VICTORVILLE – Options for Youth principal Kathy Lento, an administrator known for her compassion, is retiring January 27 after 56 years as an educator in the Victor Valley.
“I would like to spend more time with my daughter’s family and grandchildren who live in Texas,” she said. “It’s time for me to be a grandma to those children.”
Lento is scheduled to retire two months shy of her 78th birthday. The average principal retires at 55, according to educationnext.org
The petite administrator with a quick grin started her education career in 1961 as a 22-year-old Spanish teacher at Victor Valley Junior High School after graduating from the University of Redlands. From there she moved to Apple Valley Middle School and then to Apple Valley High School where she taught Spanish and PE and later served as a counselor. She returned to Victor Junior High as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, a position she filled for 18 years.
Lento initially retired in 2002. But that only lasted six months.
“I was asked to be the interim area director for Options for Youth in the Victor Valley,” she explained. “Back then, we were just one of two charter schools in the area. I applied for the permanent position because I really liked Options and what it did and stood for.
“You have to take time to work with students and their families. You don’t just give them an F and let them go,” said Lento.
During her 15-year tenure, Options saw state scores steadily increase as the charter school transitioned from an independent studies program to a blended program, adding small classrooms and online studies.
“We have performed on par with similar schools in the district, and this is with students who had not been succeeding,” Lento said. “That’s the beauty of Options. We fill a need that may not be available in a traditional school. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to education.”
Options staff members described her as a compassionate administrator who helped students and staff grow. They recalled how at times she would become very emotional when talking about the difficulties that students experienced. Her empathy impacted those around her.
“You have been a mother to us all,” Ray Banaag commented at the Options 2016 staff Christmas party, as he blinked back tears.
Assistant Principal Jacob Kaaekuahiwi remembered when he was first hired as a counselor for the school.
“She was asking me what I needed,” he recalled. “Then she stopped and said, ‘I know what he needs. He needs a little TLC.’ She told the other counselor to buy me some office supplies and then she took me out to The Olive Garden. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Lento has been a builder of people, Kaaekuahiwi added, encouraging staff members to work through their mistakes and grow.
“Teaching was never an easy job,” Lento observed. “Things have changed a great deal since the early 60s. There are many more single-parent families and divorces. There are technological advances.”
“Showing compassion and acceptance is key to being a successful teacher,” she added.
“You have to take that kid when he comes to you, learn who he is, accept him for the way he is, and somehow inspire him so he has the desire to improve and achieve – to have the audacity to think that he can have a better life,” Lento said.
(Options For Youth news release)