Los Banos High gets new leader

Los Banos High School Principal Veli Gurgen is enamored with language and technology and he plans to emphasize both in his first year on the job.

“I have been always working with English learners, because I was an English learner myself. I wasn’t born here,” said the 37-year-old Turkish immigrant. “That’s a big issue in California. Our schools have English learners who need help in every class. We want all of our students to succeed, but we do realize English learners come with different challenges due to different language proficiency levels.”

Gurgen said the more help the school system is able to provide for students whose primary language is not English, the better chance those children have of graduating and going to college or joining the workforce.

Gurgen was named the head of Los Banos High this summer after the departure of former Principal Ryan Hartsoch, who took a position in Roseville.

Gurgen came to America from Turkey in his mid-20s. He came to visit his American girlfriend, Leila, and the couple married and started a family. Leila Gurgen is also an educator, teaching first grade at Volta Elementary School.

Coming from Turkey, Gurgen said he did not experience culture shock because his home country is extremely westernized.

“Everything you have in America is available in Turkey,” Gurgen said, “from fast food to the movies, to the latest Nike to the iPhones...”

Gurgen, a former English teacher and learning director, attended San Jose State University and also took classes remotely from the University of California,San Diego. He taught English in Morgan Hill before arriving in Los Banos a decade ago. He started teaching in the district in 2006 and for the past two years has been an assistant principal at Los Banos High.

Gurgen said going from teacher to administrator has not been difficult.

“I wouldn’t call it a change. It’s a different platform, different way to help,” he said. “I see it as a new platform for me where I can share my experience with all my other teachers.”

When Gurgen is not working or hiking with his family, he likes to read up on the latest technological advances. He said he would like to emphasize technology at Los Banos High.

“I love the fact that we have really strong ROP (Regional Occupational Program) programs. My passion is to create an information technology pathway,” he said “All the statistics from the Labor Department show the United States needs people to work in information technology. We’re offering for the first time this year two classes, web design (and) game development.”

Gurgen said next year he wants to hire a full-time teacher who can establish a four-year technology-based program. Gurgen envisions MESA students, members of the campus’ animé club and pupils into graphic design, benefiting from the classes.

Gurgen also wants to reach out to Los Banos’ business community to see which skill-sets are important to local companies when they are searching for employees. His goal, he said is to equip students with what they will need to compete in the job market.