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Former lawyer finds reward as an educator


`I missed the kids,' says David Ibarra, associate principal at Whitmer High School.


David Ibarra changed careers in 1988, moving away from education to a more lucrative profession in law. But there was still something missing in his life.

“I missed the kids,” said Mr. Ibarra, associate principal at Whitmer High School for the past six years and one of the newest members of the city's Hispanic Affairs Commission. “I liked what I was doing, but I missed helping kids in the way education does. I guess it did call me back.”

Mr. Ibarra, 45, is one of four members Mayor Jack Ford selected to serve on the commission, which addresses issues facing Hispanics in the city. He spent one year at Gallon, Kalniz & Iorio before returning to education.

He said he has never been happier.

A former high school wrestling champion and coach, Mr. Ibarra knows what it's like to take issues to the mat. As associate principal, he is the highest-ranking Latino in the Washington Local Schools administration. He also is the point man for Whitmer on proficiency test scores.

The district passed 17 of 27 indicators for effectiveness on the proficiency tests this past school year. At the high school level, 76.6 percent of its ninth-grade students passed all five parts of the tests, slightly higher than the 75.9 statewide average, according to figures from the Ohio Department of Education.

“He's constantly looking at making us better,” Principal Brad Faust said. “He's constantly looking at test results and researching new strategies. One of the things he's made us look at is how we, as educators, affect test scores and what we can do to help students.”

Mr. Faust said Mr. Ibarra's energy and exuberance often rubs off on the staff and students.

“He has this strong connection with the students here,” Mr. Faust said. “He graduated from here, so he's true maize and blue. Dave is very straight to the point and honest with people. People know when he talks to you, you can take it to heart. He's very comfortable with people, and he makes you feel welcomed.”

Dr. Robin Rayfield, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Toledo, and Mr. Ibarra were opposing wrestlers in high school and college. Mr. Rayfield wrestled at Perrysburg and the University of Toledo, while Mr. Ibarra wrestled at Whitmer and Bowling Green State University.

The two became colleagues when Mr. Ibarra became assistant principal at Delta High School in 1990, where Dr. Rayfield was coach of the school's wrestling program.

“I knew Dave knew what he was doing. So from Day 1, I approached him about helping us out whenever he could,” Dr. Rayfield said. “He said this was a new job for him and he had to see whether he would have time. Well, the time wrestling season came around, Dave found the time. I don't think he ever missed a day of practice. He did it uncompensated because he knew we needed him.”

During the six years Mr. Ibarra worked as assistant principal at Delta and then principal of the middle school, he developed a strong following among the students and community.

“Dave was like a personal coach to the upper weights and developed some of our champions,” Dr. Rayfield said.

Mr. Ibarra said he always had an interest in law. After earning his master's degree in educational administration from Ohio State in 1983, he was accepted into the University of Toledo's College of Law. He graduated in 1987 and passed the bar in 1988.

“I'm always looking for new challenges,” Mr. Ibarra said. “It was a chance for me to use some of my other talents. I really like the law, and I've still maintained my law license. But what I told my employer when I left, I didn't have the passion for it like I do education.”

Mr. Ibarra said he grew up in the traditional Mexican-American household. His parents, Hugo and Viola, were both born in Texas before moving to Ohio with their parents. He said he learned from his father “quiet dignity” and work ethic to provide for his family.

He said his mother was one of the first Hispanics to graduate from Findlay High School. He said they told him that there was always honor in doing the right thing. Mr. and Mrs. Ibarra both attended their son's swearing-in ceremony to the Hispanic Affairs Commission last month.

“That truly was an honor to have them there,” Mr. Ibarra said. “They always told me if I have a chance to give back to my community to do it. I think this is an excellent opportunity to do just that. I'm looking forward to working with the commissions and the issues that will be put in front of us.”

Mr. Ibarra said he and his wife, Debbie, have tried to pass along many of the values he learned to his sons Nick, 18, Nate 15, a sophomore at Whitmer, and Jake 7, along with stepson Mike, 22, and stepdaughter Amber, 18.

“Dave is a great role model for promoting cultural diversity not only for Hispanics but for all children,” Mr. Faust said.

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