From AAPSNews Service
When Gerald Vazquez graduated from The University of Michigan with a major in communications, little did he think he would someday be in education – much less as a school principal.
But that’s the way he went, thanks to opportunities, a good mentor who nudged him in that direction and many other people who encouraged him along the way.
“I’m fortunate,” he said. “My journey is paved with a lot of help.”
Now a Saline resident (“I came for my undergraduate degree and never left the area,” he said) has spent much of his educational career in the Detroit Public Schools. He came to Ann Arbor in mid-December to take the reins at Scarlett Middle School – one of the few schools he said he would leave Detroit to lead.
A plaque in his office states: “A good man leads a life of integrity and his children are blessed after him.” It follows his philosophy of leading the students and staff in his charge to be the best they can be.
“I love the work,” he said, between calls from parents and school staff, punctuated with a jazz ring tone emanating from his office where he is still getting settled. “I like looking at situations and how we can create a win-win. And we always can.”
A New Jersey native who was raised on in southwest Detroit, Vazquez was active on the U-M campus with the New Life Church and thought he might take up mission work. But a principal in the Detroit Public Schools had other ideas. The now-retired Rosa Williams hired him as an at-risk counselor and truant officer for the school district and he was hooked.
“She told me ‘you need to go back to school and get certified. You’re going to be a principal’,” said the soft-spoken Vazquez, who thrives on a challenge and enjoys working equally with parents, staff and students. “I knew she really cared about me.”
“If she believed you were doing the right thing for kids, she would let you try,” he said of Williams. “And that is my mantra today – I will shout it from the rooftops.”
‘If she believed you were doing the right thing for kids, she would let you try. And that is my mantra today – I will shout it from the rooftops.’
He earned his master’s degree in teaching at Wayne State University and quickly became entrenched in the schools as a curriculum leader for bilingual education, then an eight-grade guidance counselor, then a middle school principal at Detroit’s Earhart Middle School, serving for 14 years.
In his last half year in Detroit, he was was moved to the principal’s post at Western International High School at the request of Robert Bobb, Detroit’s state-appointed emergency financial manager, who said he needed Vazquez there.
Vazquez is the youngest of five children who was raised with “tons of love, in a great, faith-filled family,” he said. “We were poor. We struggled, but love and strong values got us through.” Four of the five Vazquez siblings have entered careers serving people. “Each of us learned the value of a hard day’s work,” he added.
Southwest Detroit is a hub for Spanish-speaking families and working there was a coming home for Vazquez. Earhart School has a 75 percent Latino population, he said. “And half of them have Spanish as a primary language in the home,” he added.
Being at Scarlett “is a lot like being down there because of the diversity of the population” he added. “I feel right at home and have been made to feel welcome by everybody.”
Vazquez said he is taking his time to get to know the Scarlett community before deciding what things to improve upon. He replaces Edward Broom, who remains as assistant principal at Scarlett and who served as interim until Vazquez was hired. Vazquez and Broom worked together in Detroit and have many of the same philosophies about education, he said.
Although his career path proved to be a surprise for Vazquez, now 42 and married with three children, he has always listened to his heart. “I believe the big guy upstairs wires you with some DNA and some unique qualities,” he said. “Mine is to work with kids.”
Occupation: Principal at Scarlett Middle School
Education: Undergraduate degree in communications and marketing from The University of Michigan; a master’s degree in teaching from Wayne State University. Additional coursework in educational leadership.
Family: Married to Alicia. They have three children: Drew, 12, Max, 10, and Ali, 13 months.
Pets: A dog, Tillie, a Labradoodle.
Hobbies: Enjoys coaching baseball, plays golf.
Community service: Active in New Life Church on the University of Michigan campus.
Favorite meal: “The best food is Italian. I love my friend’s Mama Papé’s spaghetti and meatballs.”
Last book read: Mitch Albom’s “Have a Little Faith.”
Life philosophy: “If it’s going to be funny later, it’s going to be funny now.”