Principal Caroline Cota: Shining Bright in Our City!

“The many experiences you had in school and in your community have stretched your mind to its current dimensions, but it is only the beginning. Whether you continue with formal education or not, you are not done learning. So as you go out into the world, take chances, travel, read, be open to other people, cultures and ideas. Most importantly face your fears and don’t let anything hold you back.” Principal Caroline Cota, principal DHS High

Principal Caroline Cota is different. I was able to spend an hour with her discussing DHS, our High School, and our community and I walked away refreshed. She exudes a positive energy that is extremely contagious. I left there thinking, “I don’t believe there is a more passionate principal in the entire valley!” As evidenced by the brilliant speech she delivered at the DHS High Commencment this year (you will be able to read a portion below… she even translated it in Spanish!), she really believes in the city and desires to be an agent of change concerning our perception. She recently completed her first year as principal, and the reviews from staff, students, and parents are all exemplary.

Many have stated that the school, it’s culture has changed for the better, what do you attribute the change to?

“The students approached our Superintendent and told her they felt that our school looked like a prison with the gray paint and that they felt like people misjudged them and had a low opinion of what they could accomplish. Dr. Lyon and the School Board authorized for the entire school to be repainted last summer, in bright, cheerful colors that mirror our school colors, as well. The students and staff, I think, appreciated the attention given to the students’ concern and it boosted pride in our school site.”

She continued, “Next, we tackled the perceptions of our students and their abilities. We began a positive social media campaign, with the hashtag #WatchUsSoar. We made sure to publicize all that was going right at DHSHS. We organized two evening Academic Awards Ceremonies to honor our Honor Roll Students and those who had perfect or significantly improved attendance. We also had our performing arts and ROTC groups perform there so that people could see the talent the students have, in case they had never been to a concert or show before.

We also listened to the kids by changing some of our academic offerings, opening up more options for A-G college preparatory classes and Advanced Placement courses. We added AP Psychology and AP Human Geography (a 9th grade course) which were offered at other schools in the past, but not ours. We added AP Computer Science and will be the only one of our district high schools to offer the AP Capstone program, with which our students can earn an AP Diploma. The students have responded to these options by signing up for challenging classes in higher numbers than ever before.” (random thought, where were these types of principal’s when I was in high school!?”

What have been or are your biggest challenges ?

“The biggest challenge is changing the perception that exists that because our students are from DHS, they behave badly and have low aspirations and academic ability. While we have challenges to deal with, we are not the only ones in the Coachella Valley to face those situations.” She continued, and spoke directly to the heart of Advancing DHS, “Yet, we get featured in the news immediately if anything goes wrong. It reinforces people’s perceptions about our community, parents and students. It’s sad because 90% of our students come to school each day to get an education, work hard and be a positive member of our school and community. Yet, they carry the stigma of being from DHS.”

What have been your biggest successes ?

“I think the biggest success this year was the amount of positive news we were able to spread about our school. Many of our teachers took to Instagram and Twitter to support the movement. Students were retweeting and posting their own positive news as well.”

5 years from now, what do you see for DHS high?

“My hope is that five years from now, the seniors have to explain to the freshmen how they USED to be seen. My hope is that our community will see what a jewel we have and that students will choose to stay at DHS rather than transfer. We have the same academic options on our campus as our district schools and we have a wonderful family-like atmosphere among the students and staff. I’d like for people to know that about us.” One thing that really stood out was the fact that she mentioned that several students exclaimed that they desire to return to DHS High as a teacher! Her response, “Get your degree and come back, I will hire you!” This is how we Advance DHS!!! Thank you Principal Cota!

Her consistent approach to challenging our students can be seen through this excerpt from her commencement speech:

“As you all leave here tonight, and set off on your path through college, the military, trade schools, and professional careers, you will continue to face challenges. You may doubt your ability to get through those difficulties. At those times, you must face your fears, reach out to friends and family for support, and push through, in order to grow. Meet each challenge head-on and don’t be afraid to fail. No one ever accomplished anything without trying and persevering. Those who came before you faced their fears to create a better opportunity for you. Now, it is your turn to do the same, and use the skills and resources you have to create a better future for the next generation in your family.”

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