“Aspire not to have more, but to be more.” — Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Six years ago, I began my career in education as a 7th grade English/Social Studies teacher at Monseñor Oscar Romero Charter School (MORCS), one of Youth Policy Institute (YPI) charter schools. It was at MORCS that I first experienced the impact and influence a great leader could have on others. From day one, I was inspired by who would eventually become my role model, Mr. Jonathan Tiongco. He was the Director of Instruction at that time and was respected by all staff. Mr. Tiongco began his career with the YPI Charter network as a middle school teacher and earned opportunities along the way to eventually serve as a technology coach, service learning and leadership coordinator and co-site director. During his time as the instructional leader, MORCS demonstrated some of the largest academic gains in the district as he was committed to helping our students achieve their highest potential in the same way that he was dedicated to ensuring his staff felt supported and valued.
I still remember his contagious energy and the motivational speech he gave us all during our first days of training. As a first year teacher, I had the opportunity of working with him closely as he served as my coach and provided me consistent feedback to ensure I grew both as a teacher and as a professional. While he held us all to what sometimes felt like unachievable expectations, it was knowing that he believed in us that really pushed us to the next level. We all knew him as the master of wordplay as he found a way to make an acronym out of anything just to help increase our positive school culture. Back then, our mantra was to “Be MORE,” which was taken from one of our namesake’s famous quotes. While M.O.R.E. was meant to teach our students the importance of Being Motivated, Organized, Respectful and Engaged, it grew to mean more to us all as adults. He didn’t just teach us to aspire to Be MORE in life, but to be better teachers, better leaders, and overall better humans. And he did it by simply leading by example.
After working with him for what felt like the best first year any new teacher could have possibly wished for, Mr. Tiongco joined Alliance Charter Schools where he took the role as Alliance’s Director of BLAST Implementation. In this role, he was responsible for Alliance’s blended learning schools, which included blended-learning pilots, full-school conversions, and a Next Generation Learning Challenges grantee school. It was no surprise to see him succeed and continue to move the needle at Alliance as his talent for innovation was both unique and rare to find. Mr. Tiongco had such a positive impact in my life that he inspired me to take a leap of faith and make the transition to Alliance. While that move did not necessarily work out for me, Mr. Tiongco never stopped providing me words of encouragement and consistently reminded me to continue my personal quest of “Being MORE.”
Mr. Tiongco currently serves as the founding principal for Alliance Marine – Innovation & Technology 6-12 Complex, Alliance’s first school in the San Fernando Valley. In this role, he has the opportunity to truly build a new and innovative school from the ground up, and I could not think of a community more deserving of a fearless education champion like Mr. Tiongco. His focus on developing students’ 21st century learning skills, on engaging parents, supporting his teachers and staff and his determination to help everyone around him be successful, make him a true leader of the community.
So to those who do not have an educator like Mr. Tiongco in their lives and can feel a little hopeless with our current state of education, remember this: there are amazing leaders out there making a difference. Allow Mr. Tiongco’s words to resonate with you and continue to aspire not to have more, but to be more, because in the end, being more will help change the world.
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