Kevin Salaiz said his experience working in a mental health center was handy for his foray into teaching.
Salaiz's first teaching job, at a Southern California private school, was 45 remedial English students in a single classroom.
"I would tell the students where I worked, and tell them, 'The patients behaved better than you,' " Salaiz said with a smile. "I didn't have to use that too often."
Two decades later, Salaiz is principal at Beyer High School, where he uses his psychology background to handle the Modesto campus' 2,200 teen- agers, each with their own set of needs.
Salaiz said the biggest change at Beyer may be seen in the hallways, which are less crowded after the opening of Enochs High School in Village I. Beyer has lost 1,000 students in the past two years to Enochs, which is about a mile east on Sylvan Avenue.
"There's more breath- ability," said Salaiz, who was associate principal at Beyer from 2004 to 2006. "Walking through the hallways, it's less of a struggle to get to class."
Salaiz, who was principal at Mark Twain Junior High last year, replaced Randy Fillpot this fall. Fillpot was Beyer's principal from 2003 to 2007 and now works as Modesto City Schools' director of curriculum for secondary education.
Tuesday, Salaiz spoke about creating new vocational education classes for students and the challenges facing high school freshmen:
Q: What's the key to helping students successfully make the transition into high school?
A: "I know how traumatic it can be moving from elementary to junior high and junior high to high school. ... We need to give (students) the opportunity to learn about the school before they are thrown into it. They go from being in a single room the entire day as elementary schoolers to now they're changing classes every period. We're in the process of starting a Summer Academy, where students can have more than one day to come in, go over their schedules and learn about the traditions and culture at Beyer."
Q: You were principal at Mark Twain Junior High last year when three girls were grabbed by a man on their way to school. What did you learn about student safety from that incident?
A: "It's never easy when students aren't allowed to feel safe coming to school. It's simply about making sure you're communicating with everyone involved, so they know we're doing everything in our power to make sure the school is safe. We sent out a letter to parents and made sure our support staff was sharing the correct information with parents."
Q: What's your ultimate goal for students who enter Beyer?
A: "By the time students leave, they should be ready for college or ready for the work force. One of my goals is to provide all students with classes that tap into their interests, some way, somehow, and prepare them for life after high school. Beyer has food service and hospitality, business entrepreneurship, and plant and animal science technology pathways for students. I want to create more pathways on specific courses of study."
Q: What were you voted "most likely" to be in your high school yearbook?
A: "I didn't get voted anything, but I always felt that the best decision I made was to get involved in school. I played baseball all four years in high school and in college as well. I was involved in the band and got to go to a lot of great places, not the least of which was marching on the field at Candlestick Park in 1984 for opening day. Moving from a public school to a private school, I struggled with wanting to stay for the first couple of weeks. The thing that saved me was being involved in band."
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.