by Felipe G.

She’s fulfilling her dreams by doing what she never dreamed of doing. Working in an office, specifically the principal’s office, sitting, pen in one hand and paper in the other. Carefully reading what each paper carries, understanding the message each has for her. She places the paper flat on the table and signs it, moving on to the next paper in the pile. The stern and tired look on her face come as a result of being a principal, of doing the same routine every day, but it does not say the same for her feelings about her job.

Mrs. Arlene Choo is the principal of Xavier School Nuvali. However, she didn’t start as a principal. She started as a teacher for prep students. This teaching path was never her intention in the beginning. Despite coming from a family of teachers, she wanted to work in an office, ideally in a big corporation. Even as she began teaching, she never planned on staying for more than 2 years, yet she did. She found joy in teaching, which caused her to stay and teach.

As the current principal of a growing Xavier School Nuvali, Mrs. Choo is tasked with the upkeep of the school and its reputation. Having been a subject teacher, a grade level coordinator, and an assistant principal, she has gained much experience in handling students, teachers, and parents. With this knowledge, she leads the school with an understanding of each, resulting in a leadership that favors no one over the other, a leadership with no bias. The principal is the heart of the school, keeping everything running and making sure order is kept. Mrs. Choo aims to keep that goal alive.

Coming out of college as a psychology major at a young age, Mrs. Choo was looking to start working but not yet in a corporate setting as vacations were not so easy to let go of for her. Knowing that teachers still have those breaks, she applied for a teaching job in 3 different schools, including Xavier School, following a suggestion from a friend. After getting accepted for the teaching post in Xavier, she began with a plan to leave after a few years, moving to the corporate setting she had planned on having since being a child. However, teaching had a lot of surprises in store for her. During her second year, supposedly her last, she found teaching to be enjoyable. “It wasn’t work,” she said, adding, “It was something I truly enjoyed doing.” Her teaching journey began from there. After teaching for a while, the school noticed her abilities and asked to to become a grade level coordinator, followed by the assistant principal or unit 1 and ultimately the principal of Xavier School Nuvali.

As principal, she is tasked to oversee the teachers and students, to make sure that they fulfil the minimum requirement. For teachers, whether the lessons that are prepared are sufficient, that they meet the minimum requirements of the Department of Education. Through the teachers, the principal can also see how the students perform, where she can suggest adjustments to the teachers based on the students’ performance. Besides this, the principal also attends to the parents’ needs, the marketing of the school, admissions, and programs, including the evaluation of already present programs, to see if they benefitted the school and to come up with new programs to be implemented in the following school year, so that the expectations of parents and students may be met.

Leading a growing school always hits rough patches. In the case of Xavier School Nuvali, one of the main problems was the expectations coming from parents which come as a result of the school bearing the name of its parent branch in San Juan. Parents were expecting the school to have the same programs as the San Juan branch. Next, there was the situation of communicating with people outside the school, specifically with Xavier School San Juan due to lack of landlines and a good cell phone signal. Lastly, during their second year, there was a problem with hiring good teachers to teach the booming student population, yet there was never a shortage of applicants for vacant teaching jobs. “We received more than 100 applications for like what, 15, 20 openings,” she recalls. It was a matter of qualification, whether the applicant, in the eyes of the school, would be capable enough to teach the students at the required level.

With the responsibility of overseeing the internal and external affairs, Mrs. Choo had to remind the parents that the context of Xavier Nuvali is different from the context of Xavier San Juan, such as Xavier Nuvali being co-educational compared to the male exclusive Xavier San Juan. Internally with the hiring of teachers, even if she knows that there is a need for good teachers, she cannot just hire a teacher based on need, rather on qualifications and even if there are still vacant teaching spots, she knows that quality cannot be sacrificed. Although she is principal, having power over the affairs of the school, she cannot control circumstance. The cellphone signal and lack of landlines are part of this circumstance. As a result, she is forced to just carry on despite these setbacks, walking around school to get a good signal so they can communicate with whomever they need to.

In leading the school, she says that the keys to properly maintaining the school lie in the communication, knowing where the path one chooses leads, and to not dictate the body which you lead. Besides leading a community towards a single goal, the role of a leader, she says, is to prepare others to do the same.  

The role of a principal is hard, yet it was something she yearned for. Mrs. Choo had left the comforts of a settled Xavier School San Juan, to become the principal of a new and upcoming Xavier Nuvali. She cites the fact that the teachers invited to move to Xavier Nuvali were of high quality and the fact that she was also invited was a subtle hint that she was also part of that elite club. The positions she had occupied prior to becoming the principal have provided her with valuable experience, giving her an ability to understand the viewpoints of all parties, including teachers, students and even  parents.  As the principal, she has kept the school alive, keeping its reputation of the school in good waters, maintaining the peace between teachers and students, and maintaining the unity between the parents and the school.  In the process of its growth, the school has encountered quite a number of problems, namely with the parents, communication and getting the best teachers to educate their students. “I think that really challenged me more and that was something that I already saw in my mind doing, for Xavier School Nuvali to be able to provide Xavier education to those who really cannot afford Xavier education,” she recalls and keeps it in mind as she continues reading through documents and signing a few papers.

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