Lonny Rivera wrestled his way through college into a quick-paced career with Toledo Public Schools, all to land his dream job right back where he started.
The 30-year-old Oregon native was hired last week as principal of Coy Elementary - taking over for longtime principal Joe Wasserman.
John Hall, Oregon City Schools superintendent, said Mr. Rivera was an easy choice for the district's search committee.
Mr. Rivera will start Aug. 1 at Coy. His salary will be $75,411 a year.
Mr. Rivera's background as a special education teacher was a particular attraction, as was his dedication to the Oregon community.
“The thing that kept coming across my mind was that this is my neighborhood. This is where I live. This is where I will raise my kids,” Mr. Rivera said about taking the new position. “In my interview, I said `if there was a job that I would do for no money, this is what I would do.'”
After graduating Clay High School in 1991, Mr. Rivera went to the University of Toledo on a full scholarship for wrestling.
:The potential wasn't spotted in me, and athletics is where the reality of college came in,” Mr. Rivera said. “God has really blessed me in my life because when I was in high school, I was on a vocational track - the machine trades - so I was not a very traditional college-bound student.”
He has since obtained a master's degree in urban education. His academic challenges were an inspiration to later help “underdog” students, Mr. Rivera said, which is why he majored in special education.
In 1994, after winning the MAC Wrestling Championship, he transferred to Cleveland State University when UT dropped its wrestling program. After college, Mr. Rivera set his sights on the Oregon City Schools, but there wasn't a special education teacher position available.
He started his career in 1996 at Pickett Elementary School in Toledo as a special education teacher. After two years, he moved to Woodward High School, where he was dean of students. In August, 1999, he was appointed as assistant principal of Sherman Elementary, a bulging building of 650 to 850 pupils near downtown Toledo. He became its principal the following year and was paid a base salary of $66,027 a year.
This fall, Mr. Rivera moves from the inner city to the suburbs. One of the major differences, he said, will be an increase in parental involvement. “This was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make,” Mr. Rivera said about leaving Sherman.
Education is in a transition, Mr. Rivera said, which is why accountability is a larger issue for educators. But he is critical of putting too much pressure on young students.
“You have lawmakers and politicians making laws about education when that is not their background,” he said. “Especially in the inner city, we had people that were dedicated, but it seems that whenever we would make progress, they raise the bar on us. I recall this past year, I had fourth-grade-kids that were sick to their stomachs because they thought they were going to fail the reading test.”
At Coy, Mr. Rivera plans to follow his policy of remaining visible to the students and staff.
“It's a wonderful school and there is a wonderful staff there,” he said. “I'm very passionate about this job and I hope that really shows.”