Santiago Gradoresigned last month
as principal of Denver's West High School after only a month and a half on the job. School officials say he chose to do so after issues with his academic leadership were raised.
But Grado tells Westword that it was a difference in leadership philosophies, not a lack thereof, that prompted him to leave.
"Some people lead with a heavy hand," he says. "I lead from a place of support, compassion and understanding. That's me."
Grado was replaced by assistant principal Domonic Martinez, who has had leadership problems of his own. Grado spoke to Westword in the hopes of telling his side of the story. "I want people to know who I am and what I'm about," he says.
Grado came to Colorado from his hometown of El Paso, Texas, where he ran a school that catered to dropouts, pregnant teenagers and, he says, "kids nobody wanted." The school focused on helping students earn a GED. There, Grado says he learned to be an advocate for teenagers. "I'm more about my kids," says Grado, who often jokes that he has 4,000 children. "I'm not about having to play the political side of it."
But Grado's wife, a nurse, fell in love with Colorado and the couple eventually moved to Conifer. Grado says he taught math, science and computer classes in the Sheridan and Adams County school districts before becoming an assistant principal. He held leadership roles at several schools, including DPS's CEC Middle College -- where Martinez was principal last year -- before taking the principal job at Northridge High School in Greeley.
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Grado says he loved Greeley but applied for the principal job at West in order to work closer to home. He says he immediately connected with the West community, which reminded him of his community in El Paso. "There was a joke at West that I ran with my kids," he says. But, Grado says, the best way to get students to invest in their education is to show them that the adults at the school care and are willing to listen. Grado says he applied the same mentoring philosophy to the teachers at West.
"If you get a child to say, 'Yes, I want to learn,' and a teacher to say, 'Yes, I want to teach,' you'll have success," Grado says. Academic rigor, he believes, is achieved through encouragement, not ultimatums. "You do it with heart," Grado says, "and not with slamming it down their throat."
Grado says he didn't want to leave West, "but it came to a point where I wasn't able to do what I felt was appropriate." He's now looking for a new position. "I'm an optimistic person," he says. "I'll land on my feet."
More from our Education archives: "DPS school board race: 4 candidate for phasing out struggling schools, says A+ Denver survey."