Principal of the Year credits former teachers with making a difference – Orange County Register

Cal State Fullerton alumnus John Briquelet didn’t plan on becoming an educator. But after a nearly 35-year career in the field, where he has served Southern California students as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal, Briquelet has been named the 2022 California Principal of the Year and a finalist for the 2023 National Principal of the Year Award by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

“Principals and teachers go to school every day and they work to help kids,” Briquelet, who graduated in 1989, said. “They’re not thinking about awards. The whole thing has been a tremendous honor. It’s not anything I would have ever expected.”

Briquelet, who currently serves as the chancellor of Oxford Preparatory Academy in south Orange County, began his journey to these accolades when he moved with his family from Wisconsin to California at age 13. The son of a waitress and a city bus driver, he attended 14 different schools in the span of 12 years, and it was his teachers who provided him the stability that wasn’t a constant at home.

After graduating from Sonora High School in La Habra, Briquelet began his freshman year at CSUF as a political science major with the hopes of fulfilling his mother’s dream for him to become an attorney. But a visit with one of his former English literature teachers at Sonora sparked the idea of ​​pursuing a career as an educator.

“Teachers really made a huge difference for me,” Briquelet said. “They didn’t give up on me, and in many cases, they inspired me. So, I thought if I could do for kids what my teachers had done for me, that would be pretty awesome.”

Briquelet switched his major to English and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1989. A first-generation college graduate, he returned to his college alma mater for both his master’s in education (1998) and his Clear Administrative Services Credential (2006). His time at CSUF equipped him with not only the tools necessary for a career in the education field but the confidence he needed to succeed.

“I have tremendous pride in my school,” Briquelet said of CSUF. “I had great professors there (who were) really inspiring and helpful. (I have) so much appreciation for what was done for me by my professors and the staff there.”

His path took Briquelet to a number of positions as a teacher, coach and assistant principal at middle schools and high schools in both Los Angeles and Orange County, including serving as assistant principal at Imperial Middle School, the first school he attended after moving to La Habra as a teen.

Briquelet’s first high school principal job came in 2007 when he arrived at El Modena High School in Orange. It was a position he held for five years while making great strides in improving the school’s academic performance. He then moved to Loara High School in 2012, where he was the school’s principal for four years.

It was his wife, Jill, a counselor in the Anaheim Union High School District, who suggested that he throw his hat in the ring for the job as principal at Whitney High School in Cerritos in 2016. Known as a high-performing campus serving grades 7-12, Whitney is ranked by US News and World Report as one of the best in the nation and often the top high school in California. Briquelet knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“When that opportunity opened up, I thought, OK, how often do you get to go to a school like Whitney?” Briquelet said.

He was hired, and during his time there, Briquelet guided the school through campus closures and remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a time full of challenges, but one where he saw resilience in the staff and students in the face of difficult circumstances.

Now admittedly closer to the end of his career than the beginning, Briquelet wanted a new challenge, and he found it as middle school founding chancellor at Oxford Preparatory Academy, a position he took in July.

“I’ve never founded a school, established the culture, the traditions, the expectations, and I thought that would be really interesting,” Briquelet said.

Earlier this spring, Briquelet was notified that he had been named 2022 California Principal of the Year and had advanced to one of three finalists for 2023 National Principal of the Year. Although he wasn’t named the winner at the NASSP Illuminate conference held on Nov. 10-11 in Crystal City, Va., he feels fortunate to have been considered for the award.

“I think having the opportunity to make a difference for kids is a tremendous honor, and it’s given me a lot of joy,” Briquelet said. “Administration is not always easy, by any stretch. And I think there are a lot of people out there that put kids first, and they do an amazing job.”

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