PROFILE | New principal takes the reins

Principal, Lourdes De Santiago, brings her prior experience as both a teacher and as an administrator to help run the school, in person, amidst a pandemic. Her academic career began when she worked as a paraprofessional at Polytechnic High School. After getting her teaching credentials, she went on to teach at James Monroe High School as well as Polytechnic High School. She later took on administrative positions such as Dean of Discipline at Polytechnic, a Title I coordinator, and a Principal.



A new sheriff in town: After a decade of working as an administrator and an additional five years as a principal, Principal De Santiago is excited to use her prior experience to lead her staff and the rest of the student body.

While students are still snoozing their alarms early in the morning, new principal Lourdes De Santiago is already on campus setting up conferences, communicating with the District and making calls to ensure everything is running smoothly for students and teachers’ arrival.

This isn’t her first rodeo either. Principal De Santiago has held the same title for five years prior to joining Van Nuys High School. She worked at East Valley High School, a small high school on Vineland Ave. in North Hollywood.

But East Valley didn’t feel like the home Van Nuys High School is now for her.

Principal De Santiago prefers big, comprehensive schools like Van Nuys because it’s where her roots lie.

She began her academic career as a paraprofessional at Polytechnic High School, a large LAUSD school in Sun Valley, where she supported English learners in math and science classes while finishing her credentials.

Math was always the subject she loved most in school.

“I remember as a young child playing as if I was a teacher so when the time came to go to college, I went into the field that I felt most comfortable with in terms of learning and sharing what I knew, and that was math,” Principal De Santiago said.

After about a year and a half, she earned her credentials and became a math teacher at James Monroe High School in 1998 where she taught math in Spanish for English learners.

She loved teaching to students who were not only trying to solve math problems but also trying to decode the English language.

“When you’re going to school you’re usually learning a subject in your primary language, so I loved being able to transfer what I learned in English to Spanish to teach students in a language they understood,” Principal De Santiago said. “I saw that I was making a difference in them understanding the concept and that was important to me.”

She took what she learned from her time at her first teaching job back to Polytechnic High School where she returned to teach higher-level math such as Algebra I and II, Geometry and AP Calculus AB and BC.

It was at Polytechnic where she then began her administrative career, becoming Dean of Discipline for three years.

As a dean, De Santiago was responsible for helping at-risk students improve their academics, behavior and attendance.

“I enjoyed that aspect of my work because I really got to see the students and learn from them on a different level,” she said. “I was pleased to be able to support their learning by supporting their social-emotional needs first.”

After that, she became a Title I coordinator and worked closely with the administration to enforce district policy. Title I schools receive financial assistance from the federal government since at least 40 percent of enrolled students come from low-income families.

De Santiago’s job was to manage and monitor budgets to keep track of how Title I money was being spent, which she did by working closely with other school staff.

“I enjoyed being able to support not only the students but the teachers too,” she said.

For a decade, Principal De Santiago became a master of all trades as an administrator. She was responsible for discipline and attendance.

“I took my opportunity as an administrator as a great learning experience to learn the ins-and-outs of almost every aspect of running a school.”

And now, Principal De Santiago is running this school during unprecedented circumstances as students readjust to pre-pandemic education amidst a pandemic. But she is glad to be back and see students and staff alike in person.

“I feel happy to be back in school because being at home was different in that we never got to see everyone’s faces or experience athletics, clubs and performances.”

She feels honored to be a part of the school’s diverse academic and athletic programs. 

“The other day we were looking at the different plays that were already scheduled and we’re all signing up to support with supervision and I look forward to seeing them,” Principal De Santiago said. “It’s amazing getting to see all the talent that our school community has.”

While she is primarily focusing on learning the school and its people and continuing to support the work her predecessors have done, she looks forward to creating even more programs to support student’s needs and get them college and career-ready.

“Whether it’s a new club, whether it’s a new program, I’m always open to hear what our school community wants to engage in and how it will benefit our students because my job is to ensure every single student is college and career ready upon graduation,” she said. “If you want to start a new club, my door is always open to hear your ideas.”

Principal De Santiago strongly believes hard work and a growth mindset pays off. 

“I feel that difficult moments have made me stronger and made me a better educator,” she said. “It’s what you do with those moments. Are you going to learn from them or are you going to stumble on the same rock again?”

She encourages students to seek the various resources available at school to achieve their goals.

“If you put your mind to something, anything is possible.”

After working in education for almost a quarter-century, Principal De Santiago is thrilled to continue her journey here.

“It just feels like home,” she said. “This is me, this is where I’m comfortable.”