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Head of the Class: Nguyen takes reins at Pleasanton Middle School

New principal reflects on finding opportunity through education

Pleasanton Middle School's new principal Joe Nguyen told the Weekly that education was important in his family. Both his grandfather and mother were school teachers. (Photo by Julia Baum)

"Education is a family business, I always say," Pleasanton Middle School's new principal Joe Nguyen told the Weekly during a recent interview at the campus that he started leading less than two months ago.

The business of teaching runs in Nguyen's family at least three generations -- his grandfather was an English professor and his mother taught grammar school -- and also spans the globe.

"A lot of great memories I have in my mom's fourth-grade classroom in Vietnam," Nguyen said.

After seven years as principal at Iron Horse Middle School in San Ramon, Nguyen was appointed by the Pleasanton school board in late spring to take over the Case Avenue campus this school year, succeeding retiring principal Jill Butler.

Nguyen's career started in the United States, but the life lessons from his parents started as a child in Vietnam, where he was born.

"Education was important in that my family immigrated, or were refugees from Vietnam in 1975, and growing up my mom and dad always made it very clear: 'The reason why we left was so you had an opportunity to have an education.' So education was always at the forefront."

Nguyen reflected on his first brush with the American public school system when his family arrived to Oakland that year.

"(I) was an English learner in the '70s, which meant we got pulled out (of the classroom) a lot to read books on tape," he said. "I wanted to stay with my classmates and learn English that way. I learned a lot of English through 'Sesame Street.'"

Eventually his family settled in San Leandro, where Nguyen spent the remainder of his childhood before moving to Los Angeles for college. While pursuing pre-dentistry at UCLA, Nguyen took an upper division class at UCLA that landed him in a fifth-grade classroom as a teaching assistant "just helping the teachers, and I caught the teaching bug."

Realizing that he loved the classroom more, Nguyen switched his major and returned to the Bay Area after completing his bachelor's degree in psychology.

"I loved UCLA but I didn't love LA -- too many people," he said. Nguyen then got his master's degree and teaching credential at CSU East Bay, and eventually found himself at Iron Horse.

Nguyen's start as an administrator "fell in my lap" during his seventh year teaching at Iron Horse.

Family needs had prompted him to think about a job in the tech industry. "I knew I needed to make a change but didn't want to be done with kids," he recalled.

A job offer came soon after Nguyen's job search began but it wasn't right. "Eleventh hour, I decided not to take it because I love teaching. I just was one of those teachers," he said. "A month later at a staff meeting, our principal said he was going to leave ... so the assistant principal interviewed and was hired to be the principal, and he approached me and said, 'Joe, would you be my assistant principal.'"

"I didn't even have a credential so I was an intern. I had to get my credential while working as administration, so it really fell in my lap," Nguyen added.

He would go on to become an elementary school principal in Castro Valley and then in San Ramon before returning to Iron Horse as principal for the 2011-12 school year.

Nguyen's move to Pleasanton came about after Hart Middle School reached out to Iron Horse for assistance creating a multi tiered systems of support program. "Basically it's a school structure where you create teams and different levels of intervention services, both academic and behavior. We spent five years building that up and saw a lot of success," he said.

"They were going to start that this year and they came and visited at Iron Horse," Nguyen said. "I worked with their intervention specialists and teachers. Then when I saw that Pleasanton Middle School needed a principal, it was an opportunity for me to come and do this work here."

Whether it's a new city, country or campus, Nguyen's path has always led him back to school. "I feel like it's the best job in the world; even with the challenging times now of being an educator, it is absolutely enjoyable and fulfilling."

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by PMS parents
a resident of Castlewood
on Sep 27, 2019 at 3:39 pm

PMS parents is a registered user.

He's already proven that he can't handle the issues at PMS. Racist and Homophobic slurs, physical violence, bullying and we all know how September 4 was not handled properly especially not notifying parents til end of day just so they get funding for our kids in seats.


23 people like this
Posted by Parenting??
a resident of Mission Park
on Sep 30, 2019 at 10:31 am

Parenting?? is a registered user.

Sounds like there are some pretty bad students, with even worse parents not handling their responsibilities. He's going to need more than a few months on the job to tackle the issues at play here. There definitely seems to be a need for improved communication, but let's not act like he can 100% improve the behavior of students, when their parents don't seem to be doing their part. People are quick to say it starts at home, but can be quick to put all the blame on administration. Start parenting your kids and stop letting them run through town like they're adults. They treat Starbucks like a playground. Loud, leaving trash, playing in the bathrooms. And if you see a friend's child out acting inappropriately, let the parent know. Help one another.


