Story and Photo by Brandon Yung
Online Managing Editor
David Speck was recently hired as South Pasadena High School’s newest Assistant Principal of Student Services. He fills the position after the departure of Ginger Merritt-Paul, who is now the Principal at the International Polytechnic High School in Pomona.
The role of Assistant Principal of Student Services deals largely with discipline and school culture, to which Mr. Speck plans to bring a new perspective. Behind his desk is a large black tack board covered in visually-coordinated encouraging quotes. Speck has already worked for South Pasadena Unified School District for the last 11 years, starting as an elementary school teacher and eventually heading curriculum and technology implementation across the district. Small pins that commemorate his fifth and tenth years working in South Pasadena are proudly displayed on his desk. Just a week after moving into his office at SPHS, Tiger sat down with Speck to discuss his approach to the position.
Was the transition to becoming the Assistant Principal at SPHS sudden?
“The opportunity came up and I have always had the urge to move on and help more students at more levels. I love the idea of coming to the high school and making an impact here, where I can really get to know students better.”
What should student services mean for students at school?
“I want students to know student services is not just a place for discipline but also that we’re here to help. I don’t want the stigma of student services where you get called to student services just because you’re in trouble… I’m all about helping kids to be their best person. If you do get in trouble, I want to be the one to support and help you so that you’re on the right track.”
What are some goals you have for the upcoming year?
“I want to get to know the culture of the students and culture of the school and find out and meet with students to find out what their needs are… as well as what might need a little bit a tweaking. I’m really looking forward to meeting with a lot of the student groups on campus as well—the peer mediators and those types of groups to create a bridge between our office and the students.”
What are some philosophies or ideas you have and want to bring into the position?
“One big thing we’re looking at is bringing in a restorative justice approach and really talking about ways of getting kids on the right track to be successful. Also to break down some barriers that in the past might have led them to not have the best experience they could have.”
Students often talk about a “list” of those who have broken rules. Should discipline be approached to make sure students don’t break rules again?
“I don’t believe in that. I believe in giving second chances and my job is not just to punish the action but also to understand where the child is coming from and doing whatever it takes to help them to get back on the right path. I don’t believe you’re always going to be on that list… I want kids to know we work together and our goal to keep what is best for students in mind.”
What are some of the greatest challenges you think you might encounter?
“Coming from middle school and elementary school, the biggest challenge would be learning the culture. Because I’m the type of person to wants to know everybody, I want to be able to understand and get to know everyone on campus; that’s tough at a school this size”
One of the areas for improvement outlined at SPHS is the achievement gap between the Latino population and the majority population on campus. How do you hope to help work toward a solution?
“I think making sure we are really able to create early interventions for kids and making sure that we’re able to support and provide resources that the kids will need from the get go. I think another way to close the achievement gap is just to make sure everyone at school is adequately prepared to deal with and help all students and their different situations.”
Are you available for students to reach you?
“Totally open door, yeah. If they need to talk to me, if they need a referral to an outside person, if they need a referral to a counselor, they can always come here and see me. And I’ll always make sure I’m present on campus as well. I want people to be able to feel safe and be able to reach out.. we’ll find whatever resources they need.”
Many students feel that the high-pressure environment at school and heavy workload are too much. Should we start advocating for mental health more?
“I think mental health is always number one. I don’t think you can really function if you’re not taking care of your mental health… it’s huge. Same thing for me; I have to make sure to take time out to reflect, have fun, and relax… and there are various ways of doing that. I know it’s important; I know we are living in a world now where it feels like you have to take AP classes and you have to be top of your game to get into college—it’s a huge piece, but in order to be successful with any of that you also have to give yourself some time, or else you’re going to be burnt out even before you leave.”
Are you looking forward to highs school life?
“I’m looking forward to after school events, athletic games, and I’m looking forward to just the community and team spirit. I need to start getting my Tiger gear.”