DSAG honors Mike Escalante EdD ’02, awards scholarships to three EdD students

February 1, 2016

Annual awards dinner is also a celebration of the group’s philanthropy

By Matthew C. Stevens

Elias Vargas, Mike Escalante EdD ’02, Dean Karen Symms Gallagher, Lawton Gray III and Gary Garcia.

Elias Vargas, Mike Escalante EdD ’02, Dean Karen Symms Gallagher, Lawton Gray III and Gary Garcia. Photo/Ben Kaatz Photography

It seems with each passing week, USC commemorates a milestone by topping a new building with a spire or ceremonial beam at one corner of the campus or another. Then there are the capstones of Mike Escalante EdD ’02.

The two-time superintendent became a professor at USC Rossier upon retirement in 2010, calling it a capstone to his rich career, which included 13 years overseeing the school districts of Fullerton (1997–2004) and Glendale (2004–10). He uses similar language to describe the pleasure he is experiencing overseeing the new Executive EdD cohort that he helped launch last year and includes LAUSD’s new superintendent, Michelle King, among its members.

And now Escalante can count yet another capstone. He was honored at the annual event that has become the centerpiece of an organization established in 1980 and now includes more than 200 members—all USC Rossier alumni who are current or retired superintendents. Each year the group recognizes the career contributions of a member while leveraging their philanthropic leadership to award scholarships to current EdD students.

This year’s scholarship recipients are Gary Garcia, secondary instructional director of the LAUSD Central Local District; Lawton Gray III, principal of Oak Avenue Intermediate School in Temple City; and Elias Vargas, principal at The STEAM Academy @ Burke in Pico Rivera. Each is on track to earn their degrees in May 2017.

The Qualities of a Trojan

Current and past recipients of DSAG scholarships: Gary Garcia, Elias Vargas, Ramiro Rubalcaba EdD ’15, Patricia Brent-Sanco, Catherine Kawaguchi EdD ’15, Melissa Moore EdD ’14 and Lawton Gray III.

Current and past recipients of DSAG scholarships: Gary Garcia, Elias Vargas, Ramiro Rubalcaba EdD ’15, Patricia Brent-Sanco, Catherine Kawaguchi EdD ’15, Melissa Moore EdD ’14 and Lawton Gray III. Photo/Ben Kaatz Photography

In introducing Escalante at the dinner, DSAG Chair Greg Franklin ’83, EdD ’97 evoked the symbolism of Tommy Trojan, reciting the five qualities of an ideal Trojan: “Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous and Ambitious.”

“One of the things that is faithful about Mike is that he understands his place in the lineage of leadership,” noted Franklin.

True to form, Escalante explained in his own remarks how much he owed to two former DSAG honorees, Mike Caston MS ’73, EdD ’80, PhD ’81 and Stu Gothold EdD ’74. Escalante has paid it forward many fold. Nine of his former staff members have gone on to superintendent positions of their own, including Franklin.

In accepting his award, Escalante displayed another quality outlined by Franklin. With the skill of a true leader, Escalante deflected attention from himself, congratulating the scholarship recipients, who were witnessing “what it looks like to be part of the Trojan Family.”

His words amplified the earlier remarks of Dean Karen Symms Gallagher: “Our three scholarship winners are learning firsthand how mentorship from DSAG’s active and retired superintendents translates directly into their own growth as leaders and change agents in their districts. This is the power of the Trojan Network…of the Rossier Family…and of DSAG.”

The three scholarship recipients echoed the sentiments in their remarks. “This is a humbling experience to be in a room full of people we admire,” said Elias Vargas. “As a member of the Trojan Family, I will carry the torch and do what everyone else has been doing—making this world a better place by improving educational outcomes for our students and families.”

Gary Garcia paid tribute to his mentors, including current Rossier faculty as well as fellow students.

“I have grown so much as an educator because of the Rossier and Trojan Family,” said Gray, echoing Garcia. Both Gray and Garcia invited their fathers to share in their moment.

Education Philanthropists

The scholarships are made possible by the continued growth of the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund, which started in 2013 at $100,000 and is on pace to hit $500,000 by next year.

“Education philanthropy drives educational change,” noted Dean Gallagher. DSAG Fundraising Chair John Roach EdD ’88 echoed the dean in inviting his colleagues to become education philanthropists.

The fund was established to support current USC Rossier EdD students aspiring to become superintendents. The endowment has continued to grow at an accelerated rate thanks in part to the generous support of sponsors and DSAG members like Margaret “Maggie” Chidester EdD ’95, who for the second year in a row has generously provided a matching gift challenge to encourage participation from current and retired superintendents.

Chidester has pledged to match up to $5,000 in new gifts of $250 or more made by DSAG members who are first-time donors to the endowment. Her matching challenge will remain in effect through March 31, 2016. Chidester, who is a member of USC Rossier’s Board of Councilors, is also among the many sponsors of the annual event. Gold Level Sponsor, Shmoop University Inc., helped underwrite the evening with a $25,000 contribution.


Gifts can be made to the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund by texting “DSAG” to 41444 or visiting http://rossier.usc.edu/giving. For more information on the DSAG Endowed Scholarship Fund or the Dean’s Superintendent’s Advisory Group (DSAG), please visit: http://rossier.usc.edu/about/dsag/