The famous pilot Charles Lindbergh accepted his own challenge and made history by crossing the Atlantic Ocean with an experimental plane against so many odds. It was a grueling non-stop flight but once Lindbergh landed in France, he became an international sensation and earned his place in history. In Madison, Charles Lindbergh Elementary School on the north side is living up to that famous name. True to the Lindbergh spirit, the principal’s office houses an ambitious new principal, Salvador Velasco, who has a wide range of experience in teaching, coaching, and leadership in education.
Although Velasco has only been in Madison since July, he has jumped into his job in Madison with great vigor. Velasco draws from a lifetime of experiences in Chicago and has been determined to keep community involvement alive in the school by engaging himself with the public whenever he can.
Before taking his current job, Velasco has served as a bilingual teacher, lead literacy teacher, citywide literacy coordinator, literacy coach, and assistant principal at Charles Darwin Elementary School in Chicago.
Velasco was born and raised in a neighborhood on the northwest side of the Windy City that he describes as low income and one of the more diverse areas. “I grew up with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Philipinos, Peruvians, African Americans, and Caucasians,” Velasco said. “It was a really mixed population and a diverse demographic that I grew up with.”
At University of Illinois-Chicago, Velasco originally pursued an architecture degree but didn’t find it in sync with his skill set so he switched majors after a year to elementary education which would soon become his passion.
Fortunately, the switch from architecture turned out to be an excellent choice for Velasco. His chosen career in education blossomed and he soon found himself teaching in Chicago. Velasco found joy working in the inner-neighborhoods of Chicago and in multicultural schools within developing neighborhoods similar to where he grew up.
“It was basically a time where I realized the need to contribute back to the community, to really help prepare a lot of the Hispanic community in the direction of going to college and giving them the tools that they needed to be successful,” Velasco said.
As he was teaching in Chicago, Velasco noticed something striking that was happening in his multicultural schools. Velasco found that the accommodations for Spanish-speaking students needed improvement and was undoubtedly affecting the learning process for those students.
“I realized that there was an achievement gap for bilingual students and that really led me into pursuing and becoming an assistant principal for Chicago public schools,” he said.
As a son of two native Spanish speakers and an English learner himself, Velasco empathizes with the needs of the many students who are putting forth efforts to cross language barriers. As an educator, Velasco came to observe that students should be given the opportunities to better themselves with language expansion so that they can be better integrated to their community as a whole. This would help mold Velasco’s philosophy to this very day.
Velasco held onto his ambitions of helping school communities and furthered that by earning a master’s degree in educational leadership. Velasco was hired to be an assistant principal of the Chicago school system, giving him the coordinating power to further help students obtain their goals. Soon, Velasco was convinced to make the move from Chicago to Madison, after following Madison Metropolitan School District’s Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham’s career.
“What really inspired me was Jennifer Cheatham and the progressive changes that were happening in Madison,” he said. After keeping an eye out for an opportunity, Velasco jumped at the chance to become principal of Lindbergh Elementary.
True to his ambitious beginnings, Velasco keeps the success of the entire community in mind. Velasco’s philosophy is based on heavy involvement with the parents as well as students. “I really work with my staff and team to ensure that our students have the tools that they need,” Velasco said. “I work to make sure that they have critical thinking skills as well as overall academic skills to be better prepared for higher education. I also believe that it is through our partnership with communities and families that we can actually help provide some of the support that is needed and really be able to establish the educational foundations for our students.”
Velasco is closely involved with the parent-teacher association (PTA) and has expressed his desire to get even more involved with the community in the future. Above all, Velasco is a true believer in investing in children’s education.
“Every child is capable of doing great things so long as they have the support — the academic, social, and emotional learning supports — that they need to be successful,” he says. “I believe that all our children deserve a high-quality education in order to really prepare them for higher education that also prepares them to be members of the global economy and community.”