On a blue-skied Saturday in September, hundreds of dignitaries, community leaders, educators, and students gathered on the grounds of a new school in Santa Clara. The Don Callejon School, a K-8 showcase, is the first new school the district has opened in more than 40 years. Those taking the microphone spoke of the school’s namesake as an inspiration, a mentor, and visionary. For his part, the man of the hour-Don Callejon ’52-is quick to share credit with the success of others.
Those traits served Callejon well in the 43 years he worked for the Santa Clara Unified School District as teacher, high school principal, superintendent, and board member. “It’s not all peaches and cream,” he says of leadership in public education. “You have conflicts of all sorts…jealousies among the staff and uncooperative parents.” Among his successes: Callejon helped calm turmoil, averted a potential teachers’ strike, and dealt with school closings and declining enrollment. “How you handle those things is important,” he says. “You need to encourage participation from those with whom you work and try not to dominate.”
Callejon credits his parents for his pragmatic, plainspoken approach to dealing with people and solving tough problems. After his father’s family emigrated from Spain, they supported themselves by working the ranches and orchards in Santa Clara Valley. “My dad did hard work, side by side with the others, and never acted like the boss. That upbringing gave me empathy with people at all levels. I listen to people and appreciate their opinions, regardless of their position.”
Callejon recalls that his mother carried him with her to the fields when he was an infant, which may account for his lifelong enjoyment of nature and gardening. Now in retirement, he counts among his fruit trees avocado, pear, peach, and lime.
Great changes have been wrought in education since Callejon began work in Santa Clara, especially in terms of the integration of minorities, the inclusion of women in sports, and opportunities offered to economically disadvantaged groups. Now, as in the past, he speaks out with conviction in favor of reason and fairness to all.
Callejon is proud to be an SCU alumnus and is gratified to see the university’s progress and expansion over the years. He’s also delighted with the Broncos’ record of athletic accomplishments, and he’s a big fan of basketball in particular. He admires the women’s team for their finesse and ability to keep egos and emotions in check, which allows them to maintain better focus on the elements of the game.
Since his retirement in 1990, Callejon has been actively involved in Bronco Bench activities, sitting on the committee that helps select inductees every year for the SCU Athletic Hall of Fame, and is currently a member of the SCU National Alumni Board. In addition, he has been involved with the St. Francis High School Board, and the Bill Wilson Center, which provides counseling and shelter for runaway youth.