I arrived for my meeting with Jonathan Sison, Ed.D., Coast Union High School’s new principal, a few minutes early and was told I might have to wait because he hadn’t returned yet. It turns out he was in a kayak, paddling around San Simeon Cove with Leffingwell High School students, studying marine biology. Our meeting was rescheduled.
Sison prides himself on being an instructional leader. He aims to spend at least one class period, and perhaps as much as 30 percent of each workday, in the classroom.
Sison realized he was destined to be a teacher when he took high school English from Father Greg Boyle (founder of Homeboy Industries, a group of businesses that provide rehabilitation and re-entry for former gang members) at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. He studied English as an undergraduate at UCLA and then went on to do graduate work in education at Loyola Marymount.
Sison’s Jesuit schooling is the foundation of his life as an educator. He believes his background has focused a lens on social justice that includes caring for the disadvantaged and marginalized people in society. He wants to “prepare kids to become men and women for others.” To do this, though, he believes his students must achieve their own potential first.
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Sison moved to Cambria with his wife, Maria, and four children, Katherine, Emma, Michael and Sofia (ninth, seventh, fifth and second grades, respectively). Sison has been impressed by the students in his charge.
“The kids are self-directed. They don’t need to be told what to do, and they rise to expectations,” he said.
He’s found this to be a refreshing change after postings in South Central Los Angeles.
One of Sison’s key objectives is to encourage Coast Union’s graduates to attend four-year colleges. He has observed that many students who start out at community colleges, with the intention of transferring, drop out before they are able to advance. But, in addition to motivating students to raise their sights, he also has to convince parents that leaving home is in the students’ best interests. And he has to make sure Coast Union’s curriculum fully prepares graduates so they don’t arrive on college campuses needing remedial courses.
With respect to the classroom, Sison wants to make sure students have solid literacy training. They need to be skilled at developing and asking text-dependent questions. Plus they must learn to access information from texts through careful reading. He is enthusiastic about the district’s adoption of technology, emphasizing that when fully integrated in the curriculum, technology effectively promotes collaboration, creation and sharing. These are all skills necessary for success in a 21st century workforce.
After a couple months as principal, Sison has found that his school functions well and that his students are well prepared. He’s quick to say these positives were all in place before he arrived. But he’s excited to build on success, to make the school even better and to push his graduates to go as far as their capabilities will take them.