Northern California…” she said. “I will be assigned to … six schools, which serve almost 10,000 students combined. I will be coaching and supporting the principals and assistant principals, helping guide their instructional programs, and generally supporting their efforts in achieving their goals.”

Looking back on her time at Bear River, Dr. Besler described what goals she’s worked toward.

“When I first arrived at Bear River, it was easy to see that there were a lot of great things going on that just needed a light shined on them,” Dr. Besler said. “Initially, my goal was to improve communication within the organization and with our families and community by celebrating our staff, students, and programs and ensuring that everyone was well-informed, engaged, and connected to what was happening at all times.”

She went on to emphasize yet again the importance of school culture.

“We’ve … created a unified sense of what it means to be a Bruin along with our shared Core Values,” she said. “… I also have seen a shift with our students in terms of their ownership of the school culture and their active voice in what we do, which brings me great joy.”

Library Technician Jessica Dax described what she thinks Dr. Besler has accomplished at Bear River.

“I think school spirit was brought into a bigger arena and brought people together, especially the students,” she said. “The ones that needed a little extra help, she kinda became a Momma Bear to them, so I think that was her biggest accomplishment.”

Spanish Teacher Shawn Mason said something similar, although emphasizing the staff rather than the students.

“I think she kind of pulled all the staff together quite a bit,” he said. “There’s a lot more openness of how decisions are made, and a lot more input on making those decisions.”

Science Teacher Jennifer Weir also mentioned Dr. Besler’s focus on positivity.

“She changed the whole direction of our school,” Mrs. Weir said. “She changed the focus of our school. We’ve focused on improving school culture — she has a saying, of wanting students to be owners, not renters, and I think she helped all of us to focus on that goal and to lead with confidence that a lot of other things would fall into place if we used that as our focus.”

With Dr. Besler being someone the staff clearly thought of as a strong leader, what will the transition be like into new leadership at Bear River?

“Transition is definitely going to be challenging for our principal coming in, when you’ve had such a dynamic principal that has just made so many changes,” said English Teacher Sherlyn Reafsnyder. “The next principal that comes in will want to help keep that momentum going, but at the same time, it’s like a teacher following another teacher, you have to take ownership of it for yourself.”

Ms. Dax also said that she thinks it will be a hard change, but possibly a rewarding one.

“I think it will… I mean, we’ll get through it, we always get through stuff,” she said. “It’ll be difficult just because, you know, she was a strong leader, and it’s the beginning of a new school year, but I look forward to seeing whoever it is, and what the new [principal] will bring.”

Science Teacher Peter Gammelgard said simply that the transition would be, “Like a bowl of ice cream… Rocky road ice cream.”

Dr. Besler said that the Nevada Joint Union High School Distict’s Superintendent Brett McFadden will certainly be seeking the input of staff, students, and parents to make the decision about Bear River’s new principal. She went on to describe what she hopes our new leader will work towards.

“I hope a new principal will continue to emphasize the importance of a safe and connected culture that centers on our shared core values,” she said. “… I think the next phase for Bear River’s leadership is a concerted emphasis on instructional continuity, common assessment, and continued honing of student support and intervention in all aspects.”

Staff members also gave their input on qualities they hope the new principal has.
“I think we’ll look for someone who is welcoming and approachable, and has a lot of energy and has vision for the school,” Ms. Dax said. “Hopefully they’ll build on to what was already accomplished rather than change everything, so build onto the foundation that she’s built.”

“I think that any good leader that comes in first has to spend some time observing, and getting input from people, and not making any major changes right away,” said Mrs. Weir.

Dr. Besler said that as she prepares to leave Bear River, she hopes that she leaves behind a legacy of pride and confidence in the BruiNation.

“This is an incredible place full of amazing people and everyone should be proud to be a part of it,” she said. “I love the culture and values we have developed, and hope those remain strong and grow and develop long into the future. I hope students and staff members continue to feel engaged, supported, connected, challenged, and inspired here, and that our parents continue to feel meaningfully connected in what we do.”

As a last note, Dr. Besler thanked all Bruins past and present for the love they have shown her during the past three years.

“This has been the very best job I have ever had and I am so blessed to have built the relationships I’ve built with so many great people, including staff, students, and families,” Dr. Besler said. “I will deeply miss everyone at Bear River, and will be cheering you all on from afar. Thank you all for the love, support, and kindness you have unfailingly shown me; I am a better person for knowing each of you and having had this incredible experience at Bear River.”

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Dr. Besler departing BR for new education post; staff reflect on school culture legacy