OLLU’s far reaching impact in SAISD

Posted on Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Charles Munoz
Charles Munoz is the principal who is hard to find in the office. He’s the administrator who leads on the fly. One moment he’s in a classroom, talking to a teacher. The next, he’s in the hallway, visiting with a student.

He uses an acronym to describe this brand of leadership: MBWA. Managing by wandering around. Lincoln used it during the Civil War. Munoz uses it at Edison High. Munoz learned it in graduate school at Our Lady of the Lake University.

“I learned in one of my classes that you need to be accessible,” says Munoz, who earned his master’s in education from OLLU in 1980. “Instead of having teachers and students come to your office, you go to them. Sometimes, when you stay in your office, people are not going to come to you. So I walk into class rooms. I’m always available. I learned that at the Lake.”

Munoz is one of more than 420 OLLU alumni who serve in the San Antonio Independent School District. Now in his 21st year at Edison, Munoz is the district’s longest tenured principal at one school. Under Munoz, Edison has received national and state recognition. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Edison among the nation’s best high schools. Texas Monthly has listed Edison among the state’s best public schools.

His innovative leadership style often takes Munoz outside the school. Munoz is known to visit local businesses in the neighborhood, managed by parents of Edison students.

“I frequent all the restaurants and mom and pop stores in the area because they are owned by parents,” he says. “I even changed my church to St. Mary Magdalen (near Edison). That’s where I worship. I go to the youth services so I can see parents.

“That’s managing by wandering around. There’s only been one president who’s done it – Abraham Lincoln. He went to the war front to be with the troops. I got that from the Lake. Roll up your sleeves and don’t be afraid to get into the community.”

OLLU alumni, such as Munoz, exert a considerable impact on SAISD. More than 280 OLLU graduates serve as teachers who reach nearly 20,000 students. Other alumni touch thousands more as principals, counselors, social workers and librarians. Then there are OLLU graduates serving in upper-level administrative positions whose reach extends across the district.

Below is a small sampling of alumni who are making a difference in SAISD:

Marcos Zorola
As chief information officer for technology and information systems, Marcos Zorola (BA Computer Science 1986, MBA Management 1997) oversees computer, video and Internet responsibilities in the district while supervising a staff of 75.

“I’m responsible for all technology in SAISD,” says Zorola, in his sixth year as chief information officer. “In a typical day, we’re discussing service to school and ensuring we have proper connectivity. We’re probably working on simple projects and long range goals. What kind of new technology will we be bringing in? We also talk about staff and budgets and ongoing projects.

“I’ve spent my entire career with SAISD. I started working in technology right after I graduated from Our Lady of the Lake. In fact, I’ve got a number of Lake graduates who are working here in the technology department.”

Vangie Aguilera
As senior executive director of the Department of Special Education, Vangie Aguilera (BA Spanish 1975) oversees instructional and related services for 5,500 students across 92 campuses.

“We support campuses to ensure that students with disabilities have access to and make progress in the general education curriculum,” Aguilera says. “I am proud of the systems we have put in place to promote literacy and create a positive environment where all students can thrive and be successful in their learning.”

She spent many years with SAISD, working as a teacher, teacher specialist, supervisor and principal, before moving into her current position. “I received my certification for special education at OLLU, but it was my undergraduate work that nurtured my passion for teaching, excellence, and service and reinforced the belief that the world is filled with possibilities,” Aguilera says.

Janet Perez
Janet Perez (BS Education 1984, MEd 1987) is a long-time educator in SAISD. She taught for 17 years and has been a principal for 10, the last two at Whittier Middle School. Under Perez, Whittier has become a model for schools that want to implement a college-readiness program.

“Whittier was selected as a National AVID Demonstration School last year,” Perez says. “It is one of only 135 in the nation. Visitors come from all over Texas and the United States to tour classrooms and meet with staff, students and parents.”

Susan Melendez
She cherishes her education from the Lake. “I strongly believe the leadership program at OLLU adequately prepared me with the skills necessary to fulfill the role of school leader,” she says. “The work of the principal in today’s schools is about curriculum and instruction and I am thankful OLLU graduate classes provided academic instruction in curricula studies, components of instructions and in depth review of data analysis.”

Susan Melendez (MEd 2008) taught bilingual education for several years in SAISD, then decided she wanted to be a counselor. She pursued a master’s in education through Weekend College at OLLU and became the lead counselor at Burbank High School.

“We do everything we can to ensure kids are ready for post secondary studies and can graduate from high school,” Melendez says. “We do presentations, review transcripts and constantly talk to them about dual credit and AP classes and the multitude of scholarships available. We visit middle schools and let them know about our different programs,”

She enjoyed her graduate work at OLLU and fondly recalls helpful and encouraging professors and advisers. The experience prepared her for a second career as a counselor. “Working with the kids one on one and helping them be successful,” Melendez says, “is what I enjoy the most.”

Sonya Cardenas
Sonya Cardenas (BS Early Childhood Education 2001) is director of Head Start at Carvajal Early Childhood Campus, which serves more than 400 prekindergarten students. A former teacher assistant, school secretary and pre-kindergarten teacher, Cardenas has held her current position for three years.

“My typical duties are to visit all 25 classrooms at least two times a week,” Cardenas says. “I am looking at the teachers’ strategies, classroom management and student engagement. Based on the needs of the teachers, I plan professional development to help them meet the social, emotional and educational goals of the students. These visits provide me the opportunity to see the great things the teachers are doing in the class and also provide me the chance to interact with the students. It is my love of young children that wakes me up at five every morning, eager to get to work.”

She credits OLLU for helping her get excited her about education. “I gained great experienced in my practicum class, which was held at the OLLU Child Development Center,” she says. ”It was there that I discovered my passion for working with young children.”

Michael Avila
Michael Avila (Communication Arts 2000) brings ample experience to his theater students at Jefferson High School. He performed in numerous plays while studying at OLLU. He worked as a programming assistant for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. He taught theater at Wagner High School before arriving at Jefferson in 2012.

“I grew up in El Paso but was not active in theater there,” he says. “I was active in theater my entire college career. I appeared in numerous productions at the Lake when the 24th Street Theater was called Theater West.”

Estella Garza
Avila turned his theater work into a teaching career. “I enjoy the students at Jefferson,” he says. “I enjoy the demographics and caliber of our students, as indicated by some of our famous alumni. The Castro twins (Mayor Julian and Congressman Joaquin). State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. You never know. I might be working with the next mayor or next U.S. Representative.”

Since July, Estella Garza (MA Education 1993) has served SAISD as senior coordinator of Family and Student Support. She develops services for homeless families and students in foster care. She also writes grants to maintain funding for homeless students, supervises a staff of social workers and manages a budget.

“My joy in this job is the ability to direct and ensure services to the students and their parents,” Garza says. “The SAISD student comes to school with many needs and the district social workers do help. The idea of assisting to accomplish this in a concerted manner is exciting and energizing.”

Garza has worked for SAISD since 1992. “It is because of my master’s degree that I have been able to accomplish my professional goals,” she says. “Thank you OLLU.”