CAST Tech is being led by principal Dr. Melissa Alcala, a chat on how she is doing with the pandemic affecting CAST Tech High School. From her favorite color to her favorite foods, let’s get to know our fearless leader. I am Jonathan Rodriguez, Communications and Marketing Intern for CAST Tech, and a senior in the UX Pathway.
Jonathan: How are you doing, especially with the effects of COVID-19 on plans for the school year?
Dr. Alcala: I’m doing fine. I like to plan so things can be smooth for the teachers and the students. That’s been a little bit of a challenge because things change every day. We have to learn that we can’t control everything, so we just do the best we can with what we can control, and I can always control my attitude. So, I’ve been taking care of myself, making sure I go for walks in the evening. That’s how I can help relieve stress. I get to spend more time with my family, so that’s a blessing. Taking care of myself and the additional time with family has become a bigger priority for me that I don’t always get to prioritize for myself, but I know that’s important so that I can be on top with my A game for everybody else that’s counting on me to provide leadership.
Jonathan: Have you learned anything new about yourself during this pandemic?
Dr. Alcala: I’ve just been cooking at home, which is dangerous because it means I’m eating more. I already knew that I enjoyed good food and home cooking. It’s me being more cognizant of healthy habits in making the right decisions about what I eat, and it’s hard because my kids are home. What they eat versus what I can eat and maintain my weight is different. So, it’s me being more aware of that.
Jonathan: What is your favorite thing you’ve cooked?
Dr. Alcala: So, I’ve become a master at cooking Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches.
Jonathan: That’s also so specific. It sounds delicious too!
Dr. Alcala: And that’s become my youngest daughter’s favorite dish. She eats it every week, but I should not be eating that every week. So, it’s me being thoughtful about some of those decisions. Of course, she loves to bake, so she’d like to bake a cake or cookies every day. So, it’s keeping my kids engaged with their passions and what they want to do and making good health choices.
Jonathan: So, that’s cool, so you were talking about stuff that energizes you. As principal, you’re taking care of the teachers and the students. And it’s the whole campus. I know sometimes I find myself stressed. What do you do to get that energy and get more positivity?
Dr. Alcala: So, for me, it’s my spiritual beliefs. I know there’s a higher being in control. So, for me, it’s giving it up to my God to help guide me and direct me and take over that concern. There’s a higher being that can take care of all of this. And so, for me, it’s having that mindset and remembering that because I’m just one person, but there’s a bigger picture here. So, that’s what helps me get through things and get grounded again.
Jonathan: What was the last thing you’ve nerded out on?
Dr. Alcala: So, for me, my work is my play. It’s like my hobby is my work. And that’s dangerous though because that’s not fun for the rest of my family. But I’m on my computer or my phone most nights. Looking up what other schools are doing with a startup school.
I’ve got colleagues in this state and other states that I enjoy hearing from and getting their ideas of what’s working and what’s not. I’ve been nerding out on the opening of school and what’s going on in other places so that we can learn from them and not have to replicate lessons learned. So, that’s what I’m nerding on right now. And then the other thing is the whole blended learning and virtual learning best practices. So, I love what I do. It’s my hobby, but that’s also one of my faults.
So, I always have to personally designate time for family and do things with the family. It’s what charges me too. Generally, I like to do something outside of the house, go somewhere as a family, whether it is a little road trip or to a park or the coast or wherever.
And so that’s been limited. So, it’s finding new ways to do some outings, some things together with the family. It’s also been a focus. We’ve been playing UNO at the house. Some things that we have not done in a while. We would typically do that if we went camping or stayed in a cabin but not necessarily at the house. I was playing connect four with my younger daughter the other day. My older daughter, she’s starting high school. It’s more about high school and what that’s going to look like and then she wants to talk about clothes for school stuff like that and then where to go shopping because you can’t try things on. So, you know, with her, I’ve got different conversations going on.
Jonathan: Have you always had this passion for leading and supporting in high school? Were you a team leader?
Dr. Alcala: Yeah, I was. I was a drum major of the band in high school. So, that means you’re leading the band. So, yes. And then actually I was a drum major in middle school, and there were 200 kids in groups. So, I am the firstborn child. And I think that kind of comes with being the firstborn. It’s a blessing and a curse. So, I don’t know it’s just something I think we learn in that baby role that we have as a child growing up.
