Dr. McLaren: Principal of the Year

Camarena Leader Earns 'Principal of the Year' Honor
Posted on 03/03/2019
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Principal Debra McLaren, Ed.D., was a professional opera singer before she became an educator. Now, her education career is hitting a high note, too. Dr. McLaren was recently named a “Principal of the Year” by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), Region 18, in the Elementary Principal category. Dr. McLaren has a distinguished track record of commitment to educational equity and student achievement.

“Dr. McLaren’s collective experiences, personal ethics, and commitment to student success have been hallmarks of leadership throughout her career,” said CVESD Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D. “She is truly an outstanding individual and educational leader with amazing dignity and integrity.”

Dr. McLaren is among a "trifecta" of District leaders to be honored by ACSA, Region 18, which serves San Diego and Imperial counties. Dr. Jeffrey Thiel, and Dr. Escobedo were each named an “Administrator of the Year." Dr. Thiel is Human Resources Director of the Year honoree. Dr. Escobedo is Superintendent of the Year honoree. (Look for their profiles soon!)

Dr. McLaren became the principal of Enrique S. Camarena Elementary for the start of this school year, after more than 15 years in education. Before moving to Camarena School, Dr. McLaren led Wolf Canyon Elementary School to the No. 5 ranking in English Language Arts among CVESD campuses in the 2018 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASP); 78% of Wolf Canyon students met or exceeded standards in English.

In mathematics, Wolf Canyon tied for No. 1 in the District, as 71% of students met or exceeded standards. And in 2017, Wolf Canyon made the Spotlight list of the national non-profit organization GreatSchools for achievement of its African American students.

Dr. McLaren’s extensive experience in visual and performing arts add an important perspective.Dr. Debra McLaren, cheering at a school event last year.

“Education has always been the key to the doors of opportunity in my life,” Dr. McLaren said. “Though I had another career as an opera singer before I became an educator, I now realize that was preparation for what I was really meant to do. My training as a singer taught me the phonetic alphabet – the foundation for understanding how to teach reading. Through song, I learned classic literature, poetry, and languages. I’ve studied five languages and sung in seven. Singing prepared me for how to use a microphone, walk out onto the stage, and communicate a message.”

She said she initially transitioned to education as a music teacher because she wanted to give back and ensure elementary schools had music instruction. “It was my desire to inspire and educate children through music while also recognizing the many careers that are in music,” Dr. McLaren said. “It was through music that I learned the poetry of Langston Hughes (Daybreak in Alabama) or T.S. Elliot (Cats). It was through music that I learned about history and politics through the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Copland, Wagner, and Verdi, to name a few.”

Dr. McLaren said she is motivated to make a difference in the lives of her students and school community. “I want to continue the legacy of the many educators in my family,” she said. “I want to not only educate the minds of children but also their hearts. It is with that motivation that I lead each day. …Moreover, I am inspired by the service of my grandfather, Rev. Dr. Ernest D. Butler, who had a city park, low-income housing development, and an education scholarship (University of Indiana in Bloomington) all named after him because of his tireless efforts during the civil rights movement. My grandfather left a legacy that I am dedicated to continuing in my role as an educational leader.”

She said her family’s inspiration guides her service each day. “I am educator because I have been blessed with the gift of education and I want to share that gift with everyone,” Dr. McLaren said.

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