Students and faculty begin to roll in at 7:15 a.m., and standing front and center in the main lobby greeting them all as part of his morning routine — Eric Mercado, the new principal of Monsignor Scanlan High School.
With an educational career spanning more than 26 years, the Bronx native, who is a couple of weeks shy of his 50th birthday, started teaching at St. Raymond Middle School in the Bronx in 1996 and began coaching at Monsignor Scanlan High School the same year.
For two decades, Mercado worked at several institutions as dean of students, director of admissions and director of several athletic departments, including at the Bronx Community College.
“[These experiences] were able to form me and shape me and make me a well-rounded leader,“ he said. “All these places have given me a different chance to showcase different skills depending on what the particular institution needs or needed at that time.”
But, one role that had alluded Mercado to that point was principal.
Growing up, a majority of Mercado’s life revolved around education as his mother, who had a career spanning two decades in education, constantly stressed education to him and his siblings. Uncles and aunts were educators, and soon Mercado and his two sisters would pursue a job in teaching, joining what he referred to as the “family business.”
After discussions with his wife — a teacher for 27 years — and family and friends, he decided to pursue the principal position at Monsignor Scanlan High School.
“It was a surreal moment because I felt like it was a bit of a culmination of my mother’s hard work … how much she pushed for us to be productive members of society and the community,” Mercado said. “It means everything.”
Having stepped into his new role in August 2022, Mercado said his main objective is to revive and elevate the status of the Roman Catholic high school back to what it was when he coached there in the ’90s.
“It starts with the school community,” he said. “It starts with how we treat each other, the level of respect that goes on here.”
After taking over, Mercado initiated the start of programs like the Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools exam preparation courses for middle school students. He also is attempting to bring a competitive gaming team to the high school with the help of the Electronic Gaming Federation, which he hopes will begin in February. Tasked by the high school’s board, Mercado also successfully reestablished the student council.
“There are some excellent new initiatives that are being brought here in order to help promote our school to the community and to provide opportunities for our students,” Mercado said. “At the end of the day, that’s what you’re in education for.
“The idea is to provide opportunities for your students. Everyone has a different path that they have to take.”
On a recent Wednesday morning, Mercado prepares to lead morning prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, a tradition every morning. As the day continues, constant communication between his staff and faculty keeps him on his toes for any urgent matters. In his new role, Mercado stressed maintaining a presence throughout the school as he constantly patrols the building, popping his head in classes or during lunch.
Some days consist of paperwork, responding to emails and discussions with parents or board meetings, but even as the school day comes to a close at 4 p.m. — the principal role continues.
As he wishes students a great evening as they board their designated buses, Mercado continues his mission of being present, heading to watch the volleyball team compete.
“When you’re able to bond with the students on a different level other than just the classroom, that’s what makes the job really worthwhile,” he said.
Mercado, who identifies as an American of Puerto Rican descent with grandparents from Puerto Rico, said it is extremely important for the students to see a face they can identify with. He added that it is valuable for the students to see someone of color succeeding, and be something that they can strive for and look up to.
However, Mercado stressed that he has witnessed incredible educators who are not part of the majority demographic in schools become great role models for the students. During his 9-year stint at All Hallows High School in the Bronx, he said the school had a large Hispanic student population. But Sean Sullivan, who is Irish and served as principal for 23 years, became an inspiration and role model.
“People get motivated when they understand and know that they’re supported,” Mercado said. “They want to know that someone cares.”
As Mercado seeks to usher in new changes, he said he is also inheriting certain traditions, which he enjoys. One event included the Sister Linda Bonasera Walk for a Healthy Life, which honors the legacy of Bonasera, who worked at the high school for 39 years and died in 2008 of cancer. Mercado said it was great to be a part of the tradition and raise nearly $3,000 for cancer awareness research.
As his principal duties come to an end each day, Mercado unwinds. Perhaps listening to Frank Sinatra or old-school hip-hop, watching the Mets, Jets or Knicks. But, Mercado said he also finds solace in spending time with his family.
“When one of your students sees you outside of the work area and you’re not in a shirt and tie or you’re not in a suit, it’s always amazing their reaction to seeing you — it never gets old,” Mercado said.
As the day comes to a close, Mercado prepares for another morning of principal duties, starting with his morning routine of greeting every student and faculty member. As he navigates this new role, he seeks to continue to bring a level of professionalism back and make the school viable in the community.
“At the end of the day it’s about the students,” Mercado said. “There’s no other reason for us to be here, other than making sure that each one of these young men and young women receives an education.”
Reach Nicholas Hernandez at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes