Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

New MCSD principals share thoughts about positions

Aaron Alexander, Lil Ayala and Chuck Pirtle are new principals to their school sites this year in the Merced City School District.

The Times previously published an interview with Pirtle at Reyes Elementary School.

For this edition, the Times interviewed Alexander and Ayala.

Principal Alexander,
Rivera Middle School
Rivera Middle School Principal Aaron Alexander.
Rivera Middle School Principal Aaron Alexander.

Alexander hit the ground running at Rivera.

When asked what programs he feels especially excited about, he responded, “We have a program called ARMORED.  A is achievement, R is respect, M is motivation, O is organization, R is for responsibility, E is for Excellent and D is for Determination.

“We want to armor our kids with honor, so building in that term, honor, is our focus this year because we feel that a lot of times, honor is missing with how some students dress, talk and behave — all that needs to be honorable, first to themselves, then to their family, community, school.

“The kids in middle school have the ability to understand that. The application of knowledge is wisdom, and we want to make sure they’re fully aware that actions have consequences, whether positive or negative. It starts with honoring yourself, first and foremost. We want them to understand how honor feels. Wisdom and honor feel better than the feeling you get when you’re not acting honorably.

“We’re really hitting the dress code firmly because there is a lot of gang activity in our community, and the dress code policies are to insure kids are safe. Even if you’re not affiliated with a gang, there are some that will still give you trouble if you’re dressed a certain way.

“Armored with Honor means students and staff carrying ourselves with honor, and bringing a sense of responsibility which speaks to who you are as a person.”

Describing another intriguing program, PBIS, Alexander said, “An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) is for recognizing positive behavior. We need to continue to seek that out and improve our system so kids get that sense of honor by being recognized.

Of course, that’s the way they should be. But at this point in our society, schools are called on to teach good choices and behaviors.”

“It starts with the tone and with leadership. We have a great staff that treat kids fairly with respect, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Describing a third program he is excited about, Alexander said, “This year, we have an administrator on special assignment who is running a program called Shield, Irma Ayala-Olson. We’re looking for students at risk for not graduating, and the administrator checks in with those eighth grade students regularly. The students are at-risk homeless students, African American youth, and foster youth,  which are sensitive groups. She’s checking their GPAs and being their champion throughout the school year. Each kid in that program will have an individualized learning plan to help document and provide a source of accountability to the student as he or she progresses through the year.  We aim to have 30 students in the program.”

Describing his background in Education, Alexander said, “I was a student here 25 years ago. I’m glad to be back this time to lead our school to continue to grow each year, and I’m excited for the opportunity.

“Last year, I was the principal at Reyes Elementary School, and before that I was a learning director at Burbank for three years, and before that I taught fourth grade at Ada Givens for seven years.”

He concluded, “I was born and raised in Merced.  I have been married for 17 years and have four kids, ages 10, 12, 14 and 16.”


Principal Lil Ayala,
Sheehy Elementary
Sheehy Elementary Principal Lil Ayala.
Sheehy Elementary Principal Lil Ayala.

During an interview with the Times, Ayala said, “I am very excited to be able to continue to serve the families of South Merced by being given this new role.

“I am finding that the students and staff are wonderful, and I am getting to know and love them all. I am also working on creating relationships with the families. “Mr. Mendez, the previous principal, had established many wonderful systems that I am hoping to continue to support and improve during my time at Sheehy.”

This school year will be the 23rd year Ayala has served the Merced City School District