A Fresno Unified School District administrator will be honored as the 2016 middle school principal of the year by the National Speech and Debate Association in Salt Lake City this month.
Carlos Castillo served as the principal of Wawona Middle School until July 2015, where he helped develop a debate and speech program for the school. Castillo is currently principal at Bullard High School.
Wawona Middle school officials were interested in starting a speech and debate program during the 2013-14 school year and traveled to Southern California to look at three different programs to aid them in designing their own debate and speech curriculum, Castillo said.
“We took a lot of elements from what we saw,” Castillo said. “We felt that one of the main things we wanted was to make sure it wasn’t a club – some schools do speech and debate as an after-school club, where it’s voluntary.
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“We wanted to make sure it was a class period and mandatory, and we wanted our kids to actually compete in competitions,” Castillo said.
Wawona students needed to have a class period devoted to debate because none of them came with previous speech experience.
Debate programs, and contests, are generally only organized at the high school level, Castillo said.
“So what we actually did was host our own competition,” he said. “Some kids did so well that they competed against high school students and placed.”
“What was really cool about the program was seeing the variety of students that were involved,” said Korrie Gallardo, who was a guidance and learning adviser at the middle school before moving to Bullard in 2015.
“There were students that had not been involved in anything else at the school – they were not athletes, they weren’t in clubs – but they stuck with it and found their niche.”
Bullard’s program also has benefited because of the Wawona students who are fed into it, Gallardo said.
The national association is the largest speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school and collegiate students in the United States.
A panel of coaches determines the principal of the year after fielding nominations for the award from students and other coaches.
“What really made me feel better than anything else is that students and teachers wrote letters in support of nominating me,” Castillo said.
Over the past two years, roughly 50 students have gone through Wawona Middle’s program.
Castillo will travel to Salt Lake City to accept his award at a June 17 ceremony held by the National Speech and Debate Association.