With a doctorate degree in educational administration, Carlos Ramirez readily took on the challenge of stepping into a principal role mid-school year at Cedar Ridge High. The son of Mexican immigrants who obtained a green card through the Bracero program, Ramirez grew up surrounded by agricultural California, learning to drive a tractor before he could even drive a car. Today, you might find him on a hike with his dogs, reading science fiction novels, fishing on the dock in his backyard, or at his favorite downtown restaurant, Los Altos.
News of Orange County: Where is your hometown?
Dr. Carlos Ramirez: I was born and raised in California, which is where I grew up. I worked there as a school principal. We then moved to Texas and lived there for 10 years. We moved to Colorado for one year … I attended college in California, went to the University of California Davis, and then I got my master’s degree out there. I earned my doctorate at the University of North Texas.
NOC: Do you have a particular mantra that you live by?
CR: Yes, but it will change as I experience life. Right now, it is “there is more than one right answer.” Because that opens up perspectives and opens up opportunities when your mind is open to accept other ideas that may be equally, if not more, impactful or powerful than your own.
In his office, Dr. Ramirez’ desk is stocked with a variety of Eastern teas, ranging from soft herbal to tart berry. His choice of drink is unexpected.
NOC: What is the significance of the tea?
CR: So, I appreciate different cultures, and in the Eastern culture, tea is an important part of a person’s day. They actually have rituals for tea. It was a way to stop and acknowledge each other and check in instead of going straight to business. It’s about building relationships. That’s another thing that I like about being a principal: you get to build relationships. And the other part of me is trying to help people. Teaching is a stressful job, even for me. So I know that instead of having a Coke, or doughnuts, or something, I’m going to try something that’s healthy. Because tea actually calms you down.
NOC: That’s cool that it’s also a metaphor for making connections.
CR: Yes, so I believe that 90 percent of all learning is emotional. The skill stuff — 10 percent — is super important, but if there’s a teacher that you really connect with, your mind will be more open to really learning things.
NOC: What made you decide to be a principal, and what do you enjoy about being a principal?
CR: You get to truly help people. So on any given day, maybe you’re helping a student, a family, a teacher, or a community member. So there’s never truly a dull moment, and I like giving back as much as I can. In this kind of work you can, where you feel like you can make a difference. That’s why I got into education to begin with. I find joy in helping people and doing what I can to make their lives better.
NOC: What’s one thing about your high school experience that you would like to carry through to Cedar Ridge?
CR: There is something for everyone. Every student had their safe place. Everyone felt that they belonged amongst their teachers and their friends. It was an agricultural community, so everybody knew each other. I would like for all of our students to connect with the school on a personal level, as well as academic. I don’t want kids to hate high school, they shouldn’t. This is their school, and I work for the school, for them. So when I met with our students here, as far as my introduction to them, I did not talk about rules. I did not talk about must do, you should, could. I just talked to them about myself and why I became an educator.
I also shared with them some of my expectations. I look at high school students as adults. They’re not kids, even if some act like it. If I establish a relationship with a student and their family, the fact that I am interested in what they do, is a form of what I call caring discipline. I am interested in their lives and knowing how I can be a part of that journey. I believe in servant leadership, and part of that means understanding who you serve. I’m still developing that and identifying my community: what they value, what they’d like to see, and how I can serve them. Through that you can build strong communities, and that’s where I get my jam: knowing that I’m able to help anywhere that I can. One of the things that I would like to see is for Cedar Ridge to have more community engagement, in the form of traditions and connecting with the school. Orange (High School) has been around for a while and has established deep community connections. We’re the new school and we don’t have the traditions that Orange has … so new schools have to develop their own. There’s nothing wrong with that, we just haven’t landed on one that stands out. So when I met with the students, I told them that their voice was important and that I’m going to put a survey together and ask them what they would like to see as far as new traditions or things that we can try.
Dr. Ramirez raised his kids to pursue what they love, encouraging two of his sons to pursue their musical passions and enroll in music school after they became unsatisfied with their job and degree. Now they’re living large, working with A-list singer Ariana Grande and engineering music pieces in Hollywood.
NOC: What one piece of advice would you give a high school student?
CR: What I told my own kids: find your passion and go for it. Because in the end, your life, your happiness, is really connected to your career … so do what you love, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. I would like to see our students leave our school with the belief that they can do anything. So if they want to be rock stars, NBA players, I’ll help them achieve that. I’ll never tell a kid they can’t do anything. I truly believe that amazing things happen to people who pursue passionate dreams.