ACCESS principals work to remove barriers and promote pathways for success

CCPA graduation
Principal Dave Connor congratulates a student at the 2022 College and Career Preparatory Academy graduation ceremony.

A principal carries an immense amount of weight on their shoulders — taking responsibility for the successes and challenges of their school. 

In recognition of National Principals Month, which celebrates and honors incredible school leaders for their visionary leadership and tireless pursuit of success for each student, the OCDE Newsroom recently reached out to two principals who have dedicated large portions of their career to supporting students in OCDE’s Alternative Education division, or ACCESS. 

ACCESS stands for Alternative, Community and Correctional Education Schools and Services. The program oversees pathways for nearly 2,500 students to learn in non-traditional settings and gain the academic credits necessary to graduate within the program or with their school district. 

“I am very fortunate to have such a dedicated team of principals who are focused on student success and parent engagement,” Assistant Superintendent Vern Burton said. “They genuinely care about the impact ACCESS makes on our communities. They are very dedicated, empathetic and hard-working. Their persistence only helps to make our communities stronger.”

Inspired by a teacher

Some people spend years figuring out what they want to do with their lives, but that wasn’t the case for Machele Kilgore. 

Machele Kilgore with students
ACCESS Principal Machele Kilgore conducts routine site visits among the three campuses that she oversees.

Long before she started high school, Kilgore knew she wanted to become an educator because of Mrs. East, a teacher she had in third and fourth grade who inspired her to head into a direction that led to her current role.  

“I just loved her,” Kilgore said. “She was young and alternative. Her lessons never followed books page by page. She had a different delivery every time.” 

Today, Kilgore is the principal of Pacific Coast High School, Skyview School and the Community Home Education Program. She and her team are responsible for supporting thousands of students each academic school year and over the summer summer.

Pacific Coast High operates like a community college for high school students, offering online courses and on-campus options. It offers A-G courses that meet UC and CSU requirements, along with NCAA-approved courses for student-athletes. 

Skyview School offers instruction in small, multi-grade classrooms where students work at their own speed. The school is designed to help children without permanent homes transition into the mainstream educational system. 

The Community Home Education Program is an award-winning independent study program that offers free resources to parents who choose to educate their children at home. It serves students from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“I do a lot of site-based decision-making by purposely bringing in people from different backgrounds and philosophies,” Kilgore said. “I meet with everyone each week so we can stay connected and plan ahead together.” 

While October is National Principals Month, Kilgore believes the recognition should be shared with her team. 

“I feel like it’s curt just to say thank you,” Kilgore said. “It has really hit me that I’m grateful to them as we value the same mission, which is supporting our students.” 

Family of educators

Coming from a long line of educators in his family, it was no surprise when Dave Connor became an assistant football coach at Mater Dei High School and eventually made his way to becoming the principal of ACCESS’s College and Career Preparatory Academy

Principal Dave Connor poses for photo with a graduate.

“My father was a college football coach,” Principal Connor said. “My mom was an elementary school teacher. We have many teachers in our family.”

While he was at Mater Dei, Connor came up with a philosophy for himself. He wanted to be a positive influence on young lives. So when a colleague told him about an opportunity to work with ACCESS students — many who did not have access to mentors — inside the Juvenile Justice Center’s correctional school, Connor agreed. 

He has been with ACCESS since making that decision in 1996. Today, Connor leads the CCPA. 

“It’s my job to provide my staff and teachers everything they need to be successful and to break down barriers that our students face,” Connor said. 

CCPA is the first of its kind in Orange County. It’s a free public school charter that offers a blend of online courses, independent study and small-group instruction specifically for students ages 18 to 25 who did not complete their high school graduation requirements. 

“These students lost their way, and it’s our job to bring them back in,” the principal said. “Our students are dealing with external and internal challenges.” 

Many of these students have already entered the workforce, and some of them have children at home. 

“It sometimes takes them longer to finish,” Connor said. “But if it’s their desire to go to college or start a career and they work hard, we will support them so they can move forward.”