Leading With Vision and Aloha: Meet Tamalpais High’s New Principal, Dr. Kimberly Clissold PH.D.

Photo by Cameron Cressman



By Alexandra Fee

Hailing from Honolulu on the beautiful island of O’ahu, Dr. Clissold’s roots are entrenched in a heritage deeply woven with a passion for education. Raised amidst the splendor of O’ahu’s Hawaii Kai neighborhood, Dr. Clissold’s background from both sides of her parents emphasized the significance of learning and community. In the 1950’s and 1960s, the Clissolds were active members of the Mormon Church, including Dr. Clissold’s great-great grandfather, her great-uncle and his brother. There is a beach in Laie on O’ahu locally referred to as Clissold’s Beach, which is one of the first beach estates built at Laniloa by Dr. Clissold’s great-uncle in 1951. On both sides of the family, education was seen as important to contributing to the community and your ‘ohana’ or family. A defining pattern emerged across generations on her mother’s side, with many family members engaging with schools, either as educators or within school related roles. With a lineage of teachers and education enthusiasts, her upbringing instilled in her a profound appreciation for the transformative power of knowledge.

However, Dr. Clissold’s path is not without hurdles. She bravely confronted dyslexia, a challenge that colors her education experience even today. In an era when special education was still finding its footing, she navigated a system that often misunderstood her potential. The model in education at that time was to pull kids out, so for most of her early childhood education she was not in a general education classroom, except for small bouts of time here and there. She missed out on much of the knowledge that students in a typical educational setting were acquiring, consistently lagging behind and encountering challenges across various subjects and levels. Many, including her teachers, regarded her as being comparatively slow and lacking capability. She remembered catching faint murmurs, suggesting that perhaps she wouldn’t be destined for college. Fortunately, her mother firmly objected, asking rather pointedly why she couldn’t just be held back for a year. Despite the struggles, her mothers relentless support and the dedication of teachers who were willing to invest time in her, proved to be the catalyst for change and learning.

With determination and resilience, Dr. Clissold persevered, embracing her learning style, and discovering innovative ways to access and process information. However, her math and reading test scores consistently remained below standards during elementary and middle school. At this point, her mother made the choice to withdraw her from the public school system, and instead, enrolled her in Star of the Sea, a private school, hoping more time to develop would help. Following a meeting with the then head of the school, Sister Rose Merriman, Dr. Clissold passionately expressed her desire for a college education. Reflecting on her efforts to bridge the gaps in her learning journey, she recounted how Sister Rose took a daring leap of faith by believing in her potential,”I was lucky enough to have educators that were willing to spend time with me and take a chance on me.” She repeated sixth grade, and then the pivotal moment came when she achieved her first “A” on a test, igniting a fire within her to conquer her academic limitations. Dr. Clissold’s emotions were tangible as she recalled that moment with clarity, the day she earned her very first “A”. Her teacher left an indelible mark on her, instilling in her the belief that she was capable. These formative years solidified her commitment to education and prompted her on her journey of rewiring her thought processes, and discovering how she could effectively assimilate the information she took in. After facing bullying, coupled with her dyslexia and her deeply introverted nature, she transitioned from Star of the Sea to St. Francis, a small all-girls school. At St. Francis, she discovered a more harmonious environment, characterized by exceptional educators who were willing to invest in her potential. She’ll never forget how her sophomore English teacher, Ms. Darrow, allowed her to continually revise her essays. Ultimately, her mother and high school counselor took a proactive step, contacting the University of Hawaii and advocating for her admission, despite her modest SAT scores, and 3.4 GPA. This effort led her to secure a place at the University of Hawaii, albeit under academic probation.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Dr. Clissold nurtured a fervor for sports. During her early school years, she began with swimming, later transitioning to soccer and softball. As she progressed to middle school, her interests shifted towards volleyball and basketball. She played varsity basketball and volleyball for four years in high school. After playing on the St. Francis volleyball team, which had three coaches in four years, and never having won a single set in those four years, Dr. Clissold ventured into the realm of collegiate athletics by attempting to walk-on the University of Hawaii volleyball team. Two of the eight walk-on’s survived, Dr. Clissold, being one of them! She found herself playing and training amongst blue-chip athletes, but embraced her role as a determined learner in a gym filled with experts. She approached it with openness, used to being the worst in the room, but she didn’t care. “I tried as hard as I could to try and learn what I could learn. When we ran, I went all out. When we were digging and shagging balls, I was picking up all the balls.” Nevertheless, the coach conveyed that while appreciative of her effort, and recognizing her as a valuable contributor, the likelihood of her getting significant playing time remained rather slim. Following a heartfelt conversation with her mother regarding the decision to persist in playing, her mother offered guidance,”If you love it, keep doing it and do it because you love it.” This sparked a fire within Dr. Clissold, propelling her to persevere in her training endeavors while maintaining dedication to both her athletic and academic pursuits.

