Pittsburg Pride Posts
Pittsburg Pride Post: Raj Naicker, Assistant Principal, Pittsburg High SchoolPosted by Nicole Mora on 1/11/2019
Go Pirates – Pittsburg is truly an amazing community. Our strength is our diversity. I always have a sense of pride when I tell people I am Assistant Principal at Pittsburg High School. I was born and grew up in the Fiji Islands in Lautoka city- the second largest city in the Fiji Islands. I graduated High School from Natabua High School in Lautoka and obtained my Bachelors of Science Degree from The University of the South Pacific in Suva Fiji Islands. I immigrated to the USA in 2007 from New Zealand where I lived for 6 years. I started working for Pittsburg Unified school district in August 2007. I was always passionate about teaching as I love being with kids and helping them to become successful in life. Since Pittsburg is my home now, I made a commitment to help and serve the people of Pittsburg and the students of Pittsburg High School. I want to make a difference in the life of students at Pittsburg High School. My greatest joy is seeing students from Pittsburg High School doing well in their life.
I started with teaching Physics and Forensic Science at Pittsburg High School in 2007. The road to teaching at Pittsburg High School actually began in 1995 in the Fiji Island. I taught Math/Physics/Chemistry in various schools in the Fiji Islands for 8 years, Tangaroa College in Otara Auckland New Zealand for 3 years before moving to Pittsburg, California in 2007. This is my 11th year at Pittsburg High School. It is not easy to move from one country to another. Moving to a new country is always a challenge but this did not deter me from moving and facing the reality of life and learning about other cultures. I always remained optimistic. I had very good family support when I moved to the United States, therefore, settling here was really easy. Driving and getting a teaching job was not easy. It took me some time to get used to a steering wheel on the left-hand side of the car and driving on the right-hand side of the road. To get into teaching, I had to do my foreign transcript evaluation and so many different types of testing before I could apply for the teaching credential. The evaluation process and getting my single subject preliminary teaching credential took me a good 6 months. While teaching at Pittsburg High School, I went back to college - completed my Master's Degree and my Administrative Teaching Credential from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga.
This is my 11th year at Pittsburg High School – 7 years as a teacher and the last 4 years as an Assistant Principal. After being in the education profession for 23 years, I am totally blessed to be at Pittsburg High School and found fulfillment in a career for which I have true passion. As a teacher I know I provided a stimulating learning environment for the students at Pittsburg High School. I am honored to be Assistant Principal at Pittsburg High School and am so proud to serve our students, parents, and staff within the Pittsburg community for the past 11 years. I always want students to feel safe, valued and genuinely cared for at Pittsburg High School.
I would like to highly commend and acknowledge the Leadership teachers at Pittsburg High School for increasing and spreading the Pittsburg Pride in school. I genuinely believe school spirit is important because it sets the tone for various aspects of the school and its students. When the student body is involved in events on and off campus, it demonstrates a passion for Pirate Pride that is immeasurable and contagious. I believe that school spirit translates into higher expectations of one’s self and surroundings, pushing for positive changes in school and home.
I encourage students and teachers to show their love for Pittsburg High School every single day because it truly is wonderful to be a Pirate. I would like to thank everyone at Pittsburg Unified School District for their unwavering commitment and support for all the students in this District. My life is my message and it is our choices that show what we truly are. I am hoping I will and can inspire the students at Pittsburg High School to pursue their dreams. Life is a journey – never stop learning.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Kenny Winkler, Vice Principal, Willow CovePosted by Nicole Mora on 12/14/2018
I grew up in California, but the only Pittsburgh I knew of was in Pennsylvania, and I’d lived in the Bay Area for about six years before I ever set foot in California’s Pittsburg. At the time, Hillview Junior High School was one of the partner schools for the St. Mary’s College credentialing program, and I had to visit it. I had no desire to return. I didn’t want to teach middle school and didn’t want to drive way out to Pittsburg. Turns out Hillview was the only partner school that I could make work for my schedule. I figured I could get through a semester, and then I’d be on my way. Then, they offered to hire me as an intern at Hillview, which allowed me to finish my credential AND get paid. I had a little baby at home and plenty of student debt, so it was an easy choice. I could make it through a year, finish my credential, and then I’d be off to teach AP Senior English in a district closer to home.
Six years later, I was still teaching at Hillview. And for the past eight years, I’ve been an administrator at the elementary level, mostly at Willow Cove Elementary School. That’s over 14 years in Pittsburg. How did that happen?
