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 Getting to Know SDCOE: Principal Returns to Roots at Davila Day School

Can a challenge be both new and old?

It is for Heidi Lyon, who is returning to her passion for serving students who are deaf and hard of hearing as the new principal of Davila Day School in Chula Vista.

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) operates Davila Day School, which shares a campus with Chula Vista Elementary School District's Vista Square Elementary and serves about 45 students, all of whom are deaf or hard of hearing.

Lyon, who initially joined SDCOE as a principal with Momentum Learning, learned the alphabet in American Sign Language in 8th grade.

"My friend and I learned it from the back of a book on Helen Keller; I thought it was cool," she explained. "It fascinated me that there's this whole other way to communicate."

The Lakeside native attended Granite Hills High School, to take advantage of the school's American Sign Language program. She served as a teacher's assistant there for three years, while in school, and decided she wanted to work with the deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) community.

That led to a bachelor's degree in communicative disorders from San Diego State University and a master's in education of the hearing impaired from Cal State Northridge.

Lyon taught in Los Angeles and Simi Valley before moving to San Diego in 1994 for a teaching position in San Diego Unified.

After completing the Educational Leadership Development Academy at the University of San Diego, fate took her to a familiar place: working with D/HH students. Lyon was offered the principalship at Lafayette, a San Diego Unified elementary school that serves that population.

At first, she was reluctant to take the job at Lafayette because she didn't want to be pigeonholed as someone who only works with students who are deaf and hard of hearing. However, she stayed at the school for five years before moving to a traditional middle school in the district. Under her leadership, the middle school came out of program improvement — one of only three schools in the district to do so, and the only middle school.

Ready for another challenge, Lyon joined Momentum Learning as principal of the metro-area schools. Three years later, former Davila principal Tina Neal retired, leaving a spot on the school's leadership team.

"Coming back here, I made the decision to go back to my special education roots," she said. "And during my time at Momentum Learning, especially, I learned how much students who have some identification of special needs, need that strong advocate, that strong voice."

Under Lyon's leadership, the Davila team — nearly 30 employees ranging from teachers and assistants to audiologists and interpreters — is working to build awareness of the school and to hone an instructional focus.

"It's a wonderful place," she said. "The teachers are so committed. We're working together so that all learners will be engaged in meaningful, language-rich tasks that facilitate the development of both academic and conversational language, empowering them to deepen their understanding across all content areas."

The woman who never wanted to be pigeonholed has found her nest.

"I love elementary school," said Lyon. "I love to see the students make so much growth, and I love getting my hug quota filled every day!"