Last week, we introduced readers to Andrew Casler, the new principal of Oak Forest Elementary who comes to our community after 11 years with Pilgrim Academy. This week, he took some time before the new year to sit down with The Leader to discuss more about his plans moving forward.
Are you from Houston? What’s your educational background?
I consider myself a Houstonian but my wife who grew up in Bellaire would beg to differ. I grew up north of town in Atascocita and went to neighborhood schools, including what was then Humble High School. I got my undergrad degree from the University of Houston, majoring in psychology and philosophy. Later I got my master’s in education from the University of Houston through HISD’s leadership program.
What’s your background with HISD?
After a job in IT consulting, I took a job at Pilgrim Academy in southwest Houston, which was then a pre-K through fifth grade school and now goes through eighth grade. My mom was a librarian and once I was in the school setting I never looked back. I served the Pilgrim Academy until I came to Oak Forest.
Pilgrim is a really unique community and leaving there was the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make. A lot of the students are new immigrants and moving to the Pre-K through eighth grade model gave them a lot of stability. I got to see the campus transform. While there I worked as a teacher, coach, dean of students, and elementary assistant principal. I feel fortunate to have been able to serve Pilgrim Academy in these capacities for over a decade. This time allowed me to develop lasting relationships with students, parents, and community members. Like Oak Forest, Pilgrim Academy is a campus that understands the value of continuity of staff on the culture of a learning community.
What was appealing to you about the job at Oak Forest Elementary?
I was excited to work at a campus that has such a strong culture of parent and community engagement. I also feel that many of my own educational values reflected the learning that is currently happening at Oak Forest. For a number of years my wife worked for the Harris County Department of Education as a pediatric physical therapist. While in this capacity she was assigned to serve Oak Forest Elementary. She enjoyed coming to the campus as she felt the staff did an amazing job ensuring all students were valued and loved.
What is your plan for the rest of the year with regard to the school?
I have a deep appreciation for the amount of time and care that went into developing the culture of Oak Forest. It is my intention to honor the culture by spending a lot of time learning about our community and getting to know our students.
What do you perceive as OFE’s strengths?
I believe that in addition to having a strong community, Oak Forest Elementary has made a commitment towards the development of the whole-child. Through a variety of enrichment activities and engagement with ideas surrounding values such as empathy, Oak Forest has created a safe place for students to develop their own identities.
What are areas at the school that you think play to your strengths? Where do you feel like you can make a difference?
I have had experience shaping the culture of a school to ensure all learners are visible and valued. In addition I have developed UIL programs and oversaw several enrichment opportunities to ensure the development of the whole child. Lastly, I have spent the past few years deeply engaged with developing a culture of thinking. Pilgrim had a successful partnership with TH Rogers that is based on the Project Zero Classroom from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This involves learning communities transitioning from just delivering content into helping students engage with content to develop dispositions and habits of mind.