Pledging to put academics first, new El Cerrito High School principal is setting an ambitious goal. Addressing the Thursday at , Luongo predicted El Cerrito High School will be a California Distinguished School within five years.
The program, according to the California Department of Education, which administers it, “honors some of California's most exemplary and inspiring public schools.”
In 2011, only two Contra Costa County schools — one in Antioch and one in Brentwood — received the honor. Albany High was one of nine in Alameda County. The program is open to primary and secondary schools in alternate years, so only middle and high schools were honored in 2011.
The academic push, Luongo said, will focus on instruction, data and research, and accountability.
To improve instruction, he said, the school needs to focus on effective classroom strategies. For Luongo and his two assistant principals, who like Luongo are new to the school, this will mean spending time in classrooms.
Luongo, whose appointment was announced earlier this month, comes to El Cerrito High following two years as assistant principal at Kennedy High School in Richmond and three years as assistant principal at Pinole Valley High School. He also taught English at Kennedy High School for five years and was a dean at Oceana High School in Pacifica for a year. He has lived in El Cerrito since 2006.
In June, Nancy Ivey was appointed to one of the assistant principal positions. Luongo said she has worked at Richmond High School for about 15 years, first as a teacher and then the past five years as an administrator, and has a daughter and son-in-law who attended El Cerrito High School.
He said the second assistant principal position was filled by the West Contra Costa Unified school board Wednesday night. Luongo said he “handpicked” Sharon Baltazar, who is new to administration and has taught in San Leandro. Like Luongo and Ivey, she is a graduate of the UC Berkeley . Baltazar grew up in Hayward and Sacramento.
El Cerrito High's previous principal, , took a position in San Ramon in late June. Two other top El Cerrito High administrators, Marcos Garcia and Humphrey Kiuruwi, were moved to other jobs within the West Contra Costa district earlier that month.
Luongo said it is too early to talk about specific strategies for improving academic instruction because the first step is to see what is already working and build on that with new programs. In addition to having leadership spend time in classrooms, he said, effective use of the Wednesday afternoons set aside for professional training for teachers is important, as is having a system in place to hire strong teachers when vacancies arise.
He called El Cerrito’s extracurricular programs “some of the strongest in the district, if not in the Bay Area,” and said he is looking forward to strengthening programs such as music and drama.
Luongo praised many of the school’s existing programs, including the , which pairs adults with students for one-on-one mentoring; the James Morehouse Project, which provides services such as health care and after-school programs; Angaza, which provides support to high-achieving students from historically underserved communities; and, the Ivy League Connection, which gives high school students the opportunity to attend summer programs at top universities.
In describing his leadership style, he said he is patient and often quiet as he observes and works out solutions. He pledged to be open to ideas from community members, to share information and to welcome visitors to the campus.
In closing, he said, “I’m optimistic, I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to a successful year and many successful years to come.”
Among the approximately 40 people at the luncheon were five El Cerrito High students, members of a high school service group mentored by Rotary called Interact.
“I’m very optimistic for the future. I’m really happy with what he said,” Interact president Jennifer Welden told Patch afterward. Welden said she is open to supporting new ideas from Luongo and pleased that he was interested in working with Interact and Rotary.