Most Friday mornings, Berkeley High School principal Juan Raygoza delivers donuts. Clutching the pastry-filled box, he ambles down BHS hallways, past classrooms filled with students watching the morning announcements. At long last, he arrives at one lucky classroom: the winners of the week’s trivia contest.
Inspired by a trivia show he saw one night, Raygoza started the tradition during the 2021-22 school year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced an end to schoolwide activities including assemblies and sports games. Activities such as these are a key part of Raygoza’s philosophy as a principal, that students should find joy, safety, and community at school.
Raygoza’s high school experience growing up in the Los Angeles area heavily influences the decisions he makes at BHS. “Even though I’m now principal at BHS, I was really close to not making it through high school … I didn’t feel like I had any adults who cared about me at school, and who supported me, but I had a strong love for my family.”
As a high schooler, Raygoza always wondered if the administrators were in a room thinking, “What is best for Juan Raygoza?” As a result, he makes an effort to always consider what is best for students.
Students have turned Raygoza into a niche meme. Some whisper that his head cracks open at the end of each school year, only for a slightly smaller Raygoza to emerge. His face adorns some clothes, too. “I saw a student wearing a cape with my face on it for Jacket Friday (November 4, also known as Red and Gold Day),” he said. “If it brings joy to students, I’m all for it.”
Raygoza’s days vary. Some he may spend in meetings. Other days, emergencies come up that require him to drop everything, like when a group of people harassed BHS students just outside of campus. Some things stay constant, though. After dropping his daughter off at Sylvia Mendez Elementary School in Berkeley, Raygoza, equipped with a coffee, checks in to BHS at 7:30 a.m.
Raygoza’s meetings are with his administration team, teachers, and professional development coordinators.
Lunch serves as an open period for students to come talk with Raygoza, which he purposefully reserves in his schedule so students don’t miss class time.
A popular place for many BHS students at lunch is Purple Kow, only a few blocks away. When Raygoza drinks boba, he’ll order a Thai iced tea and salt and pepper chicken.
On any given day, Raygoza receives over a hundred emails, from all sorts of members of the BHS community. None go unread as each day, he sifts through his inbox to answer quick inquiries and set aside more complicated questions for later.
After making dinner with his family and putting his daughter to bed, Raygoza works late into the night. Between sips of coffee, he answers emails and occasionally talks with people over Zoom, eventually going to bed between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
When he isn’t working, Raygoza joins much of the student body in attending sports games, such as the BHS football team’s recent game against San Ramon Valley, their first playoff game in years.
Raygoza moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles six years ago. Each year, he goes back for Christmas. “Christmas Eve, at my parents home, (my mom) makes tamales. So we’ve had that every single year, my entire life,” he said.
During the weekend, Raygoza and his wife enjoy spending moments in the kitchen with their daughter, encouraging her to explore different foods as much as possible. According to Raygoza, one of her most recent culinary creations is a “mush sandwich,” which consists of milk, orange juice, and graham crackers. Despite its name, there is no bread involved.
Each morning, Raygoza and his daughter race to see who can put on their shoes the fastest. “And every single morning, she beats me,” Raygoza said.
Why is she so much faster? Well, her shoes close using Velcro. But it’s Raygoza who gives her the advantage. “I make sure to move a little bit slower, so that she can put her shoes on quicker,” he said.
Afterwards, Raygoza will make his way to BHS, ready for a day of meetings, emails, and interacting with students.