Principal Cynthia Valdez
Cynthia Valdez, principal of North Beach Junior/Senior High School, knows what it’s like to be a student in a system that doesn’t entirely know how to serve you; in a school that goes through the motions, but doesn’t implement from the heart.
She recalls, as a Kindergarten student, being taken out of class for language testing. “A very tall man took me to a small room, asked me questions in English, and then asked more questions (the same questions, she now knows) in Spanish. Because I didn’t understand Spanish, I started to cry,” she recalls.
State law requires schools to conduct this testing yearly to determine bilingual students’ English and Spanish fluency, although schools have different ways of identifying students for the testing. She was tested every year until sixth grade despite her parents’ repeated efforts to tell the school she spoke English, and despite never speaking a word of Spanish in class. While her family does have Hispanic roots that stretch back through her Valdez grandparents to 1694 New Mexico, she was raised by two English-speaking parents. She believes the only reason she was tested was her last name.
One of her passions as a result of this experience is ensuring students are known, not stereotyped. She doesn't want any student to experience any kind of stereotyping in her school, or elsewhere. When stereotyping occurs, associated expectations about students’ abilities often place an added barrier to their success. “Those additional, imposed barriers then keep many kids from receiving any kind of rigor in instruction, or reaching high levels of academic achievement,” Ms. Valdez emphasizes.
When she reached high school, she decided to study Spanish, and it came easily to her. Somewhere around that time she also saw the movie, Anna and the King of Siam, and she felt the calling to become a teacher. These were the first steps in becoming a recognized state and national leader in bilingual education.
Ms. Valdez earned a Bachelor of Arts, followed by a Masters of Education from Eastern Washington University. She began her teaching career in Pasco, earned a continuing principal's certificate and, in 26 years in education, has taught or been an administrator in several districts before joining North Beach School District.
Early in her teaching career, she began serving on committees with OSPI, and has helped develop best practices and regulations. She currently serves on the state’s Dual Language Task Force supporting the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Ms. Valdez has always loved the coast and, in visits to Ocean Shores, often found herself wanting to live and work in the area. When the opportunity to take the helm of NBMS/HS came up, she applied. “I’ve been sitting behind a desk for 16 years, and I realized it’s time to put my money where my mouth was,” she said. She’s excited to bring her best strategies to the district’s secondary school, which serves 299 students.
For example, she has implemented several OCDE Project GLAD® strategies at the school. Project GLAD® was developed to enable teachers to more effectively instruct non-English speakers, but the strategies are effective for English-speaking students, too. Ms. Valdez has been honored as the National OCDE Project GLAD® Trainer of the Year, so watch for more innovations in instruction at the school.
Ms. Valdez has two children. Her 23 year old son, Glenn, works for Schweitzer Engineering Labs in Pullman and graduated from WSU in Electrical Engineering, Math, and Computer Science. His hard work has just earned him his first patent. Natalie, her 15-year old daughter, has just finished up her AP coursework from first semester in her previous school and will become student number 300 in the district’s secondary school.
Among Ms. Valdez’s top goals for the school is to restore trust and relationships between administration, staff, students and parents. She’s also exploring ways to expand academic options in the school, both in types of classes and levels of rigor. Students are currently being surveyed for their top choices, after which Ms. Valdez expects to announce some new offerings.