Miles T. Leader has a clear vision for the students at San Diego SOAR Academy's East Mesa site.
"My goal is to offer hope to the young adults here by bringing the world to East Mesa," he says.
Leader, who started six months ago as a classroom assistant at the school, feels his unique background will help him reach that lofty goal. His plan is to use networking to bring in experts from a variety of industries, including business, military, and construction.
The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) provides the classroom instruction at the East Mesa Juvenile Detention facility as part of its partnership with the county Probation Department.
Leader is probably the only classroom assistant at SDCOE who has decades of military experience and is pursuing a doctoral degree in organizational leadership.
"I've spent a lot of time working with the best America has to offer," he explained. "My entire adult life has been education and training."
Leader is a great role model for students, said Nathan Head, vice principal of San Diego SOAR Academy.
"He respects our students and holds them to high expectations," Head said. "Miles is patient. He understands and processes with our students to redirect behaviors in a restorative way."
Leader served in the Navy for 26 years. In that time, he tracked ships from the Pentagon, spent 11 months with a peace-keeping force in Lebanon, worked as a boarding officer in South Korea, and helped sailors earn college degrees as an education services specialist. The Bronx native has been stationed Long Beach, San Diego, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C.
When he retired from the Navy, he moved to Japan, where he lived for five years. There, he earned a master's degree before returning to the United States.
Originally, he had planned to return to Japan to teach English, but instead he decided to stay in the United States to finish his doctoral program and use his experiences to help some of the county's most vulnerable students.
"I was given second chances in my life," he said. "I decided to use my skills to help these students find a second chance."
He's putting those skills to work to encourage the students at East Mesa to think about the world differently to help them stay out of the justice system once they're released.
"Educators are here to inspire and motivate and help them grow," he said. "I have no control over the past, but I can influence their present and their future."
At a very young age, Leader knew he wanted to join the military.
"When I was a little boy, I used to watch a lot of war movies and John Wayne movies," he said. "What I saw was men of integrity, and I wanted to be just like them."
When he's not supporting students, Leader is helping to provide clothing and furniture to homeless veterans as part of Veterans Assistance San Diego, a program sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2422.