In the Principal's Office: Secrets of Success

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In the Principal's Office

Secrets of Success

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Vertical Thought (VT): How do choices lead to success or problems in a student's life? What are some of those traps that face students in today's educational setting?

With over four decades of experience in education and administration, Dan Salcedo is principal of the 4,000-student Santa Ana High School in Santa Ana, California. He has been a principal for 34 years on the elementary, junior high and high school levels. Mr. Salcedo is the winner of the 2003 Vision for Excellence Principal Award sponsored by Project Tomorrow: Enhancing Science Education and is also a United Church of God elder serving in the Garden Grove, CA, congregation.

Mr. Salcedo: We understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to live. Students who choose things that are not in their best interest are going to have problems in achieving success in life and in school. These problems will occur sooner or later.

The girl-boy relationships, of course, are always a challenge. Peer pressure is tremendous in schools in this day and age. It seems that students often get into cliques or into groups where those particular friends aren't the best. I'm not just describing young people who are doing drugs and all that, but normal, average kids who, when it comes to the pressures of living, pull their friends the wrong way.

That influence is sometimes very, very subtle. I have seen many students in my career who have the potential of doing very well but find it difficult to focus on what they should be doing. They end up allowing the peer pressure to take them elsewhere. By this I mean drugs, gangs, pregnancy, etc.

VT : How would you define success in school and in life?

Mr. Salcedo: Success can be looked at in different ways. I'll answer it this way. I have observed some young people who have actually been at the top of their class, but when one tries to get to know them it is difficult to communicate with them. They appear to withdraw and don't seem to want to converse or to become friends with others. They find it difficult to give of themselves to a formal conversation. That is sad because they could really share their talents and successes with others and become outstanding examples and leaders in the school.

Grades can be important for successful students, but there is more to success than good grades. Some questions to ask could be: How do students behave themselves in a school setting? What are their values, their manners? Do they display confidence in how they speak and show respect to their fellow students, especially the guys with gals? How mature are they with adults or with their peers?

I believe that students who understand how to live positive lives in a school setting, regardless of whether they score at the top of their class, can also be successful. These students have solid moral values and avoid the negative approach to living. They do not use the profanity that is so common, or the vulgar jokes, or the put-downs of others.

I have had the privilege of becoming acquainted with young people who are so-called "average" students, but as I have gotten to really know them, I have found them to be mature, positive and happy people who may struggle in their classes, but perform to the best of their ability. They may have a hard time understanding the difficult concepts of the subject matter. However, they work hard and still pass their classes. I respect these students very much. They are polite, well mannered and confident in dealing with adults.

Of course, I have also met many young people who are at the top of the class and also have developed these mature and positive skills of living. These young people are bright student leaders and intelligent and humble high school students. It is obvious that they have learned many of these positive values at home from their parents, and that speaks very well of how they live at home. These students are on their way to success in the academic world.

Solid moral and positive conduct in a school, in a business or in any organization does eventually lead to a successful person. As we know, God places a lot of emphasis on people living their lives with the positive values of good behavior. That is an area that I believe is extremely important for all young people to understand and to value in relationships with other people.

VT : What choices did you make as a young person that led you to where you are today?

Mr. Salcedo: I grew up in a home of six sisters and three brothers—10 children. We lived in a loving home filled with children and young people throughout my young life, and I am grateful that our parents were loving parents who cared deeply for their children. They placed great emphasis on developing good manners, high moral values, a love for God and His way of life and a love for our parents and for one another. We developed the skills we needed to work and get along with one another. To this day, my family of siblings is still very close.

During my youth, around the eighth and ninth grade, I began to understand deeply the importance of applying great effort to earn good grades in school. I was able to do very well in high school and was accepted at UCLA and, from there, I completed my B.A. at California State University of Los Angeles.

When I started my first job in administration in Santa Ana, I was selected as an assistant principal. I obviously missed being in the classroom, but it wasn't long before I realized that, as an administrator, I could work not only with young people, but also with adults. It didn't take much time to realize that I loved my new line of work with young people and enjoyed immensely the opportunities that I was being given.

I believe that the more a person develops a love for his work, the more he will become motivated to strive toward excellence and quality in fulfilling his responsibilities.

God provides positive principles of living in harmony with one another, whether it is at home with parents, brothers and sisters, or in a school setting. These standards and principles are real, and they work! I believe that it is important that I lead by example in the role that I have been given, which is to be a principal of a large urban high school. This example would of course involve my relationships with students, staff and parents and, without a doubt, my relationship with our loving God.

VT : How can a student successfully balance a social life and an academic life? What is the top priority?

Mr. Salcedo: Young people should enjoy whatever socializing they can fit in, always keeping in mind who they are. Young people who have been taught how to live according to God's way, which involves respect for God's laws and respect for their fellow man (the two major concepts that encompass the Ten Commandments), should make sure that they include God in their lives and strive to obey His law of love. They should also make sure that they respect their parents' advice.

VT : What should a student do to prepare for the challenges of college?

Mr. Salcedo: I believe that it is important for students in high school to focus on placing a high value on a strong work ethic in learning the basic core classes of English, math, science, social studies, the fine arts of music and art, and other electives. They also should be in close communication with their parents, teachers and counselors for advice.

In California, as in most states, students must pass a high school exit exam or they will not graduate from high school. Therefore academics are very important.

A key area in preparing for college is for students to recognize the importance of learning to write academically. Displaying excellent academic writing will help them to become successful students in college.

Students should develop the strong work ethics of good attendance, completing their homework, being actively involved in classroom learning, displaying much respect to their teachers and obeying the rules and guidelines of the school.

High school students should also take speech classes if possible. If they do, they will learn how to speak in front of groups and in classroom settings, which is a skill that is very important at the college and university level.

At our school, we also have what we call a higher education specialist. This person focuses on helping students to prepare for college and university. She is a counseling specialist who understands the academic world and what courses a particular student needs to prepare for college. She also gives valuable advice in how to obtain scholarships for college or university.

Obviously, students would also need to realize how God could fit into their picture to fully understand what true success is. God can be with all students if they seek Him. Students should not leave Him out of their lives. They should ask God for His help and to give them the wisdom to properly conduct themselves in and outside of school. Students should read and study their Bibles, especially the book of Proverbs and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Young people should pray regularly and ask God for His protection and to help and guide them to live according to His will.

I recommend Teenagers: Preparing for the Real World, by Chad Foster, as a good resource for young people to use in successfully planning their transition from high school to college and beyond.

VT : What is your favorite aspect of being an educator?

Mr. Salcedo: I love my work. Every new morning that I get up, I ask God for His guidance, direction and protection through that day. Every day after I arrive at school, I observe our students walking from class to class (thousands of them) excited, enthusiastic, talking and chatting with one another, and I am motivated and thankful that regardless of how I feel, these young people are following through on their responsibilities of school by simply going to their classes and doing what they are supposed to do.

I am blessed to be able to work in such a delightful educational setting with so many young people and teachers, and am grateful for this unique opportunity that I have been given. VT

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