Cecilia Quintana-Perez of San Rafael City Schools wins 2019 Latino Business Leadership Awards

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Cecilia Quintana-Perez

Elementary school principal

Bahia Vista School

San Rafael City Schools

125 Bahia Way, San Rafael 94901


Find out more about the other 2019 Latino Business Leadership Awards winners.

Bahia Vista School Principal Cecilia Quintana-Perez said the most important student data points for her are daily smiles, hugs and interactions.

Professional background: 18 years as a classroom teacher and instructional coach, 5 years as principal

Education: Bachelor of Arts, liberal studies, Sonoma State University; master's degree in curriculum design and instruction, Dominican University of California; master's degree in educational leadership, San Francisco State University

Tell us your story and that of your organization: For the last five years I’ve had the privilege of serving as the principal of Bahia Vista School, located in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael.

Our school reflects the cultural makeup of the community.

About 98% of our students are Latino, the majority of which are first-generation. English learners comprise about 95% of our student population. I began my career as a teacher at Bahia Vista where I taught for 16 years. I also worked in the district as an instructional coach.

When the opportunity to return to Bahia Vista as principal five years ago presented itself, I knew I had to go for it!

It brings me tremendous joy and pride to lead a stellar team of educators and work alongside staff, students and families to realize our collective vision to close the opportunity gaps in our community by focusing on the needs of the whole child.

At Bahia Vista, we believe that our primary role as educators and advocates is to make children confident and creative builders of their future. Students are encouraged to meet academic challenges with openness, enthusiasm, and a willingness to solve problems.

We strive to cultivate a culture of caring and academic excellence, with respect for individual differences and community values.

We believe that our students’ biculturalism and diverse backgrounds are two of our greatest strengths as a school community.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

Every year, students who speak a home language other than English are given a statewide assessment called the English Language Proficiency Assessment of California (ELPAC). This test measures how students are progressing with their English-language development in reading, writing, listening and speaking.

When a student meets the state standards for this test, our school team reviews the student’s academic portfolio to determine whether or not the student has met all of the required criteria to be reclassified from Limited English Proficient to Fluent English Proficient.

Last year we had 114 students in 1st-5th grades, a record number, meet all of the criteria to be “redesignated” as Fluent English speakers!

This is an amazing accomplishment for our students, who have to learn and master the same academic content as their native English speaking counterparts while simultaneously learning the language. This success reaffirms that our students possess grit and and a strong desire to learn.

When given a high quality learning environment, thoughtful and caring educators, rigorous and engaging lessons, and a strong connection between school and home our students can flourish and achieve academic milestones.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Success in public schools is generally measured by academic achievement data, which is necessary and important. We need to prepare our students to be critical thinkers and global citizens who demonstrate mastery in all academic areas.

Cecilia Quintana-Perez

Elementary school principal

Bahia Vista School

San Rafael City Schools

125 Bahia Way, San Rafael 94901


Find out more about the other 2019 Latino Business Leadership Awards winners.

While we must examine the data, report out on the data and design programs based on what the data is telling us, we need to remain focused on our promise to provide all children with a caring and responsive school culture that inspires, uplifts and empowers.

The daily smiles, hugs, and interactions with our students is the most important data point for me.

As a teacher and now as a site administrator, I’ve always put my greatest efforts in building authentic relationships with my students, families and colleagues to promote a positive learning environment and build community. I am most proud of the work my colleagues and I do every day to not only educate the minds, but more importantly, care for the hearts of our beautiful students.

What is your biggest challenge today?

In spite of our data showing steady academic growth on district-adopted assessments, we have a significant amount of students who are performing below standard on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) in language arts and mathematics.

At Bahia Vista, 99% of our students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Our students are capable and eager to learn but the opportunity gap that has historically kept underrepresented groups from achieving greater success in school still exists.

We need to be diligent in designing programs to meet the needs of our students and we need more funding to increase the opportunities for academic interventions, after school programs and school counseling.

