Letter to the Editor:
Dr. Pedro Garcia, from USC’s Rossier School of Education, was one of my many professors assigned during my studies while I pursued my goal of attaining a doctoral degree in educational leadership. He later guided me during my dissertation research and writing as Co-Dissertation Chair. Ultimately, I was able to call him a mentor and friend. Sadly, he passed on in 2019.
As my tenure and run in my current district comes to an end, I have reflected much on my hopeful positive impactful time as a public educator. My service as an at-risk teacher shaped me greatly and are times I often miss. School leadership was something that I was suggested to explore in 2005. Ultimately after several stops doing summer school principal sessions, I was given the opportunity to be an assistant principal at the high school in 2007. I proudly served in the roles of assistant principal of discipline, attendance, guidance, and instruction. Those experiences led me to where I am today, as the principal of a great middle school.
I can assure anyone without any hesitation that each professional leadership experience has been greatly influenced by Dr. Garcia.
Why did I hold him in great esteem? He simply taught me to appreciate the role and influence of being a public educator. Most importantly, he taught me to embrace the good fortune of being in position to greatly influence.
Dr. Garcia immigrated to the United States from Cuba when he was 15, one of 14,000 Cuban children relocated through the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s Operation Peter Pan. His parents were both educators. He grew up knowing the value and importance of education. He always mentioned that his mother would say “you can lose everything you own, but no one can take away your education.”
Dr. Garcia lead multiple school districts in the role as Superintendent in the communities of Carpinteria, Corona-Norco and, from 2001-08, Nashville schools, where his efforts to improve equity for the city’s Black students often met fierce resistance.
Dr. Garcia was my mentor and my friend. He is the reason why I wear a bow-tie. It is my homage to him and my reminder of the importance of my role in service leadership in the field of public education.
But this writing is not just about honoring a great man, it is about a call to all and challenge to change our mindset on public education. We are in a current state of affairs where I believe and see that our public education field is not respected and valued as it should be.
My reference to Dr. Garcia is important and here is the reason. He is still mentoring me. Of the many phone calls, lunches or visits to his leadership classes at USC, I remember him always
saying “nothing can be accomplished in education unless we remember that we need to put kids first, we need to put people first before policies. We need to remember that the success of any school community and school district is driven by people. Relationships matter. How faculty, support staff, parents, community members, and most importantly, how students are made to feel, is paramount!’
In my opinion and perception, we aren’t here. Covid-19 and distance learning exacerbated the disconnect that I see and feel. We need to do better. We can do better.
United States Secretary of Education Cardona recently stated in his Vision for Education in America, “Our task is not only to improve our education system from where it was before the pandemic, but also to take bolder action to elevate it to lead the world.”
Our teachers and support staff, need the respect and admiration they are owed. Each teacher has made a commitment to this field that we all know is severely underpaid. Each support staff member has equally made the commitment to be at a school community or district office department to contribute to the success of learners. They deserve the same amount of respect and dignity. In my opinion, each working employee at a school deserves a raise in compensation. This area is not in our control. However, we are in control of how we treat each other, how we respect each other, how we listen to each other, how we value each other and, most importantly, how we are genuinely are involved in the education process. Without this, we will never be able to fully maximize our efforts for all our students.
Secretary Cardona stated, “this is our moment to lift our students, our education system, and our country to a level never before seen.” I want to go beyond that and remind everyone that the only way we can accomplish this is to humanize our efforts. It starts with respectful relationships.
I challenge all to change their mindset and perception on public education. If you are a current positive partner, thank you. If not, please reflect and change your mindset. Our public education system has been subject to hostility and disrespect. We can do better. If you are in a position of doubt or need answers, we are here to meet and discuss how to work together. At the current school I am at, we have expectations of our learners to follow our school’s core values of respect, excellence, and, community. We hold ourselves accountable to those values as well. We respectfully expect our parents and community members to adhere to the same core values. We fully acknowledge that school communities are not perfect and there will be challenging moments.
We should be able to exist in a space of respectful accountability. We are open, and in fact, embrace feedback. However, respectful accountability should work both ways. I urge you to positively engage in your school communities. Get involved in PTSA, join School Site Councils, participate in district committees, watch/attend school board meetings, be a part of the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), advocate for local and state legislative changes, or simply just be partners with your school communities.
The work that teachers do is critical to the success of society. The work that support staff members do is important. The work that principals and assistant principals do is important. They all positively contribute for all our students. We want them all to succeed.
Dr. Garcia reminded me quite often: “You make your living by serving students, teachers, parents, district officials, and community members, but your profession is humanity.”
Let’s all partner together.
Oscar Macias, Ed.D.
Principal, Luther Burbank Middle School