Principal at Palm Beach County's newest high school was inspired by its namesake

Oscar Otero will be the first principal of Dr. Joaquín García High School, the first high school to open in Palm Beach County since 2005. The school, which will be west of Lake Worth Beach, is scheduled to open in fall 2023.
Oscar Otero will be the first principal of Dr. Joaquín García High School, the first high school to open in Palm Beach County since 2005. The school, which will be west of Lake Worth Beach, is scheduled to open in fall 2023.

When Oscar Otero starts his new job in the fall of 2023, he'll be working as principal at Palm Beach County's newest high school, which is named after a friend of his.

Dr. Joaquín García High School is the county's first new high school in 17 years, and it's named after a West Palm Beach businessman and co-founder of the Hispanic Education Coalition who died last year.

Otero, who sits on the coalition's board of directors, was inspired by García's work long before he was named principal at the school that will bear Garcia's name.

"Joaquín is an individual who modeled many of the qualities that are markers of a healthy society: how to be a leader, how to be an advocate, how to inspire others," he said. "I was honored to work alongside him."

More on the new school: 'History in the making': New high school's name will be a first for Palm Beach County

What to know: 5 things to know about Joaquín García whose name will adorn new Palm Beach County high school

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Joaquín García was the founder and board chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition. [PHOTO BY PHOTOSBYRAUL.COM]
Joaquín García was the founder and board chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition. [PHOTO BY PHOTOSBYRAUL.COM]

The school is also the first in the county to be named after a Hispanic community leader. With space for 2,600 students located off Lyons Road west of Lake Worth Beach, it will likely draw students from six surrounding high schools.

It won't be the first principalship for Otero, 55, who was born in Unión de Reyes, Cuba, and moved to West Palm Beach at age 3. He has served as Conniston Middle School's principal since 2012, a job that is special to him because he attended the school as a student from 1979 to 1981.

But when he takes the top job at Dr. García High, he'll add an important layer of representation for students of all walks of life: He'll be a Hispanic principal of the county's first high school named after a Hispanic person.

"It’s a huge honor for me," Otero said of the title. "It allows students to see and identify with individuals who are similar to their own families and family backgrounds. It begins to create that sense of 'I can achieve, too.'"

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Dr. García High's new principal a UF grad, speaks four languages

After Otero graduated form Palm Beach Lakes High School (then called Twin Lakes High School) in 1985, he went on to the University of Florida to study languages.

His post-graduation life brought him to Takatori, Japan, a town about 35 miles southeast of Osaka, where he taught English for four years before returning to Florida with a plan to become a teacher stateside.

Right now, Oscar Otero is the principal of Conniston Middle School.
Right now, Oscar Otero is the principal of Conniston Middle School.

"I loved the ability to connect with students and help them see things from different perspectives," he said.

As a result of his family's Cuban heritage, his years in Japan, and his love for languages, Otero is quadrilingual. He speaks English, Spanish, French and Japanese.

Now, after 26 years with the district, Otero has taught English, Spanish and French at the high school level, worked as an assistant principal at John I. Leonard High School and a principal at Conniston Middle.

He said he's ready to head back to high school.

"Meeting (students) where they are, helping them to discover what it is that they need — it’s part of the excitement of high school," he said. "Students are ready to launch themselves into whatever path of life they’re going to take."

The construction site of the future Dr. Joaquín García High School  west of Lake Worth Beach on Lyons Road.
The construction site of the future Dr. Joaquín García High School west of Lake Worth Beach on Lyons Road.

A new school and a new opportunity for belonging

García was a West Palm Beach businessman and one of the founders of the Hispanic Education Coalition. He died Nov. 28, 2021.

When school board members voted unanimously to name the district's newest school in his honor, they did so in front of more than 30 supporters in the crowd who cheered the decision.

"I just pray that every single one of you understands how important this is to, not only our Hispanic community, but every child that gets an opportunity to see that someone that looks like him or that has a name that they can relate to will be able to see that there's an opportunity for them," supporter Carmen García told the board. 

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While Otero is excited by the opportunity to inspire Hispanic students who will go to the school, he emphasizes that his school will be a welcoming place for students of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

"It’s really important that children of all backgrounds and all walks see that their dreams can be fulfilled and aspirations have end results that are positive," he said. "We will create that new culture when everyone feels they belong."

Katherine Kokal is a journalist covering education at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at kkokal@pbpost.com. Help support our work, subscribe today!

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Principal at Palm Beach County's new high school inspired by García