202 Jorge Espinoza -- Belief Changes Students

It seems like only the rare few find work that completely matches and fulfills their unique purpose in this life, and Jorge Espinoza is one of them. An experienced school administrator with a background in school counseling, Mr. Espinoza currently serves as the principal for alternative education in Carlsbad Unified School District just north of San Diego, at Carlsbad Village Academy and Seaside Academy.

Mr. Espinoza is deeply passionate about caring for students and is notorious for doing whatever it takes to demonstrate love and care for students who are struggling to succeed academically. 


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Scott Schimmel: Hey, everybody, welcome to the YouSchool podcast. I've got a good friend of mine in a dynamic leader that I'm excited for you to listen to and get to know. Jorge Espinoza, would you tell me a little bit about how the heck you got to where you are? And where are you?

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Jorge Espinoza: Okay, well, I am the alternative education principal for Carlsbad Unified School District. So I have the distinct pleasure of working at Carlsbad village Academy, which is a continuation High School for students that are 16, or right around 60 or older. And typically, the kids come to me because they've fallen behind in credits, and we need to, you know, change the dynamic of high school for them, because for many of them, they just need a smaller environment someplace where they can, you know, have a little bit more eyes on them and accountability. And then I also work for I run Carlsbad seaside Academy, which is an independent study program for kids, you know, just need an alternative to, to a regular high school classroom as well, a lot of these kids that are, you know, they're doing other things, I have a significant number that take college level classes. Some of them are actors, some of them are athletes, some of them are just a dealing with anxiety, and they just have real hard time being in a class of 40 of their closest friends for two hours at a time and yes, can't handle that kind of situation. So that's where I am. So I was just kind of, you know, figuring out, I've been doing alternative Ed now since 2007. A long time. It's it's good time. I've been an assistant principal now or assistant principal principal, for since 2002. And I've been I've been teaching or an education since 1995.

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Scott Schimmel: Yeah, it's like old are you normally I don't ask me. Like for now.

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Jorge Espinoza: I'm proud of I'm proud to say my 50th birthday will be on October 20 seconds.

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Scott Schimmel: Nice. Okay. Yeah, right. Yeah, that's awesome. That's awesome. So you, I mean, one of the core premises that we have a useful as everybody has a story inside them. And we would say a great story, that's, most people are waiting to figure out what that story is. But you get to in the alternative education space. That's not everyone has a unique story. Like that's why they're there. It's not as I think of a bigger High School, typical high school where there's, there's the the 10% of students that get in trouble or struggling, there's the five to 10% of kids that are just rock stars, and they're involved with everything. And then there's the middle, like the 80% of students that maybe they're just kind of getting through it. And the idea of trying to help them understand what their unique story is, actually, it's a process, it can be difficult. The students you spend time with, are like, here's my it's a story. And it's on, it's out in the open. So is that? Is that a big part of why you like what you do?

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Jorge Espinoza: It's a it's a major part of why I love what I do. Yeah, you know, I, I mean, I sit down with every student and every parent before they even start school. So I, I have this, you know, process that I go through with them. And we know discuss what got them there. We, you know, I go through, I look at their school records and things like that. And we, you know, it's like, it's funny, it's just we kind of go through the whole thing of, and, and the Moral Majority of the kids that come to me is it's like, it's not like they have this long rap sheet, right? No discipline. But what I do is I look at them like, Oh, so you could don't been doing an amazing job of hiding in plain sight, trouble, but slowly, just falling through the cracks. And not really knowing how to, you know, pull yourself out and engage with know the adults around you. And you know, stop what's been happening. And like, intrinsically, most, you know, the Moral Majority, like, I'll ask him straight up my first question to kids that come to CVA or like, do you want to graduate from high school? And their their immediate responses? Yes. I love that respect. I love that response. I'm like, Well, good. I'm like, good, because then we're on the same page and music. So you're saying yes to that, then without hesitation, you're not thinking about anything else, then we could definitely work together.

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Yeah. And so then, what's funny is is like, part of the time too, is like I sit there and we go over, like what's been going on since like, sixth grade, because I was asking like, when's the last time you felt that you were doing well in school? It's time to time and time again. It's like, well, fifth grade, and fifth grade. Was that last time that they had one teacher? Yeah, seven kids. Wow, I got to really No, no, you? Yeah. So, you know, they go to six, seventh and eighth grade. And they have a variety of teachers. And they're just kind of start No. Yeah, going through the whole, you know, so it creates this topology, like call, you know, where they fall behind, and like, they get to ninth grade. And they've said they've developed the habits of, you know, I can just hide through this. And because in middle school, if you fail every single one of your classes, but you become a seventh grader, and you can classes and you can become an eighth grader. You can finish eighth grade, and you may have failed all your classes. Right? They go to ninth grade and some of the same stuff. And so they don't realize that.

