The Cambrian

Former movie-TV director chosen as Cambria Grammar School principal

Jill Southern is the new principal at Cambria Grammar School.
Jill Southern is the new principal at Cambria Grammar School.

Jill Southern is used to being a movie and television director. Now she’ll be setting the direction for Cambria Grammar School.

Southern, who spent the first seven years of her career in the entertainment industry, will take over from retiring Bob Watt as principal of the school this fall.

She’ll earn $108,311 by starting at Step A on the Grammar School principal pay scale, said Annie Lachance, the district’s chief business official.

Watt, who has been principal of the grammar school since 2011, announced his retirement early this year, and the district began a search process that included two committees of parents and school employees. The choice was narrowed to two candidates, and Southern was the ultimate choice.

“So many things made this opportunity to work at Cambria Grammar School extremely appealing to me, including the close-knit community, the smaller school size and the dedication of the staff to what’s best for kids,” Southern, 45, said. “My main goal in this new position is to work collaboratively with staff to provide all students what they need to achieve academically and socially while continuing to promote a warm, welcoming, joyful, rigorous and inclusive environment.”

Southern comes to Coast Unified after serving for the past six years as principal at Templeton Elementary School, where she’s finishing out the year. Previously, she ran an after-school fine arts program and taught math and engineering classes at the high school and middle school levels.

Her engineering classes included such subjects as rocketry, electronics, data collection and analysis, renewable energy, robotics and hands-on physics.

A good assistant director team organizes for the director all the pieces he/she needs to create a great film. I embrace a lot of that as a school principal.

Jill Southern, new Cambria Grammar School principal

Southern received her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Cal Poly, with a minor in theater.

Before entering the field of education, she served as an assistant director in movies and television.

“Education has always been a career path I planned to make,” she said. “The element of helping my community was missing for me when I worked in film. In early 2002, the television show I was working on got canceled. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and my husband and I had an investment home in Los Osos, which we soon moved into. This proved to be the perfect time to return to the Central Coast and back to Cal Poly for my education studies.”

Southern worked with Sony Pictures, Paramount, Warner Bros., Dreamworks, Touchstone and Disney on projects including “Jerry Maguire,” “E.R.,” “Almost Famous” and “The Truman Show.”

She said that, although the connections between the entertainment industry and education might not be obvious at first glance, “there are an enormous number of crossover skills.”

“As an assistant director, much of your job involves scheduling and organizing a film shoot, which includes making sure all your elements (film crew, equipment, etc.) are where they are supposed to be so each day runs smoothly and effectively,” she said. “A good assistant director team organizes for the director all the pieces he/she needs to create a great film. I embrace a lot of that as a school principal.

“The ‘directors’ who create most of the magic for our students in our classrooms are the teachers and staff. If the teachers and staff are properly informed and armed with the curriculum, training, collaborative experiences, feedback and materials they need (what I view as a big part of the principal’s job), staff can provide all students what they need.”

Members of our interview teams were especially impressed by her passion for data-driven decision making ...

Vicki Schumacher, Coast Unified School District superintendent

Southern taught for two years at Lucia Mar Unified School District, beginning in 2003, before moving to Templeton Unified in 2005.

“Members of our interview teams were especially impressed by her passion for data-driven decision-making, in collaboration with staff, to support student learning,” said Vicki Schumacher, Coast Unified superintendent. “Additionally, we are looking forward to having our grammar school students experience film making prior to entering our Arts, Multimedia and Entertainment Pathway.”

(The district offers a pair of career pathways: Arts, Multimedia and Education, and Agriculture.)

Southern’s hobbies include jogging, hiking, cooking and playing board games with her family.

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