Words that best describe you: Compassionate, grateful, determined, and humorous.

As a successful professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

It took me many years to truly believe in myself and find the courage and confidence to move into a leadership role.

I’ve always viewed myself as part of the team, not the “captain” so to speak. Taking the leap into the principalship five years ago was scary and uncertain. It forced me to activate many skills that I possess, but had never taken the time to acknowledge or cultivate. I’ve learned to trust my instincts and not give in to self-doubt.

I’ve also learned - and continue to pay attention to - how to be a more thoughtful listener and collaborator with my colleagues and my staff. Staying grounded in my values and choosing “courage over comfort” (Brene Brown, “Dare to Lead”) has kept me grounded in my work, especially when there are difficult or unpopular decisions that need to be made in order to keep our students at the center of all we do.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Anyone who has worked in education long enough knows that the pendulum swings every few years. There will always be a focus on teaching foundational and rudimentary skills to students. That remains a constant. In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of students who have experienced some form of trauma or another.

These adverse experiences can leave an imprint on a child’s brain that may hinder his academic or emotional development. Teachers and administrators are wearing more hats than ever trying to meet the needs of students while at the same time balancing the demands of teaching and planning engaging lessons that allow students to gain essential knowledge and achieve academic benchmarks.

All teachers receive training in child development, curriculum design, effective teaching strategies and classroom management. My hope is that teaching credential programs, site administrators, and district leadership begin to integrate specialized training on trauma-informed practices and social-emotional learning. There is a plethora of research that shows that incorporating social emotional learning into the curriculum increases academic achievement and positive social interactions, and, decreases negative outcomes later in life.

Who was your most important mentor?

I have been blessed with so many powerful role models in my life. My parents always instilled in me the strength and security of family, which continues to be my touchstone when dealing with both challenging situations and celebrating my achievements.

There was one person in particular who had a significant impact in my life throughout my teenage years and as I entered adulthood.

Her name was Judy Robbins. First she was our neighbor, then she was our friend, and along the way she became like a second mother to me. She was an educator and a business owner and challenged me to new experiences such as trying sushi for the first time, seeing my first Broadway musical, and daring to dream of going to college one day.

She tutored me in math, an area in which I always struggled, and helped me with my college applications and essays. Judy also told me that I was a strong person and that sooner or later I would need to learn how to be more assertive and confident.

Most of all, she was warm, loving, feisty, brilliant, and a fierce advocate for equity. She encouraged me to become and educator, and so I did.

Tell us about your community involvement: One of the most rewarding parts of my job is my collaboration with various community partners that support our school wide efforts.

For the past several years, I have worked closely with several agencies, including the Marin Community Foundation, Parent Services Project, First 5 of Marin, and Bay Area Community Resources. We are fortunate to have so many advocates and agencies in the North Bay who want to work in partnership to close the opportunity gap and create positive and powerful learning experiences for our students and families.

What advice would you give to a young person today?

The key to success and happiness is balance. Balance confidence with humility, speaking with listening, open door with boundaries, work with play, and conviction with flexibility.

Most admired business person outside your organization: As a Chicana, I am always inspired by other Latinas who have experienced success and then paid it forward. I admire the work of Eva Longoria.

After establishing herself as a successful actress, she went back to college to earn her masters in Chicano Studies and has led multiple philanthropic endeavors to support the Latino community.

Current reading: “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown and “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.

Most want to meet: Before she passed away, I always said that I would love to meet Maya Angelou. I’ve always been inspired by her writing and wisdom. Now, if I could, I would love to meet the notorious RBG, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Stress relievers: When I just need to unplug from everything, I love to drive out to Point Reyes and take in the natural beauty of West Marin. The closer I get to the ocean, the more relaxed I become!

Favorite hobbies: My family and I are diehard San Francisco Giants fans, so watching baseball is one of my favorite pastimes. I also love to swim, cook, and try new recipes. My alter ego is actually a Food Network chef!

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