Pacific Community Charter School Announces Retirements and New Leadership

The Pacific Community Charter School (PCCS) will be moving into the new decade with new leadership as Directors Sigrid Hillscan and Yolanda Highhouse retire. The school is pleased to announce that the positions have been filled by highly qualified, local applicants; Jennifer Ketring as Executive Director, Todd Orenick as K-8 Director, and Michele Taylor-Jones as the High School Director.

The school has been a labor-of-love for Sigrid Hillscan since she joined other enthusiastic parents on the Formation Committee of the school in 1998. Once the charter was approved by the Arena Union Elementary School District Board in April of 1999, she served on the school’s first Governance Council. Sigrid and her family spearheaded the renovation of the K-8 Site, 10 Lake Street in Point Arena, readying the school for on-site instruction in September of that year. Soon after the school opened, she was hired as a classroom aide, later holding the position of Resource Manager, in which she arranged field studies, supported volunteers, represented the school on the District Safety Committee, and other varied tasks around the school. After five years, and the school’s first charter renewal, she became the Director of the K-8 site, with K-12 school responsibilities shared with a Management Team. For the past three years she has also held the position of Management Team Chair. In this position she has had the honor of being the primary contact with the Point Arena Schools’ District. Sigrid is best known for her commitment to hands-on and project-based learning, using field-studies for real-world experiential learning, and supporting the social-emotional health of students.

Yolanda Highhouse moved to this community in 2002 to develop and open the Pacific Community Charter High School (PCCHS). With the support and dedication of a group of parents, she developed a program based on Passages; an individualized course of student designed projects that reflect the interests and goals of each student. Working simultaneously as the English teacher and with few resources, she made the high school a reality, which opened that fall. One classroom, with borrowed tables and chairs gradually became two fully furnished classrooms, including a living room style area for small group meetings; a frequently-mentioned favorite of all students. Yolanda worked cooperatively with the District and Point Arena High School (PAHS) administration, teachers and staff to allow PCCHS students to take courses at PAHS, and PAHS students to take courses at PCCHS. This relationship has provided a broader range of classes and scheduling options for students from both sites. During her time at PCCHS, Yolanda has expanded course offerings at PCCHS to include all a-g college entrance courses, AP Art, AP US History, and AP Literature and Composition. A hybrid on-line/classroom-based program has allowed students to complete courses in Algebra, Biology, and languages other than English. Yolanda is most proud of PCCHS’s history in WASC accreditation. Accredited since 2008, last year PCCHS earned a six-year accreditation status with a mid-cycle report, which is awarded only to schools that show “compelling evidence that the school needs little, if any, additional support for high-quality student learning.”

Jennifer Ketring has been living in Point Arena since 2001 when she moved here with her husband, Ben Duggan, to apprentice at Oz Farm. She and her husband eventually purchased land with her in-laws, Jane and Michael Duggan, and built their own farmstead at Windy Hollow Farm. Both of her sons were born in Point Arena and have attended the Pacific Community Charter School since kindergarten (her oldest son is graduating from PCCHS this year and planning to attend UC Santa Cruz in the fall).  Jennifer has been an active parent volunteer at PCCS for the past 13 years helping to organize programs, fundraisers and field studies.

Since 2010 Jennifer has been directing and hosting Windy Hollow Farm Camp. Beginning in 2012 she helped to reshape the Acorn Independent Learning Center, the community organization which preceded and led to the Pacific Community Charter School, into ACORN Partners in Education. As Director of ACORN she has developed and facilitated environmental stewardship and garden-based education programs. In each of these capacities—parent volunteer, Windy Hollow Farm Camp facilitator, and ACORN Director—Jennifer has advocated for and supported experiential learning. She has merged her desire for learning about the world through travel by helping to organize field studies for local students including trips to Washington D.C., San Francisco, Catalina Island and most recently to Todos Santos, Baja for a Sea Turtle Conservation Field Study with high school students. 

She has also worked as a public education consultant with Bay Area environmental nonprofits and public agencies since 2001, and is a founding Board Member of the Friends of Point Arena-Stornetta Lands. Jennifer believes in the school’s vision of “providing challenging curriculum that integrates core academic skills with art and real-world experiences.” In her new role as PCCS Executive Director she looks forward to working with families to provide their children with a school that fosters a strong sense of self and community. 

Todd Orenick has been living and teaching in Point Arena since 2004. He grew up in the midwest, and first moved to the coast after serving for two years as a special education Peace Corps Volunteer in Southern Africa. After living remotely in the mountainous country of Lesotho, Todd quickly fell in love with the Mendocino Coast because of its immense rugged beauty and incredible natural diversity. The eclectic and independent community of Point Arena has been fertile ground for Todd to grow deep roots, and he is proud to call this magical place “home”. 

During his time as a teacher at Pacific Community Charter School, he has taught students from kindergarten through grade eight. Most recently Todd has been teaching first and second grade. Todd is passionate about teaching reading, and creating a classroom community built on respect, communication and compassion. He is committed to meeting each child where they are and helping them acquire the skills and self confidence that they need to thrive in our beautifully complex and ever-changing world. Todd sees his transition to PCCS K-8 Director as a natural next step. As lead teacher, he has worked closely with current Director Sigrid Hillscan, and as the new K-8 Director Todd hopes to continue to foster an environment at PCCS that emphasizes literacy, collaborative learning, arts integration, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. As we face the global unknowns of the Covid-19 pandemic, Todd is working with PCCS teachers to adapt in whatever way necessary to meet the needs of all students and to ensure that school is a safe place for everyone to learn and grow.

In addition to teaching at PCCS, Todd has served on the board of ACORN Partners in Education since 2012. He is an ultra-marathoner and can frequently be spotted training on the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands with the whales and the hawks. Additionally, Todd is an accomplished musician and regularly performs with two different local bands. Todd lives and gardens with his wife, PAHS Agriculture teacher Charlene Rowland.

Michele Taylor-Jones first moved to Point Arena in 2011 from the UK via the state of Georgia, having worked for Michelle Obama's program, The National Children's Health Study as a Spanish bilingual translator. She moved to the coast to teach Art at Point Arena High School. She was born in Cardiff, Wales, and has always traveled, living in San Francisco, California, for the majority of her primary education. After finishing her BA Honors Degree in Art & Spanish from the University of Liverpool, England, she became fluent in Spanish. Sports have also played a key role during studies. She became a qualified volleyball referee for the English Volleyball Association and was the girls’ volleyball captain. Teaching in Spain for the British Consulate and undertaking volunteer work in Central America has helped her adapt to new cultures. Michele went to South Korea and taught English, working closely with the Korean teachers to develop bilingual curriculum. The experience of living and working internationally has broadened her perspective, culturally and educationally. It is from these experiences, Michele learned that working toward personalized education can embody freedom and be inspiring.

Living and teaching in North Africa, Melilla, contributed to her work experience and allowed her to develop management strategies. Undertaking a Post Graduate in Secondary Education, Art and Design from the University of Wales, UK, confirmed her passion for teaching at Masters Level. The practical experience in teaching Art, Spanish & ELD at Point Arena High School and working as an Educational Coordinator at La Vida Charter School in Willits has taught her key skills in professional values and practice. She is passionate about the Passages program at PCCHS and says they are a cornerstone to the school's success, allowing each student to learn through individualized project-based learning. Michele is ready to continue serving the community by joining PCCS as the High School Director.