In September of 2010, Catherine Real took the job as principal of Diamond Bar High, embarking on a journey with the hope of continuing the school’s growth in order to give students the quality education she believed they deserved. Five years and numerous school developments later, Real has stepped down from her job in order to move on to the next challenge of her life.
Real, in an interview with the Bull’s Eye, said she believes that one of her biggest accomplishments as principal has been making Advanced Placement courses accessible to a larger range of students. This process has included removing many barriers such as writing exams, application packets, and teacher recommendations, which previously existed at DBHS and are still enacted in many schools today.
“We’ve increased the number of students who are trying [AP courses], but that’s not easy because we’ve also had to increase the number of sections,” Real said. “We can’t just say ‘Hey everyone come on, take an AP class’ and then there is not enough seats.”
By increasing the number of AP courses offered, Real said that she thinks more students challenge themselves by taking these classes. While she doesn’t believe AP classes are right for everyone, Real thinks that the classes are beneficial in that they improve time management skills and help students “up their game” with higher level thinking and writing.
“I think if you’re capable, you should try it because those skills will make you successful when you go to college,” Real said. “We don’t want to send to send kids to college thinking they’re all that and then they get there and they realize ‘Oh my God, everybody’s intellectual level and discourse in things are so far above what I’m capable of.’”
Providing more opportunities for students in terms of class difficulty level and helping them with college and career readiness are what Real believes to be key components in getting DBHS a gold star marking with U.S. News and World Report. However, besides the academic success of the school, Real has also helped maintain the wide variety of activities DBHS offers, despite challenges presented by budget cuts.
“As I was coming into this job, all the money went away. Imagine trying to support athletics and activities and academics and the arts with huge budget cuts,” Real said.
Real believes that less money means lower morale and support among students and parents for a particular organization, but she feels that her dedication to the activities despite the cuts has helped DBHS take its programs to the next level.
One such program that has achieved particular success is the school’s music program, which in the last five years, has seen Real add more human resources in order to provide a wider range of musical opportunities for the students, ultimately leading to multiple Grammy Awards over the years.
“I think the most notable thing for me in the last five years was Ms. Real’s ability to bring us through the most challenging times from a financial perspective that I’ve ever seen the school go through,” Instructional Dean David Hong said. “Through more and more budget cuts, we continued to improve our program and I think that was pretty attributed to her leadership.”
Despite the challenges of her job, Real loved her time as principal because of how much she was able to interact with the Brahmas. Real stated that one of her joys as a Brahma was the time she spent with staff members, teachers, and students.
After serving DBHS for 17 years, the school is practically her second home. However, Real is firm in her belief that her career as a DBHS language teacher, instructional dean, assistant principal, and principal prepared her well for her upcoming job as the Director of Counseling, College, and Career Pathways of the Monrovia School District.
“As I interact with different kids …it makes me sad to think that I’m not going to do that all day every day for the next part of my career,” Real said.