After former Assistant Principal Peter Schurke announced his intention to leave MTHS on August 9, the Edmonds School District (ESD) swiftly began searching for someone to fill his position. On August 23, the district announced that Dr. Fabian Castilleja would fill the position of Interim Assistant Principal for the 2019-2020 school year.
“You can’t beat the excitement of schools. The whole excitement that’s generated by a lot of young people coming together with some really committed and passionate educators. There’s no place else I’d rather be. It’s the toughest job in the world, I think, but it’s also the most rewarding,” Castilleja said regarding his job as an educator.
While his last held position was Assistant Principal of Terrace Park Elementary School, he has previously had both teaching and administrative experience at the high school level. Castilleja, who has been involved in education since 1984, started out as a teacher at his alma mater high school, where he taught multiple social studies classes.
“After a few years I decided I wanted to be a principal, so I went back [to college] and got my principal’s credentials,” Castilleja said. “I’ve been a principal since 1994 over in a middle school in a little rural town in eastern Washington.”
Castilleja himself is from the eastern portion of the state, having grown up in the Yakima Valley and teaching there until eventually coming to western Washington.
“It’s a whole different kind of world [in eastern Washington], the climate is so much different, not very much traffic, a lot slower pace,” he said. “It seems like everybody is on a big lot, coming [to western Washington] is just different, there’s a lot more people and things move a lot faster, you really have to plan if you want to go into somewhere like Seattle.”
While earning his teaching credentials in college, he was a student teacher at Inglemoor High School in the Northshore School District (NSD). Preferring the climate in the west, he finally moved over in 2011, taking a job as a principal for a small school affiliated with a local tribe.
“I’ve been a principal for about 15 years now, and I’ve worked in kindergarten all the way through high school, and I’ve been a vice principal for about four or five years,” Castilleja said. “I’ve got a lot of administrative experience and I’m excited to be here.”
Castilleja has served as an administrator within the ESD for about a year and a half, with MTHS being the fifth school. Before he served as an assistant principal at Terrace Park Elementary School, he was an administrator at two other elementary schools and Meadowdale High School.
Due to the budget cuts that took place toward the end of the last school year, Castilleja was cut from his position at Terrace Park. When Schurke left to take a planning principalm position in the NSD, the district reached out to Castilleja to offer him the position.
“I’m here as an interim assistant principal, and we’ll see what happens in the spring, hopefully I’ll be able to stay a while,” Castilleja said.
Castilleja hopes to focus his support on students, teachers and classrooms throughout Terrace using his vast knowledge of education.
“I think I bring a lot of enthusiasm, a positive attitude, a lot of experience and education. I have a master’s and a doctorate, I have a lot of training in education and so I think I have a lot to offer.”
Castilleja finished his educational training in 2014, when he received a doctorate in educational leadership from Washington State University.
“I studied all aspects of education and what goes into providing a good learning environment, proper instruction for kids, supervising other education professionals and all the leadership aspects of the field,” Castilleja said.
Castilleja emphasized that one’s education is never finished, and considers himself to be a lifelong learner.
“I believe in education, I’m probably going to take a few more classes, there are some other things I’d like to study a little bit and I’d like to keep learning,” Castilleja said. “I think we lose our enthusiasm if we don’t keep stretching our minds.”
Castilleja’s main priority is to see that students are not only receiving quality instruction in the classroom, but also that they are taking advantage of that education.
“I want to encourage students to really take advantage of the education they get so they have a lot more opportunities in the future, that’s why I’m here,” Castilleja said.
Although he’s been at MTHS for less than a month, Castilleja has a high impression of the staff and the community that they have helped to foster.
“”I think the staff is really committed and it seems that the folks who come here want to stay here, they really love the school,” Castilleja said. “I’ve met parents during freshman orientation and touring the school, and they talk about how they’re committed Hawks. I’m impressed that the school has built such a strong community and I’m excited to be part of it.”
Initially, Castilleja did not plan to be a teacher, as his mother was a teacher while he was growing up. Coming from a large family, a number of his brothers and sisters became teachers as well.
“I was actually gonna be an air force pilot,” Castilleja said. “I went to the Air Force Academy right out of high school, but I quickly discovered that I wasn’t a military type person. Then I was gonna go to law school and I took pre-law courses at my college, but by the time I got to be a senior I decided I didn’t want to do that either.”
Castilleja then turned to education due to his family’s history with the profession, and found that he had a real passion in the field. He has now been involved in education since he graduated college in 1984. He has continued to be an educator largely because of his love of helping students learn.
“Kids are always willing to take chances, take risks, ask questions, push the envelope a little bit. I like that aspect of education, I want kids to be inquisitive,” he said. “I want to be able to provide that environment where they’re always willing to take those chances, take those risks, stick their necks out, ask the questions, because I think that’s important to our lives even after school.”
Coming into the new school year, Castilleja’s foremost goal is to support the staff so that they are able to push students forward to accomplish their goals. He hopes to make sure that the students of terrace know that he is there as a resource for them.
“If I can help, I will. I don’t want to be viewed as a punitive figure, I want to be able to help folks,” Castilleja said. “I have high expectations of everybody and I want them to do their best and take advantage of the opportunities they get. We can always improve, so I want people really to push themselves to meet their potential.”