When Principal Philip Perez came in from the playground of Anaheim's Paul Revere Elementary School after supervising the arrival of his students, he found a phone message from state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig.
The message both puzzled and startled Perez. Phone calls from the head honcho to the principal of an obscure elementary school aren't exactly an everyday occurrence; as a matter of fact, it had never happened to Perez before.
Perez caught Honig, who was en route to Sacramento, on the state official's car phone and asked hesitantly how he might be of service.
Not to worry, came the hearty answer. Honig was simply calling to congratulate Perez as one of the 12 educators in the state to win the prestigious California Educator Award--and the $25,000 (privately donated) that goes along with it.
"I was stunned," said the 34-year-old Perez in his neat, compact office. "I had no idea any of this was going on. You can't imagine the feeling. I wasn't just being considered; I had actually been selected."
It wasn't until he was notified officially by letter a few days later that Perez really believed his good fortune. And although he is still a little dazed, Perez--accompanied by his wife, their two oldest children, his district superintendent, the president of his school board, and one of his teachers--will be on hand at the Four Seasons Hotel on Wednesday to formally accept his award.
"Thank goodness," he says fervently, "that the acceptance speeches have to be limited to one minute."
Perez is modest to the point of being almost self-effacing, which has made all this attention sometimes as uncomfortable as it is exciting. He told no one but his wife until the announcement was official. His own staff didn't learn until the district superintendent sent him public congratulations.
"I'm not the type to call a special meeting to tell my staff," he says.
Perez--a slight, mustached, well-groomed man with thick black hair and the ability to speak both carefully and passionately--is hard-pressed to explain the award in terms of his own achievements.
"I'm just very fortunate to have stepped into a situation that makes it easy to be successful," he says. "This district has very high standards for students and staff, for teacher performance and discipline. Revere was decidedly an achieving school when I arrived here."
The fact remains, however, that Revere won a "California Distinguished School" award in Perez's first year as principal and that he won his current honor a year later. Some of his teachers are less reluctant to point out some of the reasons why.
Arlene Allan, who has been teaching at Revere for eight years, says: "This is a very structured system and school, tightly organized from the top. Everyone is aware of the expectations. But Phil Perez also allows room for creativity. He has created a highly cooperative climate and encourages a great deal of staff participation in administrative decisions."
Added Susan Kambeitz, who has been at Revere seven years: "Communication between the principal and teachers and parents has been both important and outstanding. The principal sends a newsletter home each month and the teachers each quarter, and the parents have expressed great appreciation. Relationships have been positive from the beginning."
Although both teachers agreed that Perez "walked into a committed and dedicated staff," they also pointed out Perez programs that have proven remarkably effective. There was a discipline problem, for example, that didn't seem to be helped by the issuance of "tickets" to children who misbehaved. Then Perez insisted that the tickets list the specific offense committed so the offending children knew what they had done wrong.
He also instituted a program of positive reinforcement so that students who didn't get a "ticket" over a semester were rewarded with special treats. And all this information went home along with clearly stated ground rules so the parents as well as the students understood--and discipline problems went down substantially.
These achievements, among many others, have taken place in a school in which about 60% of the students are classified LEP (Limited English Proficient) and in which the school population is highly transient and diverse. There are a number of Asians--mostly Vietnamese--but about nine-tenths of the LEP students are Spanish-speaking.
Since Perez has only two bilingual teachers (up from one last year), he has had to improvise considerably--and creatively. He has, for example, developed strong working relationships between the teachers and Spanish-speaking instructional aides so the latter aren't just isolated on LEP students but are involved in the total picture.
He encourages preparing lessons in English in such a way that they are better understood by LEP students. He solicits the help of bilingual students by seating them near those with limited English. And he has developed a plan for grouping the LEP students according to their proficiency.