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And then they don't realize that you can't do this anymore. Yeah. Yeah, you have to be engaged in this that you have. So. So there, it's never too late when they show up, you know, and I and I, and I even tell them to like look at it. And I always tell them, it's it's the graduation day, which is like June 10, or June 11, or whatever it is. Not the not the drop the day that, you know, you're out of here. I get kids to come back for a fifth year. And then kids come back for a six year high school. Well, and they said you'll still take me. Like what why wouldn't I take you you want to graduate from high school? Right, right. Beautiful.

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Scott Schimmel: So one of the things I've noticed about you have spent a little time with your team has spent time with you. And I don't know how to say this in a really kind way. But you're just you're just really weird. You really different in my experience of other administrators, and not just saying that because you have a smaller school, or their students that are coming with certain challenges, but you seem to believe things very deeply. And I'm curious, I haven't asked you this yet. But what is it that you believe about students when they come to your school? What, what do you really had dig deep and think about that helps you keep pushing through some of these challenges.

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Jorge Espinoza: that a person's epiphany may not happen, on the time schedule that you think they should happen on? And that it's a sometimes a slow chipping away process that, you know, and when you get there, it's awesome. And, you know, I mean, it's, I mean, it's just, I don't know, man, I I believe I always I always think that I can, I can reach them somewhere somehow. And, you know, the hard part is, is that, you know, the kids that I that I don't care that I don't get it, and it doesn't happen or it may not happen. I it, like hurts me deeply. And, and to be be honest, it's like those are they're few and far between. But it happens. And it's hard. It's it's hard, but I just, you know, I just know that as much as sometimes you just like, you know, like, there's times you stand there like, all right, he came again today. Good. He's coming in the gate. All right. Hey, all right. You know, it's another day, it's another opportunity. So I just, you know, I, I, I, I think a lot of times to an education is is that we always try to find, all right, well, if this is the problem, then must move it somewhere else. You know, I mean, like, I used to work. When I worked at LA Unified, they used to have this thing called an opportunity transfer. You didn't if you didn't like a kid, and or there being a total pain in the ass, and you really want to, you know, move that problem around you the other high school in your area and say, Hey, I got one for you. And usually it was like, Oh, good. I have one for you a good swap. And that and there. And there were times where there's you know, and that was a, I was a counselor time. This one assistant principal hated me as I would, she would try to initiate this opportunity transfer. And I would go into the principal's office and please the kids case. And, you know, because I at that time, I was at risk counselor. So I had 200 kids that I had to follow in. And she told me one day she goes, you need to mind your own business.

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Well, this is my business I'm gonna do whatever I can to help these kids.

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Scott Schimmel: That's great. Yes. Let's tag that assistant principal when we post this episode. Shall we?

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Jorge Espinoza: Well, God rest her soul.

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Scott Schimmel: Oh, gosh. It's just got dark. Because Friday the 13th you know?

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Unknown: It took a while. But you know, you know, I mean, she's, she's still would be pissed at me about? Like, she said you don't have to believe in all of them. And Oh, that would come out her mouth.

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Scott Schimmel: Come on. That's, that's crazy.

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Jorge Espinoza: It was crazy.

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Scott Schimmel: What What do you think students need?

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Jorge Espinoza: Um, I think the fundamental thing that kids need is just someone to believe in them. You know? I mean, I'll never forget this. This, this kid told me one time you said you're the only person that ever said that you were proud of me. And, I mean, yeah, I just, yeah, I never I'll never I'll never forget that kid looking me in the eye and telling me that. And, you know, it's just, they just need someone to believe in them. And, and a lot of times we know with these kids, parents, they're exasperated with everything that's happened then was with school and everything else that happens with them or, and so now that they have a hard time believing them to it. And a lot of times these parents have had a negative experience with school themselves. So recently, they just kind of like, well, this is just status quo, it means just going to history is going to repeat itself. Yeah. So I think what kids just need is they need someone to talk to them, they need someone to believe in them. They need someone to, you know, just sometimes just stepped in as that adult in their life that can give them some hope. You know,

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Scott Schimmel: How do you how do you demonstrate, how do you communicate to a kid that you believe in them? What What do you do as you reflect on how you talk? Well, I mean, that's, that's a big part of I think, why I like spending time with you and your team- it's like, I actually want to see, what is it that you're doing?

