New principal brings a little fairy dust to Sumner

Students stopping by Kristin Robinson’s office are greeted by a drawing of Tinker Bell, which hangs behind the new Sumner Elementary School principal’s desk.

Ms. Robinson, who will participate in the Disney sponsored Tinker Bell half-marathon in January—joining a throng running 13 miles in green tutus—has amassed quite a collection of memorabilia commemorating the mischievous character.

Ms. Robinson’s fairy fixation stems from her nickname, “Tinker Bell,” a moniker referring to her penchant for styling her blonde hair in a pixie-like updo and another shared attribute.

“I can be feisty,” she said.

Ms. Robinson hails from the Chino Unified School District, where she most recently helmed Oak Ridge Elementary School. Before that, she was principal of Hidden Trails Elementary School.

Ms. Robinson was fond of her staff and the children at her last district, but is happy to have found a place in the Claremont Unified School District.

Her belief in Claremont’s “child-centered philosophy” is so strong that her children were attending Claremont schools before she was asked to join the district. Her daughter Kylie, 12, heads to El Roble Intermediate School this year while her son, Donovan, will be a sophomore at Claremont High School.

“Children are my number-one priority,” she said. “I love Claremont’s focus on the whole child—on their social, emotional and academic needs.”

Ms. Robinson, who grew up in Glendora and attended Charter Oak High School, was aware of her passion for guiding children early on. By the time she was 15, she was working with students at the Foothill Christian Preschool, which she attended as a child.

Ms. Robinson, completed her undergraduate studies at Cal Poly Pomona, where she ran on the track team. She went on to earn her master’s and Tier I credential at Azusa Pacific University and her Tier 2 credential at the University of La Verne.

Ms. Robinson always knew she wanted to be a teacher, perhaps because both of her parents, now retired, were educators. Her advancement to administration, however, has been an unexpected development.

“I was asked to be on this committee and that committee, and then asked to be in various lower levels of administration,” she said. “I was encouraged by mentors to keep going up and keep growing and going back to school.”

She has big shoes to fill, Ms. Robinson said. The staff still misses Frank D’Emilio, the former Sumner Principal who was replaced by Ms. Robinson.

“He was an all-around great administrator,” she said. “But the staff is very positive about the next step, moving forward for the kids. There’s not a negative thing coming out of them.”

This kind of positivity is appropriate, considering the school’s credo, “Be kind. Be responsible. Be the best you can be,” which is painted in large letters over the wall in the office.

Ms. Robinson believes that being a great administrator starts with accessibility. She wants students to stop by as often as possible, and hopes to develop a number of reasons for them to visit besides disciplinary action.

“I have an open-door policy—I drop all work when a child stops by my office,” Ms. Robinson said. “If they come to see me, there must be a reason.”

Along with Tinker Bell schwag, students who come to Ms. Robinson’s office will also see a few plush Eeyores because the down-at-the-mouth donkey from Winnie the Pooh is her other favorite Disney character.

“He’s always losing his tail and he needs a hug—he reminds me of my students sometimes,” she said. “They just need a pick-me-up. My passion is taking care of people who can’t advocate for themselves, who need your help.”

This includes a dedication to providing a nurturing environment for special education students. Ms. Robinson said she is delighted to be at a shared campus that collaborates daily with the special education school Danbury. 

“I love that Sumner welcomes kids with special needs into classes,” she said. “I really like working with special education students and making them feel as normal as possible in their day.”

While at work, Ms. Robinson is all about continuing the policies that have made Sumner a California Distinguished School.

“We will continue to close the achievement gap and differentiate for all students,” she said. “We want to challenge our students to their full potential.”

While at home, her focus shifts to that of a very active mom.

The Robinsons are an athletic family. While in his native country of Panama, her husband Dario, a police lieutenant in San Bernardino, qualified for the 1994 Olympics in track. Unfortunately, Panama ended up forgoing the Olympics that year. He later ran with the Goldwyn Track Club. Ms. Robinson, an admitted “medal junkie,” most recently finished the Beach Cities half-marathon.

“I believe physical fitness is important,” she said. “It’s been proven to help brain activity, to help with learning and confidence.”

Her son is involved in basketball, football and volleyball, and her daughter plays club volleyball. This summer, Ms. Robinson accompanied her daughter to Columbus, Ohio, where she competed with the Junior National 12 team in volleyball. Mr. Robinson traveled to Dallas, Texas in order to cheer on their son, who made the Junior National 14 team.

The Robinsons also regularly head for a workout at L.A. Fitness in Upland, and spend a lot of time biking and walking.

“The Wilderness Trail loop is my favorite—it’s a killer,” Ms. Robinson said.

When the family needs to refuel, they enjoy indulging in Panamanian foods, prepared by Mr. Robinson who “is a really good cook.” Favorite fare includes plantain, yucca, rice with beans, and chicken and pork dishes.

The Robinsons have had the opportunity to travel to Panama 3 times with their children. One time, they spent a day with the Embera tribe, sharing in native cultural traditions like jewelry-making, cooking and a nature hike where they encountered lounging alligators and turtles.”

“They love Panama,” Ms. Robinson said. “They have a gorgeous rainforest and it’s very beautiful.”

School administration is no vacation. There will likely be a considerable amount of change in the coming years, as CUSD and other California districts move away from the testing-centric policies of No Child Left Behind to the Core Curriculum, which educators hope will encourage greater critical thinking. Ms. Robinson said she is ready for any new developments.

“Education has for years dealt with the pendulum shifting. That’s part of education—it’s very political,” she said. “We continue to change with the needs of the kids. I don’t think change will ever go away in education.”

—Sarah Torribio


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