I’m not really sure, or I can’t really put it in words. Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn’t need to work closer to home because Pittsburg had become like a second home to me. I realized I didn’t need to teach a particular subject or work at a particular level because Pittsburg is full of good, hard-working people and families that I want to serve. People who look different, talk different, come from different places and backgrounds, but who are here now working together and learning together.
I have spent the bulk of my adult life working in Pittsburg, and while it is not what I was looking for, it is what I was supposed to find. I’m proud to work with such dedicated teachers, staff, and administrators, many of whom grew up in Pittsburg themselves. I’m proud of the relationships I have with PUSD employees and families. And I’m proud of so many students that I’ve seen go through the schools where I have worked. I’m proud to be a part of this community and grateful that my life didn’t go according to plan.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Connie Spinnato, Assistant Principal, Pittsburg High SchoolPosted by Nicole Mora on 12/6/2018
Although I did not grow up in Pittsburg or graduate from PHS, it is home for me. I was born and raised in Hayward and graduated from Mt. Eden High School. Upon graduation, I attended San Jose State and Saint Mary’s College. I then started my teaching career at Mt. Eden High School, as a physical education teacher and basketball coach, and became an assistant principal. I started working at Pittsburg High School in 2010, and I plan to stay until they kick me out…or I retire.
I love Pittsburg High School and the community of Pittsburg. It is rich in pride and tradition, and it is very diverse, embracing the cultural backgrounds of all students. I feel very connected to Pittsburg High School and the community. I love coming to work each day, and I still love and respect what I do and the students I serve. PUSD is a great fit for me…and it was a fit from the first day as well as a great adventure.
What I love most about my job is the daily interactions with the students. I love the human connections and the relationships that we build with our students. I always came into education with the belief I wanted to make a difference in my students’ lives - to make them aware they are important and to make them feel like somebody. All the education in the world will never take the place of the relationships we build with our students. My wish is to leave a legacy of relationships. We have the best students you could ever ask for and they appreciate everything we do for them. My wish is that they all will reach their true potential and lead productive, fulfilling lives…and always feel that someone cared and guided them along the paths of life.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Joanne Ireland, Vice Principal, Parkside ElementaryPosted by Nicole Mora on 11/29/2018
My Pittsburg Pride all started with a house. I found a cute little stand-alone house I could buy all on my own in a quiet little neighborhood here in Pittsburg. Little did I know that my little home and move to Pittsburg would lead me to become so involved in our schools and our community! I have been a parent and community member here in Pittsburg. I have also had the opportunity to serve the children, teachers, and families of Pittsburg working as a teacher, an instructional coach, and now as an administrator at Parkside Elementary School.
Pittsburg is an amazing community where family is important. It is amazing how so many of our families can trace their history in Pittsburg back through generations. It is even more amazing how so many of our students and families find ways to give back and invest in making our present community a fabulous place to be. I have met some amazing people working with the community of Pittsburg both in and out of the schools. I have made friends here who became family.
My favorite part of any given day is working with students, teachers, and families. I am a firm believer in the power of yet. You may not have mastered this idea or that concept…yet. There is nothing more amazing than when the concept or idea is mastered and the student can say, “Look how I can…!” That moment of discovery is powerful. Making sure that a student has everything that they need in order to have that moment is priceless.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Staci Belleci, Vice Principal, Highlands ElementaryPosted by Nicole Mora on 11/21/2018
Why Pittsburg? This has been my home for almost my entire life; I was raised in Pittsburg, attended Highlands Elementary, Hillview Junior High and Pittsburg High School as a child. After graduating from college and obtaining my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, I came back to teach in Pittsburg because of the spirit and pride within our families and community. I wanted to give back to the place that gave me so many opportunities to build character, skills, and relationships that allowed me to thrive in life outside of Pittsburg. When I came back and began teaching here straight out of college, I knew that this would remain my professional home. Our students and families deserve people who understand them, and who know their value. Our students have so many gifts to offer, and it is my personal mission to help teachers, staff, and families uncover and reveal those gifts.
What makes Pittsburg different than other communities is the people! Many of our families have generations of family still residing here. It’s wonderful to inspire and encourage the children of parents I grew up with. Our families are passionate about this town and the many traditions that continue.
