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7 Questions with Mitchell Salerno

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Mitchell Salerno

Name: Mitchell Salerno

Current title: Head of School

Current organisation: Monte Vista Christian School

I am the Head of School at Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville, CA. MVC is a 95-year old day and boarding school serving approximately 750 students in grades 6-12. Throughout my career, I have enjoyed transformational leadership and have been an innovative thought leader. Most importantly, I am a husband and father.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?

I have found leading substantive, innovative, and progressive change in Christian schools quite difficult. There is an entrenched culture within Christian education that holds on to certain pedagogical approaches and operational methodologies. Most curiously, these entrenched behaviors are often spiritualized and, therefore, normalized. As a leader and a futurist, I am interested in creating environments that will grow and flourish in the future and maintain a thoroughly Christ-centered, Kingdom focus.

2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I wake up early around 5 am and exercise 3-4 days per week at the gym or going for jog. I take my health seriously and monitor my daily rythems via Whoop. I have found knowing my sleep, exercise, and strain patterns is vital to living a healthy lifestyle.

After exercising, I eat breakfast and prepare for work. I am usually walking to the office (I live on campus.) around 7:30 am. Once in the office, I maintain a full, but balanced, schedule. I have worked over the years to allow time for each activity that is required throughout the day, including checking and responding to emails, meeting with direct reports, and maintaining active and visible throughout campus.

One of my key practices is to journal my day by recording important meetings, phone conversations, and to-do items. I have done this for more than 15 years and it has proven to be an effective method for remaining organized. I am currently keeping all of my journals digitally on GoodNotes5 on an iPad.

Between 3:30 and 4, I begin to leave the office and "wander" around campus. This has proven to be a wonderful time to connect with student and employees. Usually, athletic practices and games are beginning, as well as fine art practices. By 5 pm, I am arriving home for dinner.

In a normal, non-COVID year, I would return to campus at 6 pm to drop in games and talk with families. This would also include a stop by each dorm to check on the boarding students.

As the evening winds down, I will spend time with my daughters and wife before heading to bed around 9 pm.

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Relationships, relationships, relationships . . . During COVID, I have learned that you are really not in control. Preparation, the ability to adapt and pivot, and the need to have a cohesive, unified team are keys to navigating uncertain situations. Each of these requires relationships that are built on trust, collegiality, and love.

4. What one book has had the most profound impact on your Christian school leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

There have been so many books that have impacted my leadership. Currently, the book, Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud, is proving to be the most valuable. As I lead our organization through significant strategic change, the reality of necessary endings has become apparent. I am consistently coaching our executive team on how, when, and why we need necessary endings. It is hard. It takes courage. This book is a simple reminder that leading requires necessary endings.

5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?

This is the million-dollar question, especially after my previous answer. I think three things are important: proper compensation, a compelling mission/vision, and an environment of care and respect.

6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

I believe a culture of well-being is created when an environment of love, transparency, and consistency is fostered. This is why COVID has caused such disruption in our well-being. We are living in turbulent, inconsistent times. People are overwhelmed. When we create environments that eliminate unnecessary burdens and worries, our staff and students can rest in routine.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a Christian school leader so far?

This is very difficult to answer. One story - wow! For me it is not one story, in particular, but one event, graduation. Each year, I am humbled to participate in the graduation ceremony. It is simultaneously a celebration of what is to come and an opportunity to memorialize the impact I have had on each student, personally and as a part of the larger school system. Seeing the joy, laughter, and love covers over all of the issues that might have been experienced. It often makes me wonder what Heaven will be like. When all of the struggles are behind us and we are in presence of our Savior, there will be joy and jubilation. Graduation, for me, is a foretaste of glory to come.