Anyone can be anything, as long as they put their mind to it — and Matt Valdivia is a clear example of his own mantra.
The evidence from his own experiences in education and administration has paid off: the lifelong Pass area resident was appointed Banning High School’s new principal on July 1.
He hopes to help students better themselves and achieve their goals.
“If we forget and lose sight of the purpose of why we’re here, then we’re in the wrong business,” says Valdivia, pointing out the fact that he makes students the top priority.
Valdivia attended schools in the Beaumont Unified School District and graduated from Beaumont High School in 1989.
He attended the University of California, Riverside, where he majored in history and minored in psychology. He graduated in 1993 and received his teaching credential a year later.
In August 1994, he started teaching at Nicolet Middle School, where he taught history, social science and physical education. Altogether he taught for 12 years.
He was also Nicolet’s track and field coach for nine years.
Initially, Valdivia didn’t give administration much thought because his mind was set on teaching.
In 2005 former Banning superintendent Kathy McNamara attempted several times to get him to consider a career in administration.
She wasn’t the only one who persuaded him.
“Prior to that, I had a friend who encouraged me, even though I was continuing on my course of wanting to just continue to teach,” he says. “I had indicated that it wasn’t going to hurt to get a master’s degree in administration or technology or something, you know, of that nature, so I went with a friend back to Azusa Pacific University,” where he got a master’s degree in educational technology, and, with encouragement from that same friend, continued on to earn a master’s degree in educational administration. He completed both degrees by 2005.
Despite getting advanced degrees, Valdivia was still not entirely sure about administration, though it did not stop him from developing an interest, and he eventually became an administrative designee.
It allowed him to step in for absent administrative figures and gave him an opportunity to “get his feet wet” and learn about how the system works.
The position for principal opened at Nicolet Middle School at the end of the 2006 academic year after its previous principal stepped down mid-year.
Again, McNamara approached Valdivia with the hope that he could fill the spot.
“At first, I was somewhat hesitant, but something went off in my brain that basically said, ‘If you continue to say no, you’re going to get passed up and at some point you’re going to be forgotten for administrative jobs,’ and that’s part of the nature of the business,” Valdivia recalls.
He remembers feeling uncertain about what he was getting into.
He worked at Nicolet Middle School as interim principal for the last three months of that school year, and held that position until 2009.
He was then transferred to Banning High School, where he accepted an interim dean position.
In 2010, he applied and became assistant principal. He kept that position from August 2010 to March 2015. He stepped up to fill in for the interim principal when that person retired early due to medical issues.
At the beginning of this month, Superintendent Robert Guillen invited him to become the high school’s latest principal.
In his new position, Valdivia says hopes to improve Banning High School’s learning environment through organization, motivation, inspiration and ensuring that the students get the resources they need to learn.
Valdivia feels that consistency will help maintain a good learning environment for students.
“What I want to do is establish systems. The systems that are in place, if they are good, they can actually be long-lasting,” he says. “Now, administrations after me should be able to see that those systems are in place: they can refine, they can tweak it and do whatever they need to, but at least there’s a system” that will give Banning High School some direction.
Emphasis will be on Common Core, focusing on informational-type text along with investigation, research, project based assignments. Cross-curricula could incorporate science, math, language arts and history, he says.
Under Valdivia’s watch, Banning High School will also implement positive behavior intervention and support, and will strive to develop expectations by locations, create and nurture culture that focuses on student success through building and strengthening positive relationships between students and staff.
They also hope to reduce tardiness by demonstrating that the classroom is a fun place where students will want to be.
This year districtwide, Chromebooks are being provided to all students, making electronic textbooks more accessible.
Around campus, people will see lamp posts decorated with the photos of students that announce where they’re going after high school. Some of those same banners adorn lamp posts around the city, which has proven to be a popular move.
“We are trying to create a real college and career feel for Banning High School. We
actually started that this last year and tried to dress it up,” Valdivia says.
Banning High School will debut this year new class offerings in crime scene investigation and law enforcement, and will collaborate educational opportunities with the Banning Justice Center and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
The new developments and changes at Banning High School are more than just additional tools, Valdivia says.
“We want every student to maximize their potential in whatever it is that interests them the most.”