Assistant principal’s challenging youth helps him mentor students in disciplinary program

When you meet Tristan Love, assistant principal at HISD’s Secondary DAEP campus, you first notice how polite and smartly dressed he is – wearing a light gray suit, pink bowtie, and polished shoes. He has a sparkle in his eye and a smile for everyone. It’s a far cry from his former life as a gang member.

Love’s politeness and respect extend to his students at the school, who are among the most behaviorally challenged students in HISD. They all have been sent to Secondary DAEP from their home campuses, many of them gang members. But this doesn’t faze Love. He’s living proof that coming from poverty, a broken home, being a gang member, and living a life of violence doesn’t mean you can’t have a bright future.

“I tell my students, my job is to serve you,” Love said. “If I hadn’t run into the caring adults I did when I was younger, I don’t really know where I’d be.” 

In his case, those caring adults took him under their wings and helped him realize his potential. In Love’s time as a student at Booker T. Washington High School, teachers and mentors gave him the support he needed to be accepted into his dream school (Morehouse College) and receive a full ride to another (Wiley College). Even when Love’s house burned down, they made sure he kept attending school and pursuing his dreams.

“That school wrapped their arms around me and my father,” he said. “It was life-changing to have so many caring adults in my life.”

Communities in Schools sent Love to a student conference in Minnesota, where he met longtime HISD school volunteer and mentor Pat Rosenberg. She promised to follow up with him back in Houston, and she did. They instantly formed a connection. She bought him a phone so she could keep in touch with him. She made sure he filled out his college applications. She never stopped encouraging him.

“We just jelled. She saw things in me that other adults saw, but she wanted to put all of the resources together to make sure whatever I should become, I could become it,” he said. “She became my mentor.”

Love accepted the full ride to Wiley College, where he flourished, becoming debate team captain, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, and student body president. Upon graduating, he gravitated toward teaching at Sam Houston MSTC through Teach for America. Then he became the youngest assistant principal in HISD at Sam Houston before moving into the same position at the Secondary DAEP campus when it opened.

Starting its own Secondary DAEP schools has allowed HISD to align academic and behavioral interventions among campuses. The school also supports the district’s efforts to ban suspensions and expulsions of elementary students. In 2016, HISD became the first school district in Texas to ban suspensions of young students.

“Anything you can imagine that the district is facing in terms of disciplinary problems, we get it right here at this campus,” Love said. “If I were to see a lost kid, I would try to be that light and that guidance. I would become that mentor.”