New principal dons Viking helmet, brings experience to Vista
While new Vista del Valle principal Brad Cuff has a full plate getting up to speed, there’s one thing he doesn’t have to worry about: the commute.
Mr. Cuff, a longtime Claremonter, only has to drive about five minutes to get to his job. His roots run deep—at Vista, at the Claremont Unified School District and in the community at large.
His story started a bit further north. Mr. Cuff was born in Montana and was raised in a tiny town called Deer Lodge, which boasted a population of only 5,000. When he was 17, his family moved to California, settling in Montclair.
Mr. Cuff didn’t get the typical school administrator’s start. He wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about school when he was younger and, on graduating from high school, he entered the workforce.
He spent some time working in the food and retail industries and married his wife Sharon, a Claremont High School graduate, when they were quite young. The couple moved to Washington state where they welcomed two children and bought a house before deciding they wanted to go to college.
They moved back to California and Mr. Cuff attended Riverside Community College and UC Riverside. He began a long foray into education and taught fifth and sixth grades at Vista from 1993 to 1999, which at the time was under the leadership of then-principal Lea Yeager.
After leaving Vista, he again headed north, albeit only slightly. He got an offer to teach junior high at Mt. Baldy School, with his students ranging from sixth through eighth graders. Being a science and nature buff, he couldn’t resist the chance to try his hand at a school with a pond and a majestic mountain view just outside the classroom.
“I’ve never been in a classroom that had its own fireplace,” he said. “The kids would come in and say, can I light the fireplace? And I’d say, you know where the matches are.”
During his time at Baldy, Mr. Cuff threw himself into the job. One of his especially creative endeavors even made it into the 2011 book, The Instructional Leader and the Brain: Using Neuroscience to Inform Practice, as an example of “Authenticity in the Classroom.”
“I once watched as a group of seventh graders from Brad Cuff’s history class in Mt. Baldy, California created a ‘dig’ for third and fourth graders after creating their own civilization, complete with an economy, a political system, religion, and so forth,” author Margaret Glick wrote. “Engagement during this process was off the charts.”
Mr. Cuff next moved to the Upland Unified School District, where he spent nine years as an administrator at the elementary, junior high and high school levels. His most recent post was principal of Monte Vista Elementary School in the Mt. View District.
Mr. Cuff wasn’t actively looking for a new job. However, when it came to light toward the end of the school year that Vista principal Dave Stewart was leaving, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to lead the team at a school he loves and in the place he lives.
Mr. Cuff emphasized how much he enjoyed his first tenure at Vista. “It was one of those situations where you find a place that feels really good,” he said. “It feels like home.”
It should be noted that his kids, Brandon and Brittany—the latter of whom is a math teacher at Claremont High School—also attended Vista. It makes for a full-circle experience that gives true meaning to the school’s motto, “Once a Viking, always a Viking.”
Mr. Cuff has two main priorities as he embarks on his new job. He plans to throw his support behind the programs already in effect at the school. The AVID college-readiness program, which this year will be offered to all students beginning in third grade, is one of these. “I think it’s great,” he said. “There’s a lot of research behind AVID that shows its long-term success.”
Project Champion—a running program initiated by Mr. Stewart in conjunction with The Brian Clay Foundation—will likely no longer be in effect because the school’s participation was anchored in the former principal’s friendship with the Olympian. However, Vista will still have a 100-mile club encouraging kids to get fit while striving for rewards such as T-shirts and medals.
Mr. Cuff will also have another focus right off the bat: Cultivating strong relationships with his staff, the students and Vista families.
Mr. Cuff has spent most of his adult life in education and, nowadays, most of his reading revolves around teaching and school leadership. He does, however, occasionally turn his attention to other matters. These include spending time with his family, especially his one-month-old grandson, who recently made him a first-time grandpa. He also enjoys woodworking in his garage workshop. Two wooden clocks he’s made over the years grace his Vista office.
There’s another cool conversation piece in Mr. Cuff’s new digs. Two pictures sit side-by-side in a frame, both featuring the “school bus” his paternal grandfather used to drive. His mom grew up in Minnesota, and her dad used to pick up a group of kids each morning via a horse-drawn wagon.
In the winter, the wheels were removed and runners were installed to help the wagon glide through the snow. During the bitter winters, the passengers’ feet were kept warm via hot coals placed in a metal box in the wagon’s floorboards.
Mr. Cuff is clearly fond of history, but he’s also embracing his future as one of CUSD’s newest administrators. Needless to say, Mr. Cuff is a fan of the local elementary school.
“Vista has always met the needs of the community it serves. That was a focus of Lea’s, and it has continued,” he said.