2013 Hero Story 3: Sylvia Villarreal

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2013 Hero Story 3 – Sylvia Villarreal: The following information was submitted by community members Ray Mueller and Olena McLin.

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According to Ray: Sylvia Villarreal, principal at the Andrew P Russo Academy since its opening and more recently she has also been made the principal of the conjoined James McEntee Academy, is a wonderful administrator, who has shown grace, leadership and compassion while enacting programs that have consistently increased the test scores and the quality of students at the former Lester Shields Elementary site. When the ARUSD decided to close down and reinvent the campus, Sylvia was asked to be the principal of the K-2 portion of the site. It had been doing so poorly that the state had even threatened to take over the location. The new concepts and inventive programing that she helped to install there have helped hundreds of children understand that they are able to achieve as well as any other students in the city.

In the years we have been there, her leadership has also helped to create an annual Harvest Festival to engage the neighborhood, students and staff to celebrate the history of the “Valley of Hearts Delight”.
Just last week her team, led by Dean of Academics Jenna Mittleman, teachers Lyssa Hughes and Barbara Cofield, coordinated a walkathon to create a new computer lab at the school. The goal was $10K, and when the dust settled, the students, staff, families and local community had gathered $20,000! This is an incredible feat at any school, but astronomical here in District 5 which is so impacted by our economic roller coaster.
This alone should qualify her, but that is not my only reason.
It was March of 2010 when I met her. My partner and I had been going through the foster-adopt program and after 3 years of effort were matched with a foster son. When we took him to the school, the family of Russo Academy worked very hard to make a place for him. And through the 3 months he was there she and her staff did duty above and beyond to help him through this difficult time. After such a short time of knowing Mrs. Villarreal, he was so attached to her that he asked her to attend his birthday party, which was not being held until after the school year ended. She not only said yes, she brought her husband with her. It was such a wonderful gesture for a child who didn’t see a lot of love in his world. As he was a temporary placement, he moved on before the next school year, but he is a better young man for knowing her firm hand, and affection.
It was August 2011, that I next had the opportunity to catch up with Principal Villarreal. After the many years of searching, our forever family was finally complete. When I walked into the school office to register our son, it was as if I had never been gone. Sylvia and her staff welcomed us and our son with warmth and have since made every effort to help us with the situations that are similar to our neighbors as well as those unique to our family. We might not have stayed with the public schools had it not been for Sylvia, and the staff she has gathered.
Recently it was learned that our beloved principal would not be returning next fall. The day the news came, there was a notable feeling of loss and in the week to follow, the aftershocks were evident. The ARUSD office and its staff were flooded with emails daily, asking that they do something to change this situation. Alas, this cannot be changed. It is a sad day for us, when the school year ends in June, but we know that our children are blessed for having her in their lives.
I ask that you consider her as a District 5 Hero, before she moves on to her next opportunity. To our family, our neighborhood, and our school, she will always be a champion for positive change.

According to Olena: Mrs. Sylvia Villarreal is known for her position that all students can achieve high standards of learning. As a principal, Mrs. Villarreal inspires teachers to reach every child and collaborates with teachers, students’ families, and communities to make school a safe and inspiring learning oasis. She believes that each Russo or McEntee’s student can excel academically and takes personal responsibility for ensuring high academic achievement for all students. She works tirelessly with individual students and their families to help Russo/McEntee’s scholars attain results despite any challenges. Under her leadership, our teacher staff implemented various parent workshops to encourage families to be a part of their children school life and academic excellence. As an example, parent volunteering has increased dramatically in the past few years. To assure social and emotional wellbeing of our students, last year our school implemented Loving Solutions Workshop to support families with broad range of parenting skills. Mrs. Villarreal personally meets with families of struggling students and discusses solutions to their problems.

As a result of her leadership, our schools have consistently improved instructional strategies which resulted in higher academic achievement of our students. Mrs. Villarreal supports staff in making the instructional changes necessary to support school improvement efforts. She supported the staff in implementation of teaching techniques that boost higher level thinking of students and emphasis on higher domains of Blooms taxonomy in classroom instruction (one of them is Steps to Success instructional method). She inspires our staff to continue professional development and to implement research-based best practices. To improve reading skills of Russo’s students, Mrs. Villarreal supported implementation of 100 Book Challenge reading program a few years back and currently embraced the Accelerated Reader program which many members of the staff have championed as more effective. To provide spiral review of core standards, our teachers use Board Math/Language, and Mountain Math/Language. We have also joined Cisco for their Escuela Program that works with 5th grade at-risk students to build a small scale city incorporating technology. Our students competed with students from China and Mexico. James McEntee and Anthony P. Russo Academies are among leading technology schools in our district and as a principal Mrs. Villarreal brings together the resources and the desire to improve student performance incorporating technology in daily instruction and assessment.
As a leader, she has impressive abilities to find common ground to move people towards the solutions. At the beginning of the last school year, Mrs. Villarreal acquired the principalship of two schools (McEntee Academy in addition to Russo Academy she had led for the last five years) and the transition was smooth and seamless for students and staff of both schools. The staff of both schools works in synergy and is inspired to make our schools the dwelling where students, their parents and other members of our community feel welcomed and valued. This year, our school had started two community involvement events, Fall Festival and the Walk-A-Thon, which we hope to make annual occurrences.
She is easily approachable and encourages students, teachers, and parents to ask for help, if needed. She is always seen in the school yard before school starts or during recesses, and in the cafeteria during lunch. She makes discipline and students’ safety her number one concern. She believes that without discipline, little teaching or learning can take place. Mrs. Villarreal has a firm policy:”Be safe. Be respectful. Be responsible” and she is making sure that teachers, students, and their families fully understand and adhere to it. Mrs. Villarreal also built a team of Russo/McEntee educators who studied best behavior practices and helped us to come up with a comprehensive behavior plan for our academies.
Due to Mrs. Villarreal’s leadership, our schools have incredible collaboration spirit. She engages the entire staff in analyzing student achievement data and in a collaborative process to identify and clarify discrepancies between current and desired outcomes. As a school community, staff of both academies collect, analyze, and use data to identify school needs. It helps planning for needed changes in our instruction as well as establishes a clear focus on attaining student achievement goals. As a result, both academies continue their academic progress and set higher goals for the future improvement.

Click here to view all the nominated heroes and then join us on June 29th to celebrate “District 5 Heroes“.

Click HERE to vote now to tell us who should receive Special Recognition on June 29, 2013!!