CUSD profiles: new Chaparral Principal Julie Pak
by Andrew Alonzo | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s going to be a year of firsts for Chino resident Julie Pak, the new principal at Chaparral Elementary School.
The longtime Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District employee is not only beginning her first job as principal, but is doing so outside her former district for the first time in her career.
“I loved my previous school and district,” Pak said. “I built so much over the 20 years that I was there. But I just really felt ready for a new challenge.
“Claremont as a district, their core values of excellence, equity, innovation, and integrity just really spoke to me. Making the leap to just even apply was easy because I felt like I could align myself to the vision and mission of this district.”
Pak succeeds longtime principal Anne O’Connor, now Claremont Unified School District’s human resources and risk management director.
“She’s been amazing helping with the transition too, so I’m so grateful,” Pak said. “I’m so excited that I can join this community and this team and be a part of that.”
While Pak is sure to inject new energy and life to the school, she plans to spend year one getting a lay of the land. “I just want to learn all about Chaparral,” she said.
Asked what the Roadrunners can expect from their new leader, Pak told an anecdote from a recent transitional kindergarten and kinder story time. After she introduced herself, Pak asked the creative minds of four- and five-year-olds what a school principal does. Answers varied between being the boss, president, and queen of the school.
“I love all of those responses,” she told the kids. “But what I explained to them was that a principal is the leader of a school. And what a good leader does is takes care of everyone.”
In accordance, she said her goal as head of Chaparral is to “lead by serving.”
“I want to be a servant leader and I’m committed to working closely with our students, our staff and our community, and collaboratively. I just want to help make Chaparral a school where students grow and thrive,” she said.
Prior to CUSD, Pak taught kindergarten, second, third and some fifth grade students at Glenview Elementary School in Anaheim. She was also an instructional coach at Glenview’s dual language academy and its teacher on special assignment before moving into an assistant principal role.
From the classroom to administration, Pak said her journey to a leadership role was rather natural.
“It was very, just kind of organic growth,” she said. “I never really thought that I would go into administration when I started off as a teacher. I love being in the classroom, I love being with students, but it was just the right people pouring into me, seeing potential and leadership qualities and giving me different opportunities to serve in leadership positions. And so here I am.”
Born and raised in Spain, Pak completed her elementary school education there before her family moved to Fullerton, California when she was 11. In Fullerton, she attended Parks Junior High before graduating from Sunny Hills High School in 1995.
While at SHHS, Pak said her advanced placement English III and IV teacher, Mrs. Fyne, was instrumental in shaping her educational path.
“When I moved to the states my English wasn’t bad at all, I just wasn’t confident in it,” she said. “I always felt like I was an English learner and I wasn’t quite ready to do what other students were doing. I was always afraid that I was missing something or might not understand something. But when I got to high school, that teacher really poured into me, grew me as a writer and gave me the confidence that I needed to really shine and to know that I can do this.
“I think me being able to go to college — to a four-year university — she had a big part in that.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego, in 1999, Pak traveled to China with an education group to teach English to college students.
“The plan was to teach university students, live in the dorms with them, and learn a little bit of their culture and language while we were teaching them English,” she said. “But when our team got there, they asked for volunteers to teach at the [adjacent] international school.”
There she taught professors’ children and found her calling.
“I found that I really, really loved teaching children and I loved interacting with them and learning from them,” she said.
Her peers on the trip noticed Pak’s educational spark and pushed her to pursue instruction for children. When she returned to the states, she enrolled in a teaching credential program at California State University, Fullerton, and completed it in 2002. In May 2021, she graduated from Hope International University with a master’s degree in educational administration and preliminary administrative services credential.
Pak enjoys hiking, trying new restaurants and spending time with her husband of 20 years, Tommy Pak, who is an intermediate school math teacher, their daughter Maia, son J.J., and their dog Kodi.
“Anything that we can do together that’s where you’ll find me, with my family,” she said.