I’ve known since the fifth grade; I was going to be a teacher. I would play school at home. So, I would nerd out on that. I would play school with my younger brother and sister. They’d have to sit there, and I’d be the teacher. So, I’ve just always known that I wanted to be a teacher and that just evolved into administration, and I did move up into administration pretty quickly. I taught for four and a half years in the classroom before being an assistant principal, so that’s unusual. Not always. But it’s not typical. It evolved that way.
Jonathan: So, if I gave you a drum, would you know how to play it? I have no idea how to play the drum.
Dr. Alcala: Let me tell you what a drum major is. A drum major is like the band director that leads the band. I would stand up in front of the band and get them started. Set the tempo, the pace. At the football games and I would be the one up on the podium. Telling the drum core line, hey, let’s do a chant to get the fans going and things like that. That was my role and job. You know what. That’s kind of funny because it is called, “Drum Major,” and it makes you think it’s the drumline, but it just means the leader of the band, but it’s the student leader. I listen to the band director, but they equip me, and then I’m supposed to run it on Friday during games.
Jonathan: So, let’s say if you have a blank crayon box, what color would you add first?
Dr. Alcala: Purple. Purple, and it would be green. And some days that would be Green first then, purple. But I love purple and green. Don’t know why. They’re both pretty colors, not Primary Colors. I have no idea what that means. Those that want to psychoanalyze that, feel free.
Jonathan: Those are two very different colors. That would be an exciting color combination too. If you had all the resources, land, and time available to build whatever you want. What would it be? What would you make?
Dr. Alcala: I’ve never been asked that question before. What came to mind is an orphanage. Something that has an excellent education program for orphans, but, some kind of connectedness to it so that all of those children feel wanted and part of a family and building that kind of culture in the orphanage. We can have people coming in, like we have with our mentorship program, but some sort of mentoring fostering program. My heart goes out to orphans that don’t get adopted by the time they’re 18, because then, they are dependent on their own, and still don’t have that guidance. I feel people are still kids when they’re 18 and need some guidance and mentoring.
I’m just mindful of all things I don’t know. I’ve always had a passion, but I’ve never worked with orphans directly. So, that’s one of those things I’d like to do to fill my bucket one day like when I retire is to look into orphanages if I could do anything to help the work there.
Jonathan: That is a hard question to follow up from because I wasn’t expecting that either.
Dr. Alcala: So, my passion is working with kids. It always has been. And people ask me, Well, what’s your favorite age group? I don’t have one. I’ve done pre-K through 12th grade as a school leader in all those different ages. I would say my gift is not kindergarten. I admire kindergarten teachers. But I love being around those kids. They make your day so happy, and their innocence is so beautiful. But I guess what fills my bucket is being around children and youth. That’s what fills my bucket. And I think it’s because they’re still growing, and I see the potential. So, that’s what energizes me.
Jonathan: For CAST tech. What do you envision CAST Tech if everything went perfectly? What would that look like?
Dr. Alcala: I hope every graduate will leave with a pathway to have a clear understanding of where they want to launch. If they wish to launch into college they are ready and equipped or want to launch into a career, they’ve got a way to start into a career, and not just a part-time job, but at an actual location. If we’ve got kids that want to go into the military, and they feel passionate about that then great. I just feel if we’re doing our job, we should send our seniors out ready to go any direction they want to go.
And then part of the reason we exist is to give back to our community. Our intent is to create graduates that can fill job and employee needs here for San Antonio and beyond.
So, for us, it’s business technology and that encompasses pretty much everything. So, for all of us, including the kids, need to know that they’re really in what I call, “Legacy Work.” We’re creating this legacy school that should have a positive ripple effect upon San Antonio. All are blessed by it whether you’re part of the school, or you’re supporting the school, or even if you’re disconnected to CAST. You still get the benefits of it because of the outcomes with the students produced by it.
So, I think that would be incredible when we get there.
And as you know, you all are our first inaugural class. And so, I’m excited about that. At the same time, I know our work isn’t done because we’ve got to fine-tune for the graduates that are to come, but I’m excited about our seniors. I think they’re the epitome of entrepreneurship and innovation. After all, they’ve been a part of this, and they’ve helped start this and had faith. They’ve been trailblazers as well. So, I think it’s extraordinary for this inaugural class. And I think they have an entrepreneurial spirit already just because they took a chance with CAST Tech. They’ve helped us create and evolve in giving feedback along the way of what needs to be better and what we’re doing wrong.
