Woodring alum Joey Castilleja named to national award short list

When Joey Castilleja completed WWU’s Superintendent Certificate program, he hit the ground running. He quickly jumped into work as the superintendent for Mabton School District in the Yakima Valley. And now, just a few years later, Castilleja has been selected in a national search as a 2022 Superintendent to Watch. 

Joey Castilleja

The award recognizes superintendents with fewer than five years’ experience who demonstrate responsive, fast-paced leadership and a commitment to communication. Castilleja is one of 25 superintendents from across the country to receive the award from the National School Public Relations Association. 

Castilleja attributes his selection for the award to the positivity he and his team of administrators bring to each conversation they have with students, teachers, parents, and the community at large. “We have a lot to be thankful for, and our kids are doing great things,” he said. “Let’s share that and celebrate that.” 

Well before he was a school district leader, Castilleja enlisted in the Army, got a degree in music, and eventually, through the Troops to Teachers program, earned his teaching certification and became a music teacher. After deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and others, he moved with his family back to the Yakima Valley. While working as a teacher there, an administrator urged him to consider becoming a principal. 

As Castilleja will admit, he’s long been obsessed with the idea of getting better. It’s what pushed him to pursue a doctorate in education with an emphasis in performance improvement. It’s what encouraged him to improve graduation rates while he was principal of White Swan High School and Mt. Adams Middle School. It could well be the reason that he still serves in the National Guard, 25 years after joining. And it’s why he decided to return to school once again, this time as a student in Woodring’s Education Leadership Program at Western Washington University, for his superintendent certificate. 

During his certificate program, Castilleja always looked forward to the weekend each month when he made the long drive to meet with his professors, fellow students, and visiting professionals. The conversations they shared were a valuable chance for Castilleja to slow down, reflect on his path, and dive into important challenges facing education. 

Castilleja says his time at Western was one of the best, if not the best, educational experiences he’s ever had, adding, “and I’ve been to a lot of school.” 

Now, Castilleja is working hard to recognize and support the good work done by students, teachers, and administrators, and he’s proud to be part of a team that is so committed to creating a positive educational experience for every single student. 

Learn more about WWU’s EdD Education Leadership program and superintendent certificate at gradschool.wwu.edu/education-leadership.