Christian Ledesma is the new principal at Roosevelt High School, but the hallways and classrooms are very familiar to him.
He completed a one-year internship there in 2016, and was Roosevelt’s assistant principal in 2019, before becoming principal at Wellstone International High School. He had planned to stay at Wellstone for a good long time, until he received a call from Roosevelt’s principal Michael Bradley last year.
Ledesma explained, “Michael called to tell me he had accepted a job as principal in Reno, Nevada, to be closer to family. I was fortunate to have been mentored by Michael during my internship, and to see his vision for Roosevelt take root and grow. I wished him well. I went to bed that night not thinking about the possibility of working here as principal. But the next day, my brain started to process what would it be like to return to serving this community.”
School starts Sept. 8
Ledesma and his staff of 100+ educators, counselors, and support staff are expecting 1,065 students to return to in-person learning at Roosevelt on Sept. 8. He said, “With the Delta variant, the district is monitoring COVID-19 spread daily, but that is the plan at this time.”
He continued, “We are eager to welcome students back. Normally we would invite neighbors and community members to come to school and cheer for the kids on the first day – but not this year. We’ll do something smaller to make it special and keep it safe. Some of the students and staff haven’t been together for 18 months. We have all experienced the pandemic in different ways.”
One of the many reasons Ledesma returned to Roosevelt is because of its diverse student body. He said, “When I was doing my internship here, I ran the numbers and counted 25 different nationalities and 17 different languages spoken in our school. As a person born and raised in New York City, I value that.
“I’m also drawn to schools that serve a high percentage of ELL (English Language Learner) students, and support families struggling with poverty. These families are brilliant already; I see a big part of my job as helping to spotlight and grow their gifts.”
The vision for Roosevelt is to create a welcoming, supportive atmosphere for all students. A top priority for Ledesma is to help students learn to own their potential, their learning, their creativity, and their voice.
The importance of voice
Ledesma said, “The idea of owning one’s voice is very important to me. Spanish is my first language. From kindergarten on, I was an ELL student and for years I was afraid to speak up in school. What was casual conversation for most kids was hard for me. It took a long time before I claimed my own voice with confidence. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and, thanks to Mister Rogers, I learned to speak English without a strong Brooklyn accent.
“I think back on what the cafeteria looked like in my New York City high school. I usually sat next to other Latino kids, a couple of kids from China, or a kid from India. We thought of ourselves as ‘ELL for Life.’ It was like recharging our batteries, just to sit and eat together with other kids who had similar struggles.
“What does the cafeteria look like here at Roosevelt? We’ve really been trying to grow the capacity of our students to know each other across racial and cultural lines through clubs, advisories, special events, and artmaking. Part of my experience as an ELL student is recognizing that we all learn at different stages. We strive to meet every student where they are – and help them to grow from there.”
Meet the principal sessions
Ledesma is holding “Meet the Principal Q & A sessions” every week on Zoom. He said, “Last week, 57 computers were logged on. We are offering these sessions at different times on Thursdays, so that anyone who wants to can find a time to join us. To see the schedule for upcoming sessions, visit https://roosevelt.mpls.k12.mn.us/.
He said, “This last year was tough for everybody, and it’s so important to talk. My own family suffered through the pandemic. My mom still lives in the housing project where I grew up in Brooklyn: there are four adults ages 61-81 years living there in a two-bedroom apartment. They all got COVID-19, and my 61 year old uncle passed away.
“What will be done differently at Roosevelt as a result of COVID-19? One of the main changes is that I want to check in with staff more frequently and informally. We won’t be waiting for an annual review.
“What I’ve told my staff, and what I plan to tell students, is never be afraid to reach out. I have an open-door policy. Many people are struggling with trauma from COVID-19, on top of all the usual life challenges.”
He continued, “I hope to hear directly from our families, students, and staff what their hopes are for the year ahead.”
Principal Christian Ledesma can be reached at Christian.Ledesma@mpls.k12.mn.us