By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Closing the books on my education career
Principally Speaking 04-10-24
El Portal Middle School Principal Mike Gaston.

As I prepare to bid farewell to El Portal Middle School and venture into retirement as the next chapter in my life journey, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude and pride for the incredible Escalon community and El Portal Middle School campus that has been my home for the past 13 years. EPMS Vision holds true in my heart today and will continue: “Through our collective commitments, all students will acquire skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed for future success.” At a recent School Site Council meeting, I shared what makes being an El Portal Panther unique and reflected on my time here. I am honored to highlight the areas of strength and achievement and thank those who have defined El Portal Middle School and contributed to its legacy of excellence.

First and foremost, I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for their unwavering dedication to student achievement and for creating a welcoming environment for El Portal Students. Food Services is led by Mrs. Castro and assisted by Mrs. Huebner, Mrs. Macias, and Mr. Lively. Instructional aides: Mrs. Wheeler, Mrs. Calderon, Mrs. Wright-Rivers, Mrs. Montero, Miss Garcia, and librarian Mrs. Stavreva. Our head custodian, Mr. Azevedo, and his assistant, Mrs. Teves, ensure our campus is ready for students. Meeting our students’ and community’s daily and sometimes unpredictable needs is only possible with the assistance of the ladies working in our front office. My Administrative Assistant, Ms. Dimas, Attendance Clerk, Mrs. Cherry, and Receptionist, Mrs. Avila, along with my Assistant Principal, Mrs. Jefferson, have poured their hearts and souls into nurturing the minds and spirits of our students. El Portal Teachers, there are too many to list individually by name. They have a passion for their craft and a deep commitment to the success of every student. Every EPMS teacher goes above and beyond to create engaging and meaningful learning experiences. They personalize instruction, adapt teaching methods to meet diverse learning styles, and provide individualized support to ensure students reach their full potential. This “magic” does not just happen during school hours and the confines of the school campus. It goes beyond the classroom. Every adult on campus plays a vital role in supporting student success, from providing guidance and mentorship to offering social and emotional support. Together, our teachers and staff form a collaborative and supportive community that empowers students to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally, setting them on the path to lifelong success.

Highlighted areas of strength and achievement in no specific order:

See Something, Say Something Culture

EPMS’s commitment to student and staff safety extends beyond mere words; it is ingrained in the very fabric of our school culture. The “See Something, Say Something” initiative empowers every student, staff member, and community member to be vigilant and proactive in ensuring the safety and well-being of all. This collective sense of responsibility has fostered a safe, nurturing environment where students can thrive.


Active Parent-Teacher Committee

The strength of any school community lies in the collaboration between home and school, and our Parent-Teacher Committee (PTC) illustrates this spirit of partnership. Through their tireless efforts and unwavering support, our PTC has played a pivotal role in enriching the educational experience of our students and strengthening the bonds between families and teachers.


Professional Learning Community (PLC) Panther Activity Schedule

El Portal’s commitment to continuous student improvement is reflected in our Professional Learning Community (PLC) and then implemented with the Panther Schedule, which fosters collaboration and shared learning among our teachers. By harnessing our staff’s collective wisdom, expertise, and passions, we have implemented targeted enrichment and intervention strategies that meet the various needs of our students.


Before and After School Tutoring

EPMS believes every student deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, so teachers offer before and after-school tutoring sessions to provide additional support and guidance. These sessions have helped students excel academically and instilled confidence and strength that will serve them well in the future.


Lunchtime Intramurals and PBIS

Physical activity is essential for promoting overall well-being, and our lunchtime intramurals provide students with a fun and engaging outlet to stay active and healthy. Unstructured time for this age group can sometimes be an unfortunate recipe for disaster. EPMS Student Leadership Class, with the help of their Teacher, Mr. Baptista, and other teachers he has recruited to organize sports and recreational activities; these intramurals have fostered a sense of camaraderie and teamwork among our students, enriching their middle school experience. PBIS-sponsored activities have also enriched their middle school experience.


Investment in Safety Infrastructure

We are taking the lead from Superintendent Chavez, Assistant Superintendent Vos, and the entire El Portal Middle School staff. Ensuring our students and staff’s safety and security has always been a top priority for Escalon Unified School District. The investment in safety infrastructure, including cement repairs, modernization of bathrooms, new school signage, a visitor check-in system, campus fencing, monitored school entry, vape/noise detection monitoring systems, and security cameras, reflects our unwavering commitment to providing a secure learning environment for all.


Dedicated Student Support Services

Finally, I am very proud of the dedicated Student Support Services we have in place to address the various needs of our students. From our full-time site counselor, Mrs. Manzo, and our site School Psychologist, Mrs. Arrighi, along with our mental health hub, collectively have worked tirelessly to provide students with the resources and support they need to navigate the challenges of adolescence and thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.


As I prepare to pass the torch to my successor, I am grateful for the privilege of serving as Principal of El Portal Middle School. We have built a community that signifies excellence, inclusivity, and compassion. I have every confidence that the school’s legacy will continue to shine brightly for years to come. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this incredible journey. El Portal will always have a reserved place in my heart.


Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.