She diligently hit the books, even after rigorous training sessions, and also played beach volleyball, where she had the privilege of crossing paths with some of her idols, including Karch Kiraly and Janice Opalinski Harrer. Interestingly, fate intervened when Coach Harrer, who had secured her first coaching role at Chaminade University in Honolulu, spotted Dr. Clissold displaying her skills on the beach. Having previously only envisioned herself in the University of Hawaii’s iconic Wahini Green, Coach Harrer recognized Dr. Clissold’s potential and successfully recruited her to don Chaminade’s Silversword uniform as a middle blocker. Coach Harrer’s offer was accompanied by a full scholarship and a starting position – A decision that Dr. Clissold later confessed was among the best choices she had ever made, leading her to secure a spot on the NCAA Regional All-Academic First Team, while graduating with honors, marking an impressive chapter in her journey.
As fate would have it, Chaminade University boasted an exceptional, educational curriculum. Opting for History as her field of study, Dr. Clissold found this choice instrumental in her growth as a well-rounded scholar. She redshirted her freshman year, then transferred as a sophomore to play three years at Chaminade.

Yet, the pinnacle of her journey arrived when, upon obtaining her bachelor’s degree, successfully completing her student teaching, and obtaining her teaching certificate, her coach invited her to play for an additional year. This afforded her the chance to pursue a master’s degree while still under scholarship. As a result, she graduated from Chaminade with almost zero debt and a masters degree, a great springboard for her to launch her career.
Following several years of teaching Hawaiian and World History in the classroom, as well as serving as the Student Government Advisor, Dr. Clissold was asked to take on the role of Dean at Sacred Heart Academy, encompassing both middle school and high school levels in Honolulu. This marked the beginning of her administrative journey. Notably, even during her inaugural years as an educator, Dr. Clissold managed to earn a black belt in Taekwondo in two years, showcasing her determination and dedication outside the classroom as well.
After serving as a Dean for several years, her passion for pushing herself academically became clear – Her Decision to pursue her Ph.D. at University of Hawaii. She felt like if she could push herself to that pinnacle, it would be incredibly valuable to her becoming an effective educator. She initially gravitated towards law, but quickly fell in love with educational policy, at which point she made a conscious decision to look at policy in theory – “to see how we can make it work directly on site.”
In October of 2005, Dr. Clissold applied for a History teaching position at a public high school in Honolulu similar to Tam and Redwood, thinking she would likely start the following fall, however, (no surprise to us), the school wanted her to start on the spot, but she was able to lobby for a January start, all while taking four graduate school classes as she worked to complete her Ph.D. while still teaching History.

Dr. Clissold and wife, Dallas

At one point, Dr. Clissold tore her Achilles tendon playing in a pick-up basketball which derailed her for nearly six months. Once her tendon healed, she and a fellow social science teacher, who was on sabbatical completing a project centered on UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites traveled extensively throughout much of Europe. In eight months Dr. Clissold tagged along to visit nearly 70 UNESCO world heritage sites throughout Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and the UK, while writing her dissertation. Her undying commitment culminated in the successful completion of her dissertation, focused on educational policy pertaining to schools in Hawaii undergoing the implementation of their International Baccalaureate programs. After traveling for so long, unsure if she wanted to return to Hawaii, she landed in Sonoma county where her friend lived at the time. Driving by Santa Rosa High School for the first time, she jokingly said to her friend, “I’ll be Principal there one day!”, which eventually came true after serving as Associate Principal and Vice Principal at neighboring Montgomery High School.
Dr. Clissold and her wife, Dallas, a Santa Rosa native, now reside in Rohnert Park. Dallas currently works in the front office at Santa Rosa High School as a counseling secretary, fulfilling her passion to work with kids. Their blended family includes three children, now 26, 24, 21, and an adorable teacup Yorkie named DJ. Dallas also continues an accomplished career in the cosmetic industry, working as a freelancer with prominent brands in Sephora.

Syvia Mathews, Assistant to the Principal and Dr. Kimberly Clissold.
Dr. Clissold in front of newly painted mural representing Tam Unit¥ by artist, Raylene Gorum.

Meanwhile, Marin has always been on Dr. Clissold’s radar as a district she would love to work in. Drawing parallels between her prior experiences and upbringing, she identifies striking similarities in Marin. Dr. Clissold warmly embraces our community’s passionate and involved ethos, a characteristic close to her heart.

Her profound affection for Marin and Sonoma finds its pinnacle in hiking, particularly the enchanting allure of the towering redwoods. This natural spectacle offers a different facet of nature compared to the Hawaiian beaches she grew up with and where she fondly recalled riding with her motorcycle group, known as Dangerous Curves through the scenic landscapes of O’ahu. When we asked Sylvia Mathews, the assistant, to the principal at Tam, how she would describe what it’s been like working with Dr. Clissold this past month, she quickly responded, “There’s been a great energy, and it feels like we’ve already worked together for a long time!”

Sylvia also told us that Dr. Clissold often gets asked what her vision for the future of Tam is but as Sylvia told us, “She’s here because Tam is already a great school. She’s here to be a part of our Tam community while helping lead future growth.” In the upcoming year, Dr. Clissold’s aspiration is not merely to facilitate the running of the school as principal, but rather to embrace a philosophy of servant leadership in her role to support all of Tam High. She stands on the cusp of a new chapter, poised to contribute her expertise and years of experience to Tam. Drawing from her own beginnings, as a young administrator, she remembered feeling the sentiment of “I’ve got to take charge.” At the threshold of a new chapter, ready to lend her expertise and experience to Tam, she very eloquently expressed to us in her own words.

“The most important thing I can do is realize that I am here to take care of the people that are in my charge and take chances on students, just like the teachers, staff and administrators I had took chances on me.”

Her objective is to persist in her pursuit of being both an instructional collaborator and a guiding presence, all underscored by the spirit of Aloha.