Poinciana Admin Takes Job at New High School
October 7, 2017
Who knew the aspiring psychology major, Johana Santiago, would first become a teacher and later an assistant principal?
Her high school teacher, Joe Straus.
What was at first an average relationship between a student and teacher, later became a close bond that would have lifelong ramifications.
And now, Santiago is set to take on her next big challenge: The assistant principal of instruction at the new high school in Kissimmee.
Santiago will transfer to her new job in a few weeks. No replacement for her position at Poinciana has been named.
Though Straus’ warm personality and unconditional support wasn’t the only thing that helped her through tough times, his donation of thousands of dollars for college also helped her create a future.
After becoming a teacher, she didn’t only teach. She paid it forward by creating her own bonds with students.
Straus influenced Santiago to help make a difference in students’ lives just by creating close relationships with them.
Born an hour from the capital of Puerto Rico, Santiago was raised in a small town.
Though just because she comes from a quaint town, doesn’t mean she hasn’t experienced the city life.
Santiago moved with her mother to New York when Santiago was in the eighth grade.
“My mother didn’t speak English so I had to be the translator for her,” Santiago said.
Santiago moved back to Puerto Rico temporarily.
When Santiago turned 15 years old, she convinced her parents to let her move to New York to live with her brother, sister-in-law and their child.
“I wanted to go to New York because I felt that it would give me more opportunities for school,” Santiago said.
Santiago’s fondest memory of New York was her daily commute on the subway station because she didn’t have to rely on anyone for transportation.
As Santiago adjusted to the new environment, problems arose.
Santiago’s biggest struggle was being financially stable as a teenager in one of the largest cities in the world.
She worked multiple jobs and often missed classes as a result, she said.
“I basically had to support myself since my parents couldn’t pay for my expenses in New York, but emotionally I felt great being independent,” said Santiago, whose parents still lived in Puerto Rico.
In high school, Santiago encountered two teachers there that she became close with: Straus, known as, “Sarge”, who was her ROTC instructor and Terry Gild, her math teacher and dean.
“They both knew my personal life and my struggles,” she said.
Over time, both of the teachers took on parental roles in Santiago’s life.
They became her support system.
Santiago graduated high school at the age of 19 because she was held back twice in third and fourth grade due to Rhode Island’s lack of an ESOL program, a program designed to help non-English speaking students.
After high school, Straus took Santiago to visit Mercy College, a school Straus researched for her.
He then did the unthinkable: paid for her registration, first semester of tuition and books to help her restart her life in college.
“When I heard that he was going to pay all of that, I was very embarrassed at first. I felt like I had a debt to repay,” Santiago said.
During that transition to Mercy College, Santiago declared her new major in education.
“I remember meeting Straus to have breakfast at this diner and when I told him, it was like he already knew.” Santiago said.
Once she earned her degree and was certified to become a teacher, she taught for three years in New York until she moved to Florida in 2003.
Though, when she became a teacher, she wanted to do more than just teach.
She wanted to inspire and help her students just like her mentor, Straus.
Former student and now aspiring teacher, Lacey Zwick, was one of Santiago’s students who is now an adult and aspiring teacher herself.
“Santiago actually wanted to work with students, unlike those who did it for the paycheck.” Zwick said, who is now applying for an instructional position at PHS.
When she moved to the U.S., Santiago found a kind teacher who helped her achieve her dreams.
Now, after being the assistant principal for four years, Santiago still remembers the impact of Straus’ on her life.
“I’ll never forget the impact Straus had on me,” she said. “He motivated me and helped me when times were tough.”