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Miguel Marco
Wittmann Elementary School
Cerritos, CA

Principal Miguel Marco didn’t know he wanted a career in education until an opportunity to teach presented itself. While taking a year off between undergraduate studies and graduate school, he coached high school sports and was asked if he would be willing to substitute teach during the day. He agreed and that experience completely changed his professional trajectory. He decided to switch fields and pursued a graduate degree in education. After five years of teaching, he went for another graduate degree in Educational Leadership and Administration. He served in many administrative roles and eventually took the position of principal at Wittmann Elementary in 2014.

Principal Marco brought a unique perspective to his role as educator because of his personal experience with learning disabilities. Diagnosed with Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder at an early age, he understood how challenging it could be for students who struggle academically and how vital engaging educational opportunities were for all students. He wanted to bring his experience to the role of leader by developing a motto and pivotal practice that would help pull the school together. He developed the “Enter to Learn, Leave to Achieve” learning model which focused on providing opportunities for every student and addressed four critical components of: engaging classroom instruction, strong academic support, a variety of enrichment opportunities, and community engagement and support.

When Principal Marco arrived at Wittman, there were few enrichment opportunities for students. Within two years, he added a dozen enrichment programs. But Principal Marco sought input from the whole school community, including surveying students, to learn more about the types of programs they wanted. He learned that the common theme across student responses was that they wanted more hands-on, engaging activities. He took that information and with the help of the Wittman Student Education Foundation Board and community partners, implemented more than 20 enrichment programs ranging from robotics to sports programs that occur during and after school. The variety of enrichment programs allows elementary students to try things out and discover what they are interested in. Currently, half of Wittman students engage in at least one after school opportunity.

Learning from the school community helped Principal Marco target needed student supports. Many of the families Wittman serves are first-generation Americans and understanding their needs has become critical to the school’s success. Principal Marco spends every morning greeting families as they bring students to school to allow time for conversations and connection. He also hosts an open forum bi-weekly called “Coffee with the Principal” where he shares information, listens to concerns, addresses immediate issues, and provides time for families to connect with school leadership. He spends at least one hour engaging with students and staff in classrooms and meets with staff multiple times a month.

One of the first changes Principal Marco made when he became principal, was to implement a positive behavior program and to strengthen social and emotional learning. He learned that the school had a very high suspension rate. He worked with staff to implement a schoolwide approach to behavior support, including improving interactions between staff and students, use of Praise Notes, and support from the Mental Health Professional. One example of the schoolwide approach was by changing recess. He created a positive recess experience by having monitors engage in group games with students, encourage kindness and sportsmanship, and nurture inclusiveness. These direct supports, in addition to meaningful enrichment and student engagement, reduced the discipline rate and have helped create a positive learning environment. When students returned to school after a year of remote learning, the school was prepared to meet any additional social-emotional needs. They decided to designate class time to social-emotional learning to ensure that all students received the support they needed.

Principal Marco is a successful collaborator because he genuinely believes in building a community school program that values all voices. Through his partnerships with his staff, students, families, and the community at-large, Principal Marco has created a school where students want to be.