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Unknown: Well, I think the corny, but I mean, I mean, I mean, I tell them, I'm like look, I just wants to know is that when you become part of our dysfunctional family that we call Carlsbad Village Academy, that, you know, you're part of my family, and that I love you. And no, and when you screw up for you, when you last thing you're going to hear before you leave my office is like, Hey, I still love you.

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I think that it's just, I mean, my approach to them is is that you sit down next time you sit, you engage in a conversation, look them in the eye, you tell them about the things that you see the things that know the notice the thing that you notice, I mean, this morning, I had had this this, this young lady, and I've only had her for, you know, the first couple weeks, but I here at CVA I did work with her, you know, she was an independent studies me for the last year, I've worked with her sister, I work her sister Sister graduated from high school, you know, and so some ladies walking into school today. And I'm like, Hey, I just want to tell you, I just wanted you to notice that I want to want you to know, know that I noticed just how you just seem happier. And she stopped and looked at me. She goes, I really like being here. And now it's just like, wow, that's just one of those, those things where she lit up because you notice just how different she's feeling and how she's...It was a powerful moment standing at the corner. Right.

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Scott Schimmel: Right. And that's that's validation. That's affirmation. That's, "I see you." I care about you. Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful.

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Unknown: So I mean, I mean, it just, you know, I mean, I think the thing that that's hard about doing these things, and you know, is is a, and I and I think the thing that gets me in trouble sometimes is I don't document everything. Everything's not in counseling notes and read the means, like, like the efforts there. But no, I mean, if I'm, if I'm coming to work at 430 in the morning, and I'm not leaving, right, at six o'clock, and I'm like, Oh, my God is write this down. Right. I think that part that's tough is that, yeah, you put all this into it. But yeah, so

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Scott Schimmel: Well, and that's the best part of the, the challenges of a system and having protocol. Like, when you were talking before, that when a kid doesn't come to school, which in a conventional High School, that can happen a lot. And if you've got 160 hundred 80 students or 2700 kids in a school, you might not notice the 55, the 100 students. But you handle that differently.

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Jorge Espinoza: I look at it every day, you know, the thing is, is that I go through, like, I'll go through the list. Here. I'll check to see. Okay, so whose parent call them in sick? All right, so who's who's who's Mia? And I know, a good majority of them. I've got their cell phone number. Quick. I mean, if you look at my cell phone, the question "Where are you?"

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Scott Schimmel: copy and paste?

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Jorge Espinoza: Is repeated thousands of times. Know, "where are you?" And then it will be? "I know, I see that you read my message. Answer me." Don't hide, you know,

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Scott Schimmel: yeah. Well, that's a part of what I mean, as you as you're sharing that. I'm believing you. That's, that's such a powerful way to communicate that "Where are you?" I noticed you're not here. Yeah, I'm going to find you- I'm going to look for you.

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Jorge Espinoza: Or like, you know, or the day after, I'm like, a everything. Okay, where, you know, are you feeling better? You know, I mean, those are questions, you know, and they'll say, or, or, Oh, I didn't feel well, yesterday. I'm like, you feel well, Are you sick? Yeah, I feel, you know, it's the next time you don't feel well. Let's come in, let's get a drink water. Let's try it, you know, because like, Look, get those days back. Right. Right.

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Scott Schimmel: What part of what you do and how your team's doing it can transfer to a bigger school? Do you think like if you could be a consultant or get up and do a TED talk in front of a bunch of principals of big schools? Like what, what would you say if this is what you can learn from how we do things...

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Jorge Espinoza: Well, I mean, here, I would say this is like, you know, I've walked in their shoes. I mean, I, I've worked at a school with, you know, 4,700 kids that like, like, like Vegas, when I say we like Vegas, we never close, you know, a graduate kids on June 29. And July 1, you got a whole brand new.group of freshman coming in. Yeah.

