For those who know Francisco Escobedo, the newly appointed superintendent for the Chula Vista Elementary School District, they recognize his dedication to excellence in serving more than 20 years in education. But not many people know his career path came at a crossroads in his life.
Escobedo grew up in the upper west side of Manhattan in New York City and lived there for 17 years. During this time, his heart belonged to science and he received his degree in biology at Yale University, with an interest in forensics.
"The East Coast was tough," he said. "We lived a few blocks from Hell's Kitchen in the most drug-infested area at the time."
Escobedo's parents encouraged him to focus on education. His father, born and raised in Mexico, and, mother, born and raised in Puerto Rico, met as immigrants in New York. "My parents did the best with what they had, and they knew the value of education," he said. "The teachers I had were almost like my surrogate parents."
At 23, Escobedo moved to the West Coast.
He became a police officer in San Diego two years later, but that job lasted only a year. Escobedo admits that seeing children's cadavers was too difficult for him. A colleague at the time suggested Escobedo would be an ideal teacher, noticing his counseling skills during youth arrests.
"Those words burned in my heart," Escobedo said. "I took the week off and went to UCSD. I decided I wanted to become a high school science teacher, but there weren't any positions available."
Escobedo began teaching kindergarten in the South Bay district and in 1988 became an aide at Valley Vista. "Being a teacher and educator truly was never something I wanted to do until that moment in time ... and then when my partner said that, I knew it was what I needed to do," he said.
Matthew Tessier is the director of technology and student assessment in the National school district and has known Escobedo for nearly 10 years. Escobedo was the principal at Feaster-Edison Charter School when Tessier was a third grade teacher.
"Escobedo bases a lot of his decisions on data, which is a good way to spend money appropriately," Tessier said.
Escobedo said one of the challenges he faces is decreased enrollment in the South Bay.
In the last eight to nine years, Escobedo said the South Bay has been steadily losing 200 students a year. "When coupled with the state revenue decline it's double jeopardy," he said.
Escobedo said it's important to never lose touch with the classroom. Each week he visits two to five schools to meet with principals, go to classrooms and talk with teachers to ensure that plans and initiatives are being applied.
"It's been a difficult yet enjoyable experience, but it's something I have a passion for," Escobedo said. "I've seen how education has transformed my life and I want to offer the same thing for all students."
Escobedo will take over for retiring Superintendent Lowell J. Billings who will leave in December.
In accepting the new position, he will become responsible for the largest elementary school district in the state with 44 schools serving approximately 27,000 students.
Escobedo's last day at South Bay Union district, where he makes $144,000 a year, is Oct. 29.
When he takes over at Chula Vista it's not clear what his salary will be, though it won't be more than Billings' annual $247,000 salary, Escobedo said.
"I can't see him (Escobedo) doing anything else," Tessier said. "I think he will do a fantastic job ... I have no doubts about that."