Rudy Gonzalez, Principal of Morrison Elementary School in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, never planned on leading a school that had been awarded the prestigious California Distinguished School Award three times in one decade (2008, 2012, 2018). In fact as a financial analyst and financial consultant, teaching had never crossed his mind until he took a career assessment test at the age of 34 and learned that “education” and “psychology with leadership overtones” were his strongest interests. In 2019, he’s being recognized by the Teachers Association of Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District as the 2019 Site Administrator of the Year.
Much of Rudy’s success in his school can be attributed to his unwavering vision for his students and staff. Being a teacher or a principal “is not a job,” Rudy stressed. “It’s a calling. The work we do as educators stays with us long after we’ve gone home. My staff and I are continually thinking and reflecting on how the day went, our interactions with our students, our practice, and our data.”
A friend and mentor, Marsha Guerrero, also played a big role in Rudy’s life when he was teaching. Seeing the desire within Rudy to make a difference in the lives of his students and his school community, Marsha and many of Rudy’s colleagues nudged and encouraged him to pursue higher leadership positions. When the opportunity arose after 15 years of teaching, Rudy stepped up to become the principal of Morrison Elementary School.
“My wife and I are both in education and we chose this career because we’ve always felt that this was the best way we could make a positive impact in our community.” Rudy said. “Yes, the work is hard and requires your heart and soul, but boy, if you do this work the right way then you will truly have the ability to impact the world.”
As a child, Rudy remembers attending school as an ESL student on free and reduced lunch. The obstacles and challenges Rudy faced in his youth have given him a unique perspective into the homes and minds of the “underdogs” as Rudy calls them.
To all school leaders searching for insight into how to better reach their students, Rudy suggests that it “starts with the belief that your students can learn. It is not an option to believe otherwise, especially in a high poverty area. You have to be their biggest cheerleader, and you can’t make excuses for your kids.”
Rudy also suggests that schools that make a difference in the lives of their students are filled with teachers who are continually learning and educating themselves. As principal of Morrison, Rudy spends considerate effort in developing his teachers professionally and making sure they have access to the tools and resources to be successful.
“Professional development is how you push your school and staff forward,” Rudy said. “That’s why I love the Cotsen Foundation’s ART of TEACHING model. There’s no other organization out here that goes that deep and provides the kind of commitment that Cotsen makes to the schools and teachers.”
Morrison Elementary School completed the ART of TEACHING Fellowship program in 2018. Rudy has invested much of his time and resources to continuing the ART of TEACHING work and sustaining the development of his teachers. This year Morrison Elementary received an Extended Coaching Grant from the Cotsen Foundation to support the school’s effort to sustain and expand instructional practices through a coaching model school-wide. This year’s project will concentrate in one curricular area and detail a plan for coaching.