Interview

New Interim Principal Juan Raygoza Shares His Story and Vision for BHS

When did you first come to BHS? Could you walk through your time here?

When I moved to the Bay Area in 2017, I knew that I wanted to work at a school where there was a very strong student voice, as well as incredible faculty. Berkeley High has all of that, so I interviewed and landed a vice principal job. 

For the last three years, I’ve been a vice principal of Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA). I’ve also worked closely with the counseling department, and for the last two years, I was the vice principal of the math department. This year, I’m stepping in as an interim principal.

How did you get into education and administration?

I went through the Los Angeles public school system, and I actually had a very negative experience in high school. I attended UCLA, and at first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduating. But along the way, I realized that my high school experience was not unique; so many students struggle. I realized that as a teacher and now as an administrator, I can do my part to transform schools into a place where students flourish and where they have a better sense of who they are as human beings when they leave us.

Beyond the shift to distance learning, do you plan on bringing any changes to BHS, both immediately and in the long run?

Distance learning is brand new to all of us– it’s a big experiment. My number one priority is to make it work for everybody in an equitable way. 

Number two: I want to communicate more transparently with students and families. More than ever, we need to remain emotionally and intellectually connected. I hope to do that both in the short term by sending out clear and consistent messages, and in the long term by creating structures to give students a voice that translates into decision making. 

Number three: I will continue to work tirelessly for what students have asked for, and l will take action to make BHS safer. We must use this time to put in place safety measures so that students feel safe to be who they are and with their peers. 

Last spring, BHS students engaged in several days of walkouts protesting sexual harm. What changes have been or will be made in response to student demands, and what will they look like in the context of the pandemic? 

At the district level, we’ve made progress on hiring a Title IX investigator. Now, we not only have a coordinator, but also an investigator who works directly with students, families, and administrators.

The district has secured funding for us to identify an individual or organization from outside BHS that can provide the relevant, powerful, and lasting education around sexual harassment and consent that our students are asking for. We are also considering how you can be a part of creating and delivering that curriculum to your peers. 

Next, we’re looking at how to provide further training around the role of adults in sexual harassment allegations. Just a couple of days ago, all BHS administrators were trained on brand new Title IX regulations. Our new dean of students, Ms. Claudia Gonzalez, will also lead a three day training.

Is the distance learning plan for the fall semester likely to continue to change in response to the COVID-19 situation or student needs?

We are currently listening to students and families about the challenges they’re encountering after a few days of school. We need to give this new model some time to see whether it works or not, and the end of quarter one is a good opportunity to revisit or improve it. 

Looking ahead, what can students expect for the second semester? 

We’re listening to public health experts for when it’s safe to bring students back. Our priorities are to first bring back the students that historically have been the most marginalized, and also the students whose experiences cannot be replicated online. Hands-on courses such as arts, science, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) will be prioritized.

Inequity is exacerbated by the pandemic, with uneven access to resources being a serious issue for students of all schools. How will you make sure that distance learning is truly equitable for all BHS students? 

Our distance learning plan centers equity in the work that we do. We brought some of the support structures that existed outside of the school day into the school day. For example, we’ve now allocated a minimum of 90 minutes for teachers to focus on engaging families and students during the workday. 

We also created Wednesday small group support, which is a brand new structure to help students receive extra individual attention. We can’t continue to wait until grades come out to find out who’s struggling because by then, kids already feel hopeless and helpless.

What do you see as BHS’s greatest strengths? On the flip side, what do you think are the aspects with the most pressing need to change? 

I think our greatest strength is the people that up until this year walked our hallways. The students bring an energy unlike anything I’ve ever seen, where they are hungry to learn and demand action when something is not right in our schools or in our society.

We must make sure that we’re centering the experiences of students, equity, and justice in every decision that we make.

What do you want the BHS community to keep in mind during this administrative and online transition?  

I want the community to know that I’m always going to continue to be a student. I want to learn from the experiences of our students, our families, and our teachers. I ask everyone to remember that we are all experiencing the same reality, but it’s important to understand that we could be struggling in very different ways. 

After a very long summer, I couldn’t be happier that we’re back together. We have a long year ahead of us, but I think it’s going to be amazing.

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