What I love most about my job are the students! It sounds so cliché to say, but it is what honestly drives me each and every day. Many of our students are so resilient and have great stories to tell. They look forward to a consistent face every day, knowing that they have someone who cares about them and supports their academic and socio-emotional learning. For this, I wake up every day with a purpose. For this, I give my whole heart to Pittsburg.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Hue Phan, Vice Principal, Heights ElementaryPosted by Nicole Mora on 11/15/2018
My journey with Pittsburg Pride began in August 1998 as a first year second-grade teacher at Willow Cove Elementary. I was a young graduate from Saint Mary’s College, and as a new teacher, I wanted to make a difference. My desire was to serve and inspire our scholars to reach their fullest potential. I believe that all students are capable and have the potential to succeed with support, respect and the right resources and tools. The metaphor I like to use is a beautiful garden with a variety of flowers in different colors, sizes, and shapes, and they need the right amount of water, sun, soil, and care. Similarly, our scholars need a champion who believes in them and shows them what they are capable of accomplishing. I have had students come to my classroom at the beginning of the year, not knowing how to read and disliking math, but then leave my classroom at the end of the year as a reader and enjoying math. Over the years, former students have visited me and told me that I inspired them to go to college. It’s an extremely rewarding feeling, and I am continuously motivated to do what I do because of it.
After 15 years of being a classroom teacher, I made a very difficult decision to leave the classroom and become a BITSA mentor. I was driven by the desire to have a bigger impact and help more than 25 students in a classroom. As a BITSA mentor, I worked with 15 new teachers across the district to inspire and help them improve their instructional practices. I enjoyed supporting our new teachers because I can see their passion for helping and educating. After a year as a BITSA mentor, a vice principal position at Heights Elementary became available, and I knew I wanted to do more and have an even more substantial impact on education and our students. In 2014, I became vice principal of Heights Elementary.
I am honored to be vice principal at Heights Elementary where I am proud to serve our students, parents, and staff within the Pittsburg Community for the past four years. Over the years, Pittsburg has significantly changed for the better, and I wear this like a badge of honor when I hear administrators from other school districts say they notice the many incredible things PUSD is doing. Pittsburg has been my second home for 20 years, and it will be home for many more years to come. I wake up each morning looking forward to greeting our scholars as their parents drop them off and excitingly waiting to hear what stories the students will share with me. I cherish the daily hugs and smiles that come my way. I recently had a first-grade student hug and say, “Where were you yesterday, I wanted to tell you something, but you were not here.” I cannot imagine being anywhere else but here.
My passion to teach, guide, and lead stems from my personal life. My family escaped Vietnam and came to the United States when I was nine years old. As the oldest of nine children, I matured quickly and developed leadership skills early to help raise and guide my eight younger siblings. I began working at the age of 16 to assist my family financially. I also supervised and advised my siblings through both academic and personal matters. I supported them with their homework, attended conferences on my parent’s behalf, and guided them through college applications and decisions about their future academic and professional endeavors.
I know many students I serve come from a similar background like mine, where parents are immigrants and may not speak English fluently. This naturally makes it difficult for the parents to support their children academically, due to language barriers. However, I want to show our students that with perseverance, hard work, dedication, and, of course, with the great Pittsburg staff, they can achieve and become anything they desire.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Pittsburg Unified School District for their endless support and dedication in helping me learn and continue to grow. It is because of you that I am who I am today and for that I am grateful.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Johanna Estrada-Ballardo , PHS GraduatePosted by Johanna Estrada-Ballardo on 11/8/2018
My name is Johanna Estrada-Ballardo and I am a Criminalist with the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab. I am a native of Pittsburg and attended Foothill Elementary, Central Junior High School, and lastly Pittsburg High School. After graduating from Pittsburg High School in 2002, I went on and received my Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Davis. I have been working at the Crime Lab since 2006 in both the Forensic Biology and Crime Scene Units.
My role as a Criminalist is exciting and each day is different from the next. I examine evidence for biological fluids, perform DNA analysis, and testify in court to my findings. I examine evidence in a variety of case types, ranging from property crimes to homicides. I also document crime scenes and collect evidence for potential future testing.
What I enjoy most about working in the county I was raised in, is that I get to work with so many other Pittsburg graduates who have gone on to work in Law Enforcement. Whether they are bringing evidence into the lab for analysis or working with them while processing a crime scene, it’s always a nice surprise to see a familiar face. Some of these faces were with me the day I decided I wanted to go into the Forensics field and have been nothing but supportive in my goals.
I always have a sense of pride when I tell people I am a product of Pittsburg. The diversity, the friends that turned into family, and the continuous support have shaped me into the person I am today. I only hope that I can inspire other future grads to pursue their dreams.