Jonathan: I wasn’t at CAST Tech for two years, and I joined. It’s when you’re at other schools, and we’re always so worried about the future. But at CAST Tech, we’re learning something that we can use, and you feel safe. You’re going to be okay when you go into CAST Tech. Then wherever you go next, you’re okay because you have those skills.
Dr. Alcala: I look forward to that. It’s going to make us different. How do we track our graduates when our first graduating class leaves and departs? How can we create active alumni just like universities have their alumni? The UT Longhorns have great alumni. The Aggies have strong alumni. How can we create robust CAST Tech alumni where our graduates become mentors, even if it’s virtual to our students to talk about their current college or career experience?
I think that would be rich and a way for the high school kids who go through our program to give back and also for the staff to stay connected to our graduates to see our outcomes, what they’re doing well in and what we need to do even better. And that’s going to inform our work also. So, I think that would be awesome if we can nail that down, and I know that’s something that we’re working on, and we’re planning some strategies for that.
Jonathan: I go to SAY Si, an art organization, and every year they have alumni potluck, so alumni just bring food in, and you chat and catch up, and it’s only an event to bring them together. So, that’s an idea that I think would be cool. I’m always excited to see because I know at CAST Tech someone wants to start a business. Someone wants to go straight to cybersecurity. And it is still the energy that’s there. It’s different. You get inspired every day. Everyone’s working towards a goal and wants to do something. So, what’s your favorite memory at CAST Tech?
Dr. Alcala: That’s hard
Jonathan: Is there anyone that pops up to you?
Dr. Alcala: It has to be the first day of school. When we first opened, and I know you weren’t there yet, sad face. It has to be the first day of school because the school opened on time and ready. Behind the scenes with the renovation of the main campus. The main building we’re in at CAST Tech. We did not have AC or Internet on until 8 p.m. the night before. It’s a little on edge. I felt like I was the Aerosmith song, “Living on the edge.” So, I was there till 8:30 that night on Sunday, making sure things were a go, and they were. They showed up the first day of school at six-thirty in the morning to the campus. We already had a news crew.
Jonathan: Were you able to sleep?
Dr. Alcala: Not really. I might have had a couple of hours because I was just excited. Anyway, to have all the industry support for a school to feel so lifted by the community. It’s such a great feeling to have the support, and it’s going to happen, and it’s going to succeed because you’ve got the community, the parents, the students, and the faculty all working together. It was just a beautiful thing. So, that first day of school, it was so much excitement from everyone about it. So, that’s probably my favorite memory so far.
Jonathan: Would you say that maybe the last day might top that? I know it’ll be a new journey for everyone.
Dr. Alcala: I think the other special events will be graduation because it’s going to be the first one ever. I just keep praying I don’t get too emotional about it and get through it. Because I need to be composed, I have a lot to say. I have a script to follow, and so on. I want it to be an excellent day for you all. That’s going to be another big moment. And I sure hope we’re able to do that in person.
Jonathan: Have you already planned out what you’re going to say?
Dr. Alcala: I’ve already started drafting the speech. Yes. But I just put a little thought. I don’t have the big formal things. I have something I want to be sure and say to the class of 2021. It’s at random times. Things come to my head. I did create a Google Doc, and I just couldn’t forget those I just put little things in there. Of course, people don’t want to hear a lot of what I have to say. It’s going to be short, but I just want it to be meaningful and pertinent to this first inaugural class.
Jonathan: My final question. Can you share a poignant lesson that you learned about life?
Dr. Alcala: I think this one’s simplistic, but it’s crucial for us all, and that’s to be kind. We never know what someone else is going through. And sometimes the way people act it’s not because of us, Personally, it’s because it’s something else going on or we don’t know their story or where they’re coming from. So, it’s just to be kind and to be gracious. We’ll never regret being kind. I don’t see how we could regret being kind. I think we regret the other things, when maybe we said something we shouldn’t, but we reacted in a way we wish we hadn’t, or we wish that we had reached out and we didn’t. And I think it’s just an easy motto to remember to just be kind.