4 people like this
Posted by MsVic
a resident of Mission Park
on Oct 1, 2019 at 10:15 am

MsVic is a registered user.

I attended the meeting about the BB gun incident. Could not answer a basic question. Question was what was the time from when they found out a “weapon” was on campus until they had student in their office and when they knew for sure it was a BB gun and when the weapon under their control. Sandy Hook took 6 minutes - let that sink in. He’s gonna need lots of parents and volunteers to help and so far he has rejected some more of the outspoken parents help. And no answer to a question I posted on a whiteboard, at the meeting, and promised a direct response if an email was provided. So far crickets!


2 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 1, 2019 at 11:49 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

To be fair to this gentleman, he is new to our district. He has superiors and protocols to learn and manage. I doubt he is running how and when or even what the responses will be.

Vocal parents, unless shouting their support, are rarely appreciated. ;0)


4 people like this
Posted by MsVic
a resident of Mission Park
on Oct 1, 2019 at 4:33 pm

MsVic is a registered user.

Kathleen were you at the meeting? Parents were not shouting - they simply wanted answers and were polite and respectful. But imaging having a child there and he and other school officials not being able to answer the very direct question of timing of events. My Grands will go there someday and the way PMS is now makes me shudder. My dear friend has volunteered and the take she is getting is that school administrators don’t want parental help...go figure they need help. Teachers want the help... IDK but something needs to change and I hope he is up to the task.


3 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 1, 2019 at 7:20 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Ms. Vic, I’m not suggesting parents were shouting. I said vocal parents aren’t appreciated.


Like this comment
Posted by MsVic
a resident of Mission Park
on Oct 2, 2019 at 9:48 am

MsVic is a registered user.

Kathleen it is past time as a parent to be vocal. The bullying and disrespect from students is beyond comprehension. If a parent isnt vocal how will this be managed and stopped. There are kids who won’t go to the bathroom all day because of the student behavior in the bathrooms. Ask a few parents and you’ll find out what’s really going on. They need parent volunteers to help. There are 7 yard duties for 1100 children. Our schools are not safe zones for all students!


2 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 2, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Ms Vic, I absolutely support parents being vocal and volunteering. But I think it is difficult for parents to balance the need to perhaps go back to work (not everyone can afford a long-term stay at home parent) and being on campus during a school day. I believe lunch duty personnel are paid positions. If more people are needed, perhaps the PTA can fund them. Finding people willing to work on the cheap for only a couple hours a day is not so easy though.


Like this comment
Posted by MsVic
a resident of Mission Park
on Oct 2, 2019 at 5:05 pm

MsVic is a registered user.

Kathleen I am sorry but you are not correct. There are grandparents - parents - aunts and uncles that would volunteer. The problem is the schools wanting them. Evidenced by not accepting help from one of my stay at home moms! Or me! Sorry you are wrong here.


1 person likes this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 2, 2019 at 5:41 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

I don’t think this is about being right or wrong. Talk to the district to find out what requirements need to be met in order to volunteer. Are there clearances needed, fingerprinting, forms? Then try to organize the people you believe are interested; maybe list expertise (math, science, English, other languages, sports) or interests (home ec, art, music). Work through/with the PTA if you can. Then go to the principal and show him the list. Ask him to make it available to staff. If staff needs help, they will appreciate your efforts.


Like this comment
Posted by MsVic
a resident of Mission Park
on Oct 2, 2019 at 6:07 pm

MsVic is a registered user.

You are right about it not being about right or wrong Kathleen. And I will do exactly what you laid out, if I am wrong I’ll admit, but for all our sakes I will post results if I am right that they just don’t want parents help.


Like this comment
Posted by MsVic
a resident of Mission Park
on Oct 2, 2019 at 6:08 pm

MsVic is a registered user.

And Kathleen its not always curricular help- it’s managing 1100 students at lunch with 7 aides!


3 people like this
Posted by PMS parents
a resident of Castlewood
on Oct 3, 2019 at 12:42 pm

PMS parents is a registered user.

Ms Vic....five. They have five out there. 7 on payroll but five at a time. No where near the amount needed. Our PTSA raise funds for the wrong needs.

We have too many parents who feel that since their student is not being bullied or can use the toilet during the day that there is no problem at the school. Just because your student does not experience all the negativity doesn't mean it's not happening it means there are 1100 kids and maybe 200 aren't affected by all of the negativity at the school. my child does not have cancer but it doesn't mean I wouldn't help fight cancer or raise funding for cancer. We should be protecting all of the students by expecting this principle to do his job and to correct and change this behavior. If the parents aren't going to do their job the school needs to do their job ...bring in the parents to attend class with those troublemakers and maybe they will get tired of missing work and get their kids to stop acting out.


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