Meet Chris Aguinaga
Chris Aguinaga became principal of Loy Norrix High School in 2018. Prior to being named principal, he had served as the school's dean of students.
He spoke with The Excelsior about being named principal.
Aguinaga has worked for Kalamazoo Public Schools for 12 years. He has been at Loy Norrix for four years — one year as an assistant principal and three years as assistant principal and dean of students. Before coming to Norrix he worked at Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts as a social studies teacher for six years and a leadership coach for two years. He was a member of the 2010-2011 KPS Aspiring Administrators Academy, is a member of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and has served as vice president of the Kalamazoo Education Association. He holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University.
Excelsior: Did you always plan to be a high school principal?
Aguinaga: My initial goal was middle school, but then once I arrived at the high school, obviously that changed. High school is a bigger animal, but it’s so much more rewarding in my opinion. The build-up of the four years, the journey toward graduation. Ninth graders are still practically kids, then they mature to adults in four years. Graduation night, being able to shake all of their hands, I’m really looking forward to it, particularly since this graduating class will be the last class I ever taught.
Excelsior: Do you see major differences between middle school and high school?
Aguinaga: In high school you see all of the social interactions and the choices they make as teenagers change the dynamics. Kids you would never think would struggle educationally, but given the new pressures adolescence you watch how that can change the trajectory you’ve always seen for them in middle school. You especially see the importance of the ninth-grade year and success in algebra. If they’re not successful in algebra, they most likely won’t be successful in geometry and most definitely won’t pass algebra II, and if you don’t get all three of those you won’t graduate. Then a sense of hopelessness occurs. It’s so important. You have to make choices as an administrator. I’m sending all of my freshman math academy and geometry teachers to a conference in Grand Rapids. I feel the resources have to be poured into those subject areas where you can see student trajectories change significantly.
Excelsior: What are your goals as principal?
Aguinaga: I want to change the culture climate. I hit the ground running with really wanting students to take ownership and to have pride in the school That’s starting with cleanliness in the cafeteria. This is our second home and we need to take care of it. I’ve also been pushing the idea of “Knights Rising” on social media. I want every student to have instilled in them some type of goal. They don’t have to publicize it, but it should be something they are going to achieve.
Excelsior: Can you talk about the importance of extracurricular activities?
Aguinaga: I was not an athletic person. I was not a performing arts person. My thrill growing up was going home and playing video games. I don’t even fully understand the rules of football. Coming into the high school, I would think, ‘Why do we waste money on athletics?’ Now, the connection is so evident. I can’t tell you how many kids on the football team would have dropped out if they did not have that connection. So now when (athletic director) Mr. Laboe comes to me and says, “Hey I might want to spend a little extra money here.” I don’t balk at it, because it has ripple effects throughout the school. Our forensics team has great potential. And so does the performing arts department. I put additional resources into both of those.
Excelsior: Do you have any plans for parents?
Aguinaga: Parent communication is big goal of mine. I’ve created a Loy Norrix Facebook page. And we have started Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram accounts. All of our announcements are going on Facebook. We still have our Parent Advisory Council that meets monthly in the evening, and I’ve started a monthly morning coffee.
Excelsior: Loy Norrix has gone through quite a leadership change this year.
Aguinaga: I think it’s a great opportunity to hit the reset button on some things that have been set in place for years in the school. For example, the principal was typically never seen. I’ve made it my mission to be in as many lunches as possible. Kim Kirshman and Brandon Lukes are in every single lunch period. Erin Middleton, the dean of students, has second lunch, and I’ve asked Mr. Laboe to take the third lunch. I think we have a good team with a wide range of viewpoints and experiences.