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Rising to the Challenge
USC Gould School of Law

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

High school principal Angela Harding (MSL 2019), PsyD, used her legal studies education to guide her school through the pandemic.
 
By Larissa Puro
 
If anyone can emerge from a global crisis and view it as a learning opportunity, it’s an educator. For Angela Harding (MSL 2019), PsyD, principal at Coast High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., the pandemic was a defining moment that not only tested her school’s resilience but led to positive outcomes for both students and teachers. 
 
“This past year the global pandemic has taken us, in almost every sense, outside of our comfort zones, and into our courage zones,” she says. 
 
Harding used her background in education management, as well as her own education in legal studies, to steer her school through each unfolding challenge. Before joining Coast High, a college prep alternative school of choice, in 2016, Harding, who holds a master’s in educational technology and doctorate in psychology, served as an assistant principal at Huntington Beach High School. A career in education interested her because “teaching and learning is all about connection,” she says — and she finds it both challenging and rewarding.
 
Harding chose to pursue a Master of Studies in Law to enhance her expertise in human resources and employment law. “The MSL degree is the perfect complement to an established career that doesn’t involve starting over, but rather, building upon,” she says. And USC Gould’s “sterling reputation,” paired with a strong sense of community and connection appealed to her. 
 
From diplomacy and problem solving to critical thinking and strategy, the skills she developed in the program made her more effective as a school leader, she says. “I’m now further empowered to serve stakeholders in equitable, inclusive and meaningful ways.”
 
The pandemic presented the opportunity to put her education to work. Primary and secondary schools were hit hard, and Coast High was no exception. While the school was fortunate to already have a hybrid online platform in place, the administration had to navigate months of uncertainty and stress. 
 
“Particularly relevant during the pandemic were the skills of active listening and consensus building taught through Employment Mediation,” Harding says. “At its core, the class was really about how to treat people — with warmth, wise compassion, a caring heart and a diplomatic spirit that preserves the dignity of all parties.”
 
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, a few silver linings emerged.
 
Some students, including those who work to help support their families, flourished with the online format’s flexibility. Moving forward, Harding says, the school is exploring a new online-only program, which could offer more opportunities for students to access the curriculum in ways that align with their learning styles and preferences.
 
Harding knows that even in normal times, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. With a pandemic to contend with, the outlook could mean even more lost teachers. To support them, Coast High prioritized their teachers’ training in resilience and strengths-based leadership. 
 
“Rising levels of student stress exacerbated by COVID-19 was negatively impacting student learning, and we needed to equip staff with leading-edge tools to meet student needs during times of prolonged crisis,” Harding says. “Training our staff in the elements of well-being has enabled them to coach and model these skills for students.”
 
Harding is proud of how her school worked through the challenges. “We overcame the ‘politics’ of the public health crisis by modeling the art of civility and mutual respect for divergent viewpoints,” she says, noting the fortitude and growth demonstrated by the school’s students, staff and families. “Kites  rise highest against resistance.”

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