Catilleja named Mabton schools superintendent

— It should be no surprise that Joseph "I like to be called Joey" Castilleja has been chosen for superintendent of the Mabton School District.

The Sunnyside resident and White Swan Schools administrator has a lot to offer. He understands the pursuit of education, has experience in education and school administration, is an accomplished musician, understands service to others and is a patriot.

Castilleja learned of his appointment in a call from Mabton Board President Wendy Morrow on May 3.


Joseph “Joey” Castilleja

“My wife (formerly Sunnyside’s Sherry Cullen) and I were so excited,” Castilleja said. “My dream — our dream — was to serve a small school in the Yakima Valley, which is our home.”

Castilleja was pleased with his visit to Mabton before the hiring. He said everyone he spoke with is there for the students.

“I felt right at home,” he said.

Castilleja attended Zillah schools, graduating from Zillah High School in 1999. He had plans for college, but he chose the military first, joining the Army National Guard right out of high school.

“I auditioned for the Army Band program and they took me as a guitarist,” Castilleja said.

This will be Castilleja’s 20th year in the Guard. He could retire, but he may go for 30 years. It will depend a lot on what he learns his first year as a superintendent and whether his new employment will allow him the time to continue serving.

“But I’m not in a hurry to retire,” he said. “I’m patriotic. My family is patriotic. We have a flag in our yard. My service is my family’s service, They are very supportive when I have to go away.”

Castilleja started with the Army National Guard Band at Camp Murray near Tacoma. Later he transferred to the Air National Guard Band at Fairchild AFB.

Castilleja was activated in 2009 and sent to Iraq and again in 2011 and sent to Afghanistan. His job was to entertain American troops in forward areas.

Castilleja wanted to be a band music teacher as early as 5th grade. He started preparing while continuing to serve. He graduated from Eastern Washington University with a degree in music education.

Castilleja’s first teaching assignment was at Manson. He had 12 students the first day. But word spread he was a cool cat. He got down with his music students.

“I always taught with an instrument in my hands,’’ he said.

When Castilleja was finished, Manson had an 88-member marching, a concert band, a jazz band and a rock band.

Castilleja was working at Washington Middle School in Sunnyside in 2012 when an administrator suggested education administration. He had already started work on doctorate degree, and this made sense. He will finish the degree this summer.

Performance improvement was Castilleja’s focus for doctoral studies — his own improvement and improvements of schools.

“I was intrigued by people who had the guts to do (a phD),” he said.

Castilleja’s research throughout his study was improvement of graduation rates. Improvement of the graduation rate was his goal at his first administrative post, principal of White Swan High School-Mt. Adams Middle School. It was 58 percent when he arrived. At the next reporting period, it was 77 percent.

“We got out of improvement (classification) for the first time in school history,” Castilleja said.

One of the keys, Castilleja said, was lowering the number of suspension and expulsions. That could happen in Mabton too.

It may depend, perhaps, on whether Castilleja can set aside some time to be a Pied Piper.


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