Leonard Rodriguez, the principal at Potter Jr. High School in Fallbrook has been named Middle Grades Principal of the Year for San Diego County.
“We are proud and excited,” stated administrators of Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD) in a statement they issued. Rodriguez said the honor caught him by surprise.
“I was very surprised and honored to receive the award,” said Rodriguez. “There are many principals leading outstanding schools in the county. Just being nominated is a very special honor and a tribute to all those that I’m fortunate to work with at Potter.”
Rodriguez has served as a principal for a total of 10 years. He began his career in 2003 as a principal in Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach. He joined FUESD in July of 2006 and began by serving as principal of William H. Frazier Elementary School. In 2010, he was assigned as principal of Potter Jr. High.
“As a direct result of his leadership and high expectations, students from all income levels, ethnic backgrounds, and levels of English proficiency are consistently challenged to achieve at the highest levels in a school environment that is highly organized, engaging, and supportive,” it said in the statement.
FUESD administrators said they selected Rodriguez to lead Potter Jr. High School in order to “provide the bold and visionary leadership needed to lead a school in Year 3 of Program Improvement.”
Working with students in the middle school grades can be challenging, but Rodriguez said there is a key to meeting goals.
“Student engagement is the key for any student, especially students at this age,” said Rodriguez. “It is so important for us to deliver our instruction and present the curriculum in a meaningful and relevant manner to students. They want to make connections with their world and understand the importance of what we are teaching them.”
Administrators said Rodriguez “fully embraced the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District’s ‘Blueprint for Success’ and meaningfully involved the staff in its implementation at Potter.”
Administrators said they feel one of the many reasons the staff “believes in and responds to Rodriguez’s leadership is because every decision that he makes is based on what is academically best for his students.”
“Rodriguez has a unique understanding of what motivates and is meaningful to adolescents in the middle school, the factors that are most influential in increasing academic achievement and what is important to the families and the community that Potter Jr. High School serves,” they said.
In reflecting on how different or similar Potter Jr. High is compared to other middle schools in San Diego County, Rodriguez said “we have the same challenges and accountability expectations as everyone else.”
Given that statement, when asked how accomplishments at Potter have been achieved, Rodriguez said, “What’s different is in our approach.”
“I am so proud of my staff for the hard work that they have put in to make a difference in the lives of our students,” he said. “Over the last two years, we have made fundamental changes in our curriculum, instructional practices, assessment, daily schedule, and strategies to address climate and culture.” The positive result shows in numbers.
“This has led to the academic growth and success of our students and a 20 point API growth last year,” said Rodriguez. “We’re hoping to build on our success and continue this positive trend.”