Seeing education as a calling, newly minted San Jacinto Elementary School Principal Fallon McLane is looking to build on former Principal Erin Bueno’s legacy and increase her impact on students and teachers.

McLane has just finished her third year as assistant principal. When she was named principal, McLane felt equal parts excitement and equal parts of, “Okay. We’re doing this, and so you just take a deep breath and then you say, August is coming, the kids are coming and you got to show up as if this was any other year.”

San Jacinto has about 480 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade and there are approximately 30 teachers. She replaces Bueno, who is now an executive director of leadership for Ector County ISD.

Bueno said McLane brings a wealth of knowledge in curriculum and instruction to San Jacinto.

“She understands the importance of her role as the instructional leader on campus. San Jacinto students will continue to have great experiences under her leadership. Ms. McLane is the perfect fit for this position,” Bueno said in an email.

McLane said there are a lot of expectations.

“ … But I feel as if I had the best teacher anybody could ever have through her; just her way of motivating teachers, motivating students and getting the results. Some people would say that can never be done dealing with the economically disadvantaged population that we have. Some people may want to write us off saying, oh, they’re not performing or they can’t because their students don’t come equipped to learn or to succeed. … She (Bueno) has shown that we are different; it can be done and I’m just I’m thankful that I’ve had three years to just get a front row seat to her leadership …,” McLane said.

Eighty-two percent of San Jacinto’s student population is economically disadvantaged.

“We’ve had some really traumatic situations with certain students. And those same students, they’ll go through whatever situation they’ve been through and they still come back. … When they come back, they may be 10 times worse,” McLane said.

But expectations are high at SJ no matter what happens outside the school walls.

“… It’s not that we don’t care. It is that we already know what factors are against you. So we’re making those decisions to say, we still love you. But we still know that you have greater things ahead of you, no matter what’s going on. When you’re here, our job is to make sure we’re filling you up so that you can have the opportunity to change your life. And I think with me, it hits home with me because … education it changes people’s lives,” McLane said.

From a family of nurses, social workers and educators, McLane has just completed her 14th year in education. She taught previously at Galena Park and Fort Worth ISD.

McLane earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of Texas Permian Basin.

McLane is now seeking an assistant principal.

“It’s difficult. It is  rough just because you want to make sure somebody is here that’s the right fit for our school culture; for our kids,” she said.

She added that you want to make sure the person chosen is someone who is able to go into the classrooms and support teachers effectively.

“And sometimes you can’t get that through an interview, so I think that’s the part that I struggle with is because you don’t really know what a person can do until you see them do it,” McLane said.

She added that they may give fabulous interviews, “but I just want to know, are you here for our kids?” she said.

There are now several principals who have risen to principal in ECISD and they have created their own support system. McLane said she has been through two aspiring principal programs.

“The first time I went through one, Miss Alicia Press and Amy Anderson, were over that program at that time in the 2017-2018 school year. I was an instructional coach at that time. I was also teaching in a classroom and so I was going through my master’s and I was like can I afford to put another thing on my plate? It turned out to be a really great experience in building my capacity to think bigger, to say, hey, I think I can do this. And then from that program, Ms. Bueno was my mentor,” McLane said.

After that in the 2019-2020 school year, McLane was part of another aspiring principals academy. And that was, I think, a direct pipeline to principalship.

Among those in the program were Tiffany Rickman, the new principal at Jordan Elementary, Noe Ortiz, the new principal at Ireland, and Jennifer Bizzell, who is going into her second year at Regan.

“We have this connection and it’s great to see that we’ll continue that connection, as we are now first-year principals,” McLane said.

Her primary goal for San Jacinto is to continue building on the foundation that Bueno established.

“But definitely, after COVID, I know teachers are excited; they’re energized; they’re ready to start the year bigger and better, in a sense. I just don’t want to dim that light, to dim that fire that they have. … It’s going to be boots to the ground. (The) first day, we’re going to make sure we have our structures in place, our routines are in place, but these teachers are planning some big things. They’re excited,” McLane said.

Having endured the COVID-19 pandemic last year, some teachers may have felt restricted like they couldn’t reach their students in the virtual world and they needed the students face to face.

There was plenty of teaching and learning going on, but it took a lot of long nights.

“It took a lot of planning. It took a lot of prayers, and it just didn’t seem as if we got … ahead as quick as we normally do,” McLane said.