The Family Business
Michael Escalante [GradEd ’81] learned his lessons from his parents as well as LMU, and now he applies what he’s learned as head of an L.A. area school district.
By Fred Puza
A deep passion for education runs in Michael Escalante’s family. His father, also named Michael, served for 16 years on the board of the Centinela Valley Union High School District, and his mother, Eleanor, who received a master’s degree in education at LMU in 1975, was a teacher, principal and member of the Hawthorne Board of Education. In fact, it was his mother’s example that inspired Escalante to continue in the family tradition. He earned a master’s degree in education at LMU.
“My mother had a zeal for knowledge and understood that quality education is the true equalizer [leading to] future economic success,” Escalante says. “She knew that if she did well with the educational process, she would set a good example for her children.”
Escalante now sets an example for students, teachers and administrators in the Glendale Unified School District. For the past six years, he has served as the superintendent of the district, which has approximately 28,000 students, 30 schools and a budget of $225 million.
Although the Glendale school district faces challenges of diminishing resources and declining enrollment, it maintains a reputation for high student achievement. Escalante has integrated a district-wide instructional improvement plan and created leadership teams made up of teachers to drive the improvement process. In six years, the district’s Academic Performance Index, the state’s official measure of academic performance and improvement, has risen noticeably.
Escalante credits LMU’s emphasis on diversity with giving him the tools to better understand and deal with issues confronting his district. Glendale has the largest Armenian population in the world outside of Armenia itself, and 50 percent of the students in the school district are Armenian.
“A lot of people are intimidated by diversity, but my experience at LMU taught me that it brings a vibrant richness to schools,” Escalante says. “I learned how to build programs around diversity and how to enhance the students’ understanding of differences.”
Escalante has been a principal at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, and he has worked in districts as different as Fullerton and Palos Verdes, as well as Glendale. Working at various levels in several school districts prepared Escalante for his current job. Prior to taking the Glendale post, he was the superintendent of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District for seven years. But he also attributes much of his success to the mentoring he received at LMU from Albert Koppes, O. Carm., LMU’s first dean of the School of Education.
“He helped me understand that being committed to public education is a calling, not just a job,” Escalante says.
If it was Escalante’s mother who sparked his initial interest in education, it was LMU, he says, that provided him with the training he needed to pursue his dream.
“The preparation and support I received at LMU truly is the foundation of my career,” Escalante says. “The morals and the character you develop while at the university are what you carry with you throughout your life.”
Favorite LMU Professors
Professor of Education
Professor Emeritus, Education
Favorite LMU Memory
Studying on the benches on the bluff
Favorite Elementary School Teacher
Sixth Grade, Ramona Elementary School