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By Shawn Raymundo

With Capistrano Unified School District students wrapping up another school year, Esencia K-8 Principal Josh Wellikson is looking forward to introducing the first middle school class this fall and expanding the “Hawk Family.”

The new elementary and middle school opened in the Rancho Mission Viejo community last August, welcoming enrollment for preschool through fifth grade. The school will add a new grade level through the eighth grade.

Looking back, Wellikson considers the school’s first year a success.

“It’s actually been a great success, and I think it’s a testament to the community that we really built this school with the community in mind and the community needs,” he said, noting that that effort began in the year leading up to the school opening, as parents and stakeholders worked together to mold the instruction curriculum.

“Parents felt already involved in the school and connected . . . teachers were able to bring to life what the community wanted to have happen,” he said.

Wellikson, who has about 20 years of experience in education, said one of the biggest things he learned this year was the importance of being transparent and available to staff, students and parents.

“Every decision we make ripples out to all the areas,” he said. “It was important that I made sure I talked to all the different stakeholders and was open to them and transparent to them and give everyone the time to explain why we were doing things.”

As far as coming across any stumbling blocks, Wellikson explained that this first school year was an opportunity for the staff and the community to get to know each other and build what he referred to as the Hawk family.

“I believe in building the Hawk family here,” he said, further explaining, “But no stumbling points that we struggled with. It was just building the Hawk culture here.”

With Esencia’s fifth-graders moving on to the sixth grade, they’ll be at the forefront of the expansion as the school’s first official middle school class – an endeavor Wellikson relishes.

“I’m really excited to build the middle school,” he said. “I’m really excited to see in year two what does the middle school look like in our community because I know what the elementary side looks like; so I’m excited for the middle school to build what the community’s wanted.”

Part of that expansion, Wellikson said, will be continuing the school’s core principles, which he referred to as caring and connecting.

“Caring, connecting is non-negotiable here at the school,” he said. “So, we want to care deeply for each other and care deeply for our children and then connect them to the curriculum, connect them to the community, so it makes them feel involved.”

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