Santa Monica High School’s Dr. Hugo Pedroza is finishing up several months on the job with clear goals and a desire to keep students’ best interests in mind.
Pedroza has come to one of the highest academically achieving high schools in the County of Los Angeles. Last year Samohi boasted one of the highest college admissions rates, its API scores increased 25 points in a year and the dropout rate is less than five percent. Samohi students garnered international attention earlier this year after winning an entrepreneurship competition in Shanghai, China.
These accomplishments are all part of the reason Pedroza made the shift from the inner city campuses of Lincoln and Manual Arts High Schools. He says he came to our community to “expand my toolbox” and see “how the high-performing schools do it.” Pedroza credits much of Samohi’s success to the intergenerational support for the school. The alumni network is very strong, and parents of current students are often Vikings themselves. “They make sure they know what is going on in the school, they make sure they like what is going on.”
Pedroza appears to have a palpable passion for educating students and a desire to really listen so that he can properly address students’ needs. Pedroza has a positive attitude that is observable as he interacts with parents, an activity he tries to engage in as frequently as possible. Says Pedroza, “I am a hands-on Principal. To do my job well I need to know students and to know students I need to be there.”
Although Pedroza has many goals, he is clear when discussing his priorities: “Safety, student safety is always number one.” Former Principal Ilene Straus resigned earlier this year amidst much dissatisfaction from teachers, students and parents for her handling, or lack thereof say many, of hate crime graffiti and the resulting tensions between races. Said one Samohi mother, “When my daughter has felt threatened at school, she couldn’t concentrate on her studies.”
Pedroza is one of 15 siblings from San Diego. With two Master’s and a PhD, along with a commitment to students and administrative experience at the high school level, he has the potential to be the strong leader that Samohi needs. His goals include engaging kids in physical education, narrowing the achievement gap by focusing on low achievers and helping students perform better in math. He is also attempting to establish partnerships with local businesses, stressing that it is an investment in the future because “these students may be their employees someday.”
If Pedroza can maintain instructional excellence, establish meaningful benchmarks to assess progress, lead students (not just control them) to safety and stay true to the best interests of students, Samohi should be a much-improved school on many levels.
Responding to the difficulty of his position Pedroza says, “This job is a challenge but I signed up for it. I wouldn’t ask for anything less.”