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So what I mean, what I would say to them is, is that is, is get up, make it part of your day, to get out there and develop relationships. and developing relationships with kids is, it does mean that you're, you're chasing them down, you're, you're walking into class. I mean, I mean, I, when I used to work at in Marshall High School in LA, I mean, I would walk into class, I would stand at the door, I would survey the room, I would you know, make it attack with kids that, you know that I don't know, I got two fingers to my eye and like, I'm watching. No, I would isn't, then it's just then the kids that were you know, I mean, don't take a book turn a blind eye to kids that are ditching class, you know, in a big school walk up to me, Hey, man, where you supposed to be? Being and then have that question. And then like, you know, and there are times you find out like, you know, hey, something happened, or, you know, this is going on me, or I need this, and you can have a meaningful, powerful conversation, either walking them to class, yeah, walking them into a counselor, you know, taking them to the nurse. Right, whatever. Right. But

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Scott Schimmel: you gotta be there. Yeah,

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Jorge Espinoza: right. Right. But the reality is, is like, you know, you can, and a lot of times, it's difficult to do this is, is you just, you just got to know and think, is, me, one of the things that took me away from being at a large comprehensive high school was is that my Not I, my kids were were just born and and I was never home, because the only way to be that kind of administrator is when you have to, you have to accept the fact that it'll take a significant portion of your life. It's not if you want it to be a nine to five job, it'll never be a nine to five job, right?

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Scott Schimmel: It occurs to me that it, I think requires the kind of work that you're talking about. Getting out there being in front of classes, going into classrooms, greeting students talking to them, it actually requires, I think it's just generally vulnerable. And it's, it's uncomfortable, and it can feel awkward. And I think it requires, to a degree, a high amount of self confidence that your, your presence matters, and that you have a role to play. Because I'm sure what you get a lot is what feels like rejection, or contempt. Or, and that doesn't doesn't feel very good in the Middle Age of our lives.

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Jorge Espinoza: Really your life and you're in your early 30s. Really for me. I've been told to F off more times than I can. But you know what? It doesn't matter. Right? Yeah, coming back for more, you know, it's like, me, oh, yeah, I've, I've taken things personally. But you got to come back at the Edit. You know, and, and there are times to you know, you know, what means lots of good if you if you lose your cool, and you show your human side, and you jumped to a conclusion, you get a lot of mileage out saying you're sorry. You know, you know, when when kids know that you are vulnerable, and you are human being and that, you know, it makes you human.

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Scott Schimmel: That's cool. Yeah. One of my commitments just as small as walking my kids to school in the morning. And a couple of years ago, I realized how I'll see a bunch of kids because I coach a lot of sports, and I'm in their school lot. And at this point, I know quite a bit of the students, but I found myself I would see a student walking towards me that I knew or maybe I coached a season or two ago, and and I wouldn't say anything to them, I wouldn't say hi wouldn't greet them, I think, because I didn't want to feel awkward. I didn't want to feel Yeah, like who are you old guy. And instead one day, I just realized, I'm silly. That's all about me. That's all about me. And so I've made it a commitment Ever since then, if I know a kid's name, I'm going to say it. Because there's something powerful about the saying a kid's name greeting them.

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Jorge Espinoza: Oh, absolutely. You know, it's like, I spent at the corner every day, great kids, you know, like, I walk around school, like, you know, like, how are you? You know, and, you know, and, and, you know, they feel like they're greeted, and they're welcome. Yeah. It takes away some of that distance between you and them

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Scott Schimmel: Because there's a natural, high degree of distance between teenagers and adults. It's like developmentally. Right? They don't like you, but they need you. Right, they don't like you, but they have to have you. And that's, that's the rub. And I think the the phrase that's on my mind so much that you embody so well. Is this idea of FOR THE SAKE OF KIDS, that I will, as you say, I will go and greet them on the corner, even if they say F off. I will, I will call them at home even if they don't answer, I will go find them.

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I'll go to their house and pick them up. Bring them school, right. Yeah. I'm not supposed to...

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Don't worry this won't be recorded at all.

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Jorge Espinoza: I readily admit that. It's just like, Look, man, it's just, I I'd rather have a year than not here. You know, yo, that's what it takes. That's what it takes today.

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Scott Schimmel: Yeah. Well, I want to just sincerely thank you for not just being on the show, but your friendship, what I'm learning from you what I'm honestly learning from you about how to love how to love students how to love people, your, it's like I see you. I see the work that you're doing. It is wonderful. I'm so happy that you're doing that work for the sake of kids.

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Jorge Espinoza: Well, you know, it fills my soul. Yeah. Yeah.

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Scott Schimmel: Well, thanks Jorge, and we'll be seeing you soon. Take care. Thanks.

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