Xavier Magazine

Profile: Tito Castillo

Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Administration, 1968 Retired principal, Fern Creek Traditional High School, Louisville, Ky.

Go West | Castillo arrived in the United States from his native Republic of the Philippines in 1967 to teach at St. Henry High School in Erlanger, Ky. He had $3.75 in the pocket of his borrowed suit, and this lack of funds made the 16-hour flight to America memorable. “They were serving lunch and breakfast. I thought they would charge me so I declined. I was starving.”

Extra Effort | Castillo quickly decided to continue his education and enrolled at Xavier to earn a master’s degree in secondary administration. But he didn’t drive, so he relied on the bus and friends to make the 12-mile journey and recalls more than once arriving on campus dripping wet from rain. He finally moved to campus for a summer, loaded himself down with courses and eventually completed his degree in a year and one semester.

A Taste of the ’60s | In the late 1960s, unrest rocked schools across the country, and Castillo wanted to experience it firsthand. So, with his new master’s degree in hand, he applied to schools in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and Louisville, Ky. Accepted in Louisville, he asked for placement in the roughest school. “I didn’t know what I was asking for.”

Martial Law | Castillo was assigned to the inner-city Duvalle Middle School. He got by because the students assumed a man from the East must be a martial arts expert—a stereotype he didn’t discourage. “They didn’t mess with me,” he says, laughing.

The Long Climb | Castillo went on to teach at nearby Shawnee High School for two years, then became assistant principal at Louisville’s Atherton High School before moving to the same position at Fern Creek in 1988. Over the years, he applied unsuccessfully for a number of principal positions and began to think that he might never become a principal in America.

Mystery Woman | Still, when Fern Creek’s principal left in 1996, Castillo thought about trying one more time. An hour before applications closed, he received a phone call from a woman, who didn’t identify herself, reminding him of the deadline. “To this day, I don’t know who this mysterious woman was.”

Getting the Call | After 24 years as an assistant principal, Castillo got the call he had been waiting for. He took the helm of Fern Creek in fall 1996 and began changing the school’s poor academic scores and confrontational culture. Fern Creek was chosen as one of the nation’s Top 100 High Schools that Work in 2006, and the Kentucky Association of Secondary School Principals named Castillo 2004 Outstanding High School Principal.

New Horizons | Castillo retired in summer 2007, but he’s already looking for new ways of sharing the knowledge he’s accumulated. He says that people and relationships are the foundation of all success and that perseverance is critical. “My life is full of failures, mistakes, frustrations and rejections. Looking back, all of those provided me a stage to learn.”

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