Laguna Beach USD taps new elementary school principals

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TOW Elementary principal Julie Hatchel. Courtesy of Laguna Beach USD

Both Laguna Beach elementary schools will get new principals in the coming months following the retirement of El Morro Elementary Principal Chris Duddy, district officials announced April 22.

Julie Hatchel, principal of Top of the World Elementary School, will take the helm at El Morro. Thurston Middle School Assistant Principal Megan Schooler will be the new TOW principal in time for the 2022-23 school year.

Schooler and Hatchel will work together during the next four months to ensure a smooth administration transition at TOW, district officials said in a press release. Schooler’s appointment will be brought to the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education for approval in May.

Meghan Schooler is the incoming principal of Top of the World Elementary. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Unified School District

After 24 years of service to the Laguna Beach schools community, Duddy will depart on June 30. In 1998, he was first hired by the district as a Thurston Middle School assistant principal. He was promoted to principal of the school site in 2001 and worked there until taking his current role at El Morro for the 2004-05 school year.

“Getting to know the students is what I’ve loved the most. Some the students I met at Thurston, their kids now go to El Morro. So it’s kind of this full circle and feels like I’ve been a part of their family,” Duddy said in a phone interview.

El Morro Elementary Principal Chris Duddy. Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Unified School District.

Over his more than two decades as a school administrator, Duddy has traveled to schools throughout Orange County and other states and he can’t think of a better place to work than overseeing an annual average of 500 students and 60 staff members at El Morro.

“For the most part, everyone is happy to be here. It has a calm and enjoyment at El Morro that I drive satisfaction from,” Duddy said.

The last two years have been a tumultuous period for the Laguna Beach Unified School District as school principals have attempted to navigate an unprecedented pandemic that closed campuses to students and pushed learning online for months. Duddy acknowledged this was a stressful time for everyone juggling home-based schooling and work schedules. In October 2020, many El Morro and TOW elementary school parents were elated to have their students back in classrooms.

Julie Warnsdorfer was elected El Morro PTA Board president in March 2020 and said she wouldn’t have run for reelection without Duddy’s steady hand and deep knowledge of the district.

“For us, these past two years we’ve basically had to reinvent the wheel and start things from scratch but still make things fun for the students and teachers and help them forget about the world around them,” Warnsdorfer

Warnsdorfer is continuously impressed by Duddy’s ability to know every El Morro student by their name.

“I’m very sad to see him go but I’m excited for him because of what he’s gone through with everyone in this industry and the district. It’s been tough but you would never know based on how he acts,” Warnsdorfer said.

The unpredictability of being a school principal makes the job exciting, Duddy said. He’s grateful for the opportunity to work in Laguna Beach and how it’s helped him grow as a person.

“I certainly could not have made it this far without the support of all the teachers, staff, and nurses. Their support has been invaluable to the success of the school,” Duddy said.

Duddy plans to spend time with family and travel this summer in the Midwest. Eventually, he would like to reengage his passion for the environment and education.

“I am pleased to hear that a seasoned and skilled leader such as Dr. Hatchel would fill the role of principal at El Morro Elementary School,” Sara Hopper, president of the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association, said in a press release. “She made a thoughtful decision that will benefit the teachers and students at El Morro Elementary School bringing with her a wealth of knowledge, good-heartedness, and a great sense of humor. I also applaud the district for promoting from within by naming Megan Schooler presently assistant principal at TMS to principal at Top of the World Elementary School.”

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