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Conversations with the Inspiring Kelly Castillo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Castillo.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
As a first generation college graduate, I view education as one of the last great equalizers. With education, all things are possible! I am the product of K-12 public education. Had it not been for the support of my teachers and school counselors, I would not have been able to navigate my path to college and beyond.

I studied Biology at Brown University and began my career as a middle school science teacher. Soon after, I also added a math credential. While in the classroom, I pursued a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Cal State University Northridge and became a National Board Certified Teacher.

With the introduction of Common Core State Standards, I moved to a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) position and supported others in their instruction. During this time, I completed my doctoral dissertation studying professional development programs for teachers. With my Ed.D. in K-12 Educational Leadership from Cal State Northridge, I entered the world of school administration.

After a brief time as a Junior High School Assistant Principal, I am now the proud Principal of Pacific Drive Elementary School located in the Fullerton School District.

As I reflect on my first year as a principal, I am grateful for my own teachers, my colleagues, my friends, and most importantly, my husband- all of whom supported me along the way.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It is never a smooth road – but getting there is half the fun! My journey has not been without challenges, but it is my learning from the challenges that have defined me.

Most recently, in December of 2016, I gave birth to my son. I remember clearly the school board meeting at which I was announced Principal of Pacific Drive School. As I was thanking everyone for this life-changing opportunity, my husband stood in the back, holding our then 5-month-old. It has not been easy to find a work life balance this past year. I have relied heavily on support from family and friends and have had to draw on my own person grit.

To other women looking to take on educational leadership, motherhood or both- know your bottom line! It is vital to take a careful self-inventory and know where you will not compromise, both personally and professionally. As a mother in education, my bottom line is clear. I am constantly asking myself, is this decision or situation one that I would accept for my own child? If the answer is yes, then (and only then) is it acceptable for other children as well.

Once you have established that – persevere. Whether it means showing up to a meeting with baby puke on your suit (don’t worry, your real friends will point it out for you), pumping in your car while you take phone calls on your commute (plan ahead if your car only has one power source – you will have to make difficult choices!), or ducking out with seconds to spare as you make that mad dash to day care before closing (they take their late fees very seriously!).

At the end of the day, I take solace in the fact that I am showing my son what it means to work hard and be passionate about a career in which I can serve others.

What should we know about Pacific Drive Elementary School? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Pacific Drive School is known for its school-wide Computer Science and Innovation program. All of our students, from TK (Transitional Kindergarten) through 6th grade, have both designated computer science time weekly as well as integrated instruction in computer science across the curriculum. The Pacific Drive Computer Science and Innovation program provides thematic computer science opportunities and collaborative experiences embedded at all grade levels for all students. This program fosters critical, creative, and computational thinking skills to support students academically, vocationally, and, most important, personally.

Our program is unique because the curriculum is tailored to the needs of our students- it is not a prepackaged program that can be purchased; it has grown organically with our staff. Additionally, what sets our computer science program apart is its accessibility. At Pacific Drive, computer science is for everyone! Not only do our GATE (Gifted) identified students take part in the program, they do so alongside students in our special education program.

Our pathway incorporates coding concepts, application projects, and a culminating showcase during each year of instruction. Students begin early, as young as 4 years old, with coding basics. They soon move into block coding and then to language-based coding with both Arduino and python. In sixth grade, our 11 and 12-year-olds complete a capstone project in which they program artificial intelligence using Amazon Alexa.

In addition to providing our students with marketable vocational skills, the Pacific Drive Computer Science and Innovation Program seeks to allow students to explore their passions and discover academic and personal applications for computer science. Our hope is that experience with computer science will stimulate students to think critically and creatively while providing students with the opportunity to experience a connected world beyond what they can imagine.

While all students participate in our computer science program as a part of their regular school day, computer science opportunities at Pacific Drive School extend beyond the school day in the form of competition teams. Students as young as second grade participate on a Jr. Robotics team. Our 3rd-6th graders are the reigning (2017) champions at our regional challenge, FSD Robot Nation. This year we are excited to get our drone flight competition team “off the ground” as well!

As students learn the language of coding, they are rewriting our understanding of what it means to be bilingual. Embracing coding as a language and a mindset empowers our students to truly contribute as global citizens. Along these same lines, looking ahead, we are very pleased to announce the opening of our Dual Language Academy in the Fall of 2018. With this new strand, students will have the option, beginning in kindergarten, to participate in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) focused Spanish dual immersion program at Pacific Drive School.

It is truly an exciting time to be a Pacific Drive Dolphin in the Fullerton School District!

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Image Credit:
Wes Kriesel, Cindy Bak

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