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Pilar Vazquez-Vialva, Morgan Hill Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent for the Educational Services Department (ESD), was recently named the Region 8 Outstanding Administrator of the Year in Curriculum and Instruction by the Association of California School Administrators. 

Vazquez-Vialva will be formally honored at an April 28 ASCA Region 8 ceremony at Villa Ragusa in Campbell. 

Vazquez-Vialva’s education career brought her to MHUSD in July 2019, after serving as a Director for Educational Services at Metropolitan Education District, Silicon Valley CTE. Before that, she served as a Chicago Public High School principal.

According to an announcement from MHUSD, Vazquez-Vialva is “a champion for equity, considering the needs for all students and addressing a system that may inadvertently place barriers to success for some students.” She is recognized by ASCA and MHUSD leadership for her work in promoting the National Equity Project’s Building Equitable Learning Environments (BELE) locally, and opening new Wellness Centers/Spaces at MHUSD campuses since the Covid-19 pandemic started. 

MHUSD Superintendent Dr. Carmen Garcia said of Vazquez-Vialva’s recent recognition, “We thank Pilar for her leadership launching our Wellness Centers/Rooms, Freshman on Track, 9th Grade Summer Connection program, and our secondary student voices groups. Her recent award recognizes her commitment to highlighting the importance of providing support during the critical transition from middle to high school as well as social emotional supports for all students.”

Vazquez-Vialva agreed to answer some questions from this newspaper about her work at MHUSD and her recognition as an Outstanding Administrator of the Year. 

What does your position entail as the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Department (ESD) for MHUSD? 

Pilar Vazquez-Vialva: I lead and manage the district’s instructional programs, TK-adult principals, ESD administrators and support staff, and staff professional development.

As the Assistant Superintendent of ESD, I am responsible for leading and implementing the district’s vision and mission and ensuring that the district’s strategic plan, Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), is carried out effectively and as intended.

Pilar Vazquez-Vialva is Morgan Hill Unified School District’s Assistant Superintendent for the Educational Services Department. Contributed photo.

We are intentional about improving student outcomes with a focus on providing additional resources and support for all students. I lead and direct various divisions within ESD, including Data, Research, Innovation and Special Projects, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Enrollment, Equity Programs, Family and Community Engagement, Student Services, Special Education, Migrant and Wellness. Within each division, I oversee a range of initiatives and programs designed to support students and staff and to improve student achievement. Each division is led by an outstanding ESD Director or Coordinator and supported by highly talented and caring staff. 

I direct and manage professional development programs for the district in collaboration with the ESD team, ensuring that staff have the resources and training they need to deliver high-quality educational programs to students. I work closely with educational and community partners that support the district’s mission and goals for student success. 

What motivated or inspired you to become an educational administrator? 

As a Chicago Public Schools high school English and English Language Learner teacher, I observed my principal and assistant principals as they led a school plagued with complex community challenges. The principals were relentless in improving student outcomes and learning conditions, especially students living in underserved communities and most marginalized in the educational system. 

In 2004, I was inspired by their leadership and I realized I wanted to be a school administrator and by 2006 I earned my Master’s of Arts degree in Educational Leadership. In 2007, I started my first assistant principal position serving in Phoenix, Arizona.

I was focused on creating the conditions for staff and students to belong, make change together, build community and most importantly learn deeply and achieve. I wanted to emulate some of their great qualities and shape my own in the process of developing my leadership. Most importantly, I wanted to reach more students and in order to do that, I needed to be out of the classroom.

What motivated you to bring National Equity Project initiatives to MHUSD? What are some of the impacts or accomplishments of this effort in relation to local schools and students, and what ongoing or future impacts are you hoping for? 

About 25 years ago, MHUSD and National Equity Project were partners in transforming the local educational system. I had the great privilege to bring them back to MHUSD 25 years later to continue the work of building the capacity of school and district leaders through intentional and purposeful adult learning. 

In 2020, NEP provided professional development to about 45 district and school administrators and teachers. We wanted to build on that momentum and engage students with a goal of improving their school experiences. 

In 2021, we launched the NEP BELE Network, which includes students from the middle schools and high schools and dedicated staff who all meet monthly as a Circle Team. The Circle Team works together to address student demands and co-design new solutions, together. We are one of 14 districts Nationally that NEP accepted to participate in the BELE Network.

At this time, our BELE Circle Team are working on the program we use for Erin’s Law: a law that requires that all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program which teaches: Students in grades preK-12th grade, age-appropriate techniques to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult. In the coming months we will propose a new program to the Secondary Curriculum Council teachers and admin teams. 

What are the benefits of the new Wellness Centers at local campuses? 

The Wellness Centers are instrumental in providing mental health support to students during the school day. The Wellness Centers (Britton, Martin Murphy, Live Oak and Sobrato) are staffed with a mental health clinician and a Wellness Assistant. The Wellness Spaces found at some of our other schools are not staffed with a full-time team. The clinicians rotate in the Wellness Spaces and provide services and support to schools which may include small group sessions or one-on-one therapy. We are fortunate to also welcome mental health interns who are mentored by our clinicians and provide support to students under their supervision. 

In 2020, I approached the Executive Cabinet team to discuss concerns about students’ overall wellness and our role in supporting students. I proposed providing mental health support to students returning to in-person school. 

Prior to the pandemic, student mental health needs were great; however, during the pandemic their needs exacerbated. We took action and provided students with a space for mental health wellness and overall well being. 

We applied for a Wellness Center grant with Santa Clara County Office of Education and were awarded funds to help launch Britton’s Wellness Center. At that point, we committed to opening a wellness center at the middle schools and high schools. Soon thereafter we opened a few wellness spaces at our elementary schools.

How does it make you feel to be named the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Region 8 Outstanding Administrator of the Year? 

The ACSA Region 8 Outstanding Administrators of the Year was a surprise and I was humbled. I do this work because I deeply care about our young people and their families and the adults in their school life. I do not easily accept compliments or recognition because I alone do not make things happen, I have a phenomenal team of fierce educational leaders paving the way with me for student achievement and success. This recognition and award is for them just as much as it is for me.

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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