Thank you, Johanna, for sharing your #PittsburgPride story with all of us!
Pittsburg Pride Post: Mia Flores, Vice Principal, Los Medanos Elementary SchoolPosted by Nicole Mora on 11/1/2018
Meet Mia Flores, Vice Principal at Los Medanos Elementary School. We asked Ms. Flores a few questions about why she has Pittsburg Pride. You'll see from her answers below that she is deeply rooted in the Pittsburg community. Thank you, Mia, for sharing your #PittsburgPride!
Why Do You Have Pittsburg Pride?
Pittsburg Pride can come in many forms. For me, My Pittsburg Pride stems from being part of a diverse community that embraces the cultural melting pot Pittsburg is made of. Born and raised in Pittsburg attending Highlands Elementary, Hillview Junior High School, and Pittsburg High School, I can only speak from experience that Pittsburg has attributed to the many qualities that make me who I am today. Growing up in the City of Pittsburg I knew I wanted to give back to a community that gave so much to me. Education growing up was of importance to our family who not only grew up and resided in Pittsburg for generations but who also served the community to which they lived. From a great-grandfather who served as an officer for the Pittsburg Police Department, to a father who served and worked for the City of Pittsburg Recreation Department and contributed to the Development of the City of Pittsburg, I can say that Pittsburg Pride has been instilled in me all my life.
Why Did You Come Back to Pittsburg to be a Vice Principal? Why is Pittsburg Different from Other Communities?
Being able to start my career as a Social Studies/English/and Leadership Teacher at Hillview Junior High school, a school that I attended when I was a little girl was very special. It was then that I knew I had chosen a career that could not have been more fitting. Being nominated and receiving teacher of the year among colleagues, and being nominated as FSN 2007 Teacher of the Bay Area was an absolute honor, as I knew at best I represented Pittsburg Unified and my city that was known for Hard work, Determination, and Perseverance. Throughout my career, I have been afforded many opportunities that have made me a better teacher, a better administrator, and a lifelong learner. With 16 years in education serving Pittsburg Unified School District, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, and Oakley Union Elementary School District, the saying will always hold true in my heart that “There is No Place Like Home”. Pittsburg is home. It is a place I am proud to say I am from. It is a place that when people ask me “why did you come back home to Pittsburg?” I ask them... “Why Not?” I am a product of Pittsburg Unified School District and the community to which I serve and I am very proud of that.
What Do You Love Most About Your Job?
Having the opportunity to serve as Vice Principal of Los Medanos Elementary school is an absolute honor. Every day when I go to work I am excited. I love what I do and I love who I serve. It is an honor to co-facilitate a school and work with a team of teachers and for a district that I have the utmost respect for. From the hugs at recess, to the parent meetings, to the planning of Professional Development, to the teachers and staff of Team Los Medanos and the families and students that make up our school community, there is not a day that goes by where I remind myself how lucky I am to get to do what I do on a daily basis. I absolutely love my job and appreciate the opportunities I have been entrusted with to make a difference in my community.
Any Other Thoughts?
Pittsburg Pride is not just about claiming a city with victorious colors of orange and black. It is not just about chanting in a stadium the story of pirate territory. Pittsburg Pride is knowing that the harder you work for something, the greater you will feel when you achieve it because Pittsburg Pride is something that through humility and gratitude can be achieved and can be shared for generations to come.
Pittsburg Pride Post: Officer Pena, Pittsburg Police DepartmentPosted by Nicole Mora on 9/21/2018
My name is James Pena and I am currently the new School Resource Officer for Black Diamond High School and Pittsburg High School. I am excited for the 2018-2019 school year and getting to know the school staff and students.
My goal for this school year is to be a positive role model within the Pittsburg Unified School District and to help students succeed.
I enjoy talking sports and academics with the students because I was a collegiate athlete and can relate to the balancing of homework and practice.
Let's have a great year and Go Pirates!
Pittsburg Pride Post: Officer Y. Smith, Pittsburg Police DepartmentPosted by Nicole Mora on 9/20/2018
Ofc. Y. Smith
Officer Y. Smith is a native of the Bronx, New York. He attended Saint Mary’s College of California on a full basketball scholarship.
After graduating with a bachelors degree in communication, he played professional basketball in Australia for two seasons.
Upon his return to the United States, he joined the Pittsburg Police Department in August of 2017. He says he has a passion for working with the youth and being a role model.
Officer Smith is currently assigned as the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Martin Luther King Junior High School. His goal is to provide a positive influence on the scholars.