Duke Marshall has a history of helping others get a second chance in life.
The former maintenance business owner began his educational career teaching adult school at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla during the 1990s.
"I wanted to invest in the lives of young people and make a difference," he said.
He used his nine years working as a teacher and later assistant principal for the California Department of Corrections to establish his career. Then he switched to public education, serving as Los Banos High's dean of students and later as an assistant principal.
Marshall was recently named the new principal at San Luis High School. The continuation school educates troubled youths that have fallen behind in school because of lack of attendance, poor grades, discipline problems, teen pregnancies and other issues. Marshall tries to look beyond that.
"I don't use any of that to judge the students. I just see them as taking advantage of an opportunity to get caught up on their credits," Marshall said. "They haven't dropped out, they haven't quit. With all their excuses they haven't bought into them."
Marshall is replacing former Principal John Lupini who held the job for 27 years. Marshall said he is the beneficiary of the educational foundation Lupini built.
"The staff genuinely cares about the kids, they're amazing. They come here and they want to see the kids be successful," Marshall said. "I think that helps the kids buy in. They know this is an environment where the leadership cares about their well-being," he said.
Marshall is on sabbatical from Crossroads Church, where he was pastor. He said he always understood that was going to be a venture that would just be a "season" in his life. He said transitioning from the church and leaving Los Banos High are similar in that respect. Marshall said it dawned on him this past year that Los Banos High's Class of 2013 started kindergarten the same year he began working for the school.
"We all graduated together," Marshall said. "This is like my post-graduate career. I think the timing was perfect for me."
Marshall said he is enjoying the smaller campus after experiencing the student population boom that accompanied the housing bubble in the past decade.
"I was at Los Banos High School when we had 2,600 students. To come from that environment to having 150-180 kids, it gives me an opportunity to connect with the students," Marshall said.
The first day of San Luis High School's six-week school session under Marshall was Monday and he had a simple message for the teens.
"Whatever choices they made that got them here, I challenged them to make better choices and to see how much further they can go in life," Marshall said.