- Alisal Union School District
José Juan Urquizo — Cultivated in Alisal
José Juan Urquizo
Principal — Creekside Elementary
José Juan Urquizo should have begun his educational career at Bardin Elementary of Alisal Union School District. But the school was so overcrowded at the time that there was no room for him, so instead he started attending classes behind St. Mary of the Nativity Church, where the district had four classrooms. For the second grade he was moved to Bardin, where he attended all through sixth grade.
“I remember being in a bilingual program,” he said. “I remember those books I saw in the district, de palmitas en español. Había una maestra que enseñaba folklórico, it was a very popular thing.”
His 5th grade teacher was Mr. Herrera, and Mr. Urquizo remembers being pulled out of class to learn English. He also remembers doing well in school starting the 3rd grade because he began getting recognitions and awards. Mr. McDaniels, who played his guitar, was a very popular teacher.
“That’s how I learned English,” he said.
Mr. Urquizo attended middle school and the first year of high school in Gonzales, where the family lived for a few years. For his sophomore year in high school, he returned to Salinas and attended Alisal High School.
As a migrant student, Mr. Urquizo attended the Yo Puedo Migrant Program during his junior in high school. That’s when he realized college was an option for him.
“It was the first time … I read about people I could relate to. The staff was bilingual. It was ‘yo puedo, tu puedes.’ I took teatro, all that the (Alisal Center for the Fine Arts) does, but I got it for the first time in high school.”
Empowered with this new knowledge, he enrolled in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with the idea of becoming a coordinator for educational programs. In his vocational journey, which included stopovers in political science and a desire to become a lawyer, he discovered he wanted to be a history teacher at Alisal High School.
“I wanted to change the world in East Salinas,” he said. So after spending a year in Mexico City studying history and graduating from Cal Poly, he applied to get a master’s degree and a single subject credential at UC Santa Barbara.
But the summer before he started graduate school, he attended at job fair in Greenfield, and he was offered a job teaching 5th grade. The money on the table would be more than what his parents, migrant farmworkers, were making at the time, and besides, he didn’t have the $1,000 UC Santa Barbara was asking to sign him up. So he headed to Greenfield.
“I started a danza group, I did a yearbook with the kids. I was really enjoying it, I wanted to change the world. You graduate with this idealism, and maybe that’s why I stood out,” he said.
Mr. Urquizo was named the teacher of the year, but his stint in Greenfield would not last. He was offered a job at Alisal Community School in 1998, his first year working for Alisal Union School District.
“I never left the elementary,” he said. “Instead of my single subject credential I went to multiple subjects. There’s something about that age, when the kids are trying to figure out their lives, that’s what drives me. That’s why I taught upper grades, 5th or 6th. To me, it’s the prime age to get them.”
Urquizo did eventually obtain his single subject credential in Social Studies with the idea of eventually teaching history at the high school level. But after teaching at Alisal Community School for five years, he headed to Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. Then he worked at César Chávez Elementary as a bilingual teacher for half a year, and he ended the year as assistant principal at Virginia Rocca Barton. Before arriving at Creekside Elementary, where he’s going on his third year, he also worked at Frank Paul and Fremont.
“It’s been a great honor to come back and work for a district that gave me so much as a student,” Mr. Urquizo said. “I am extremely grateful and proud to be part of such a beautiful and resilient community.”
Note: This is the third installment of "Cultivated in Alisal: Homegrown Heroes," a first attempt at documenting and celebrating the history of Alisal Union School District. For more information and other profiles, click here. To submit your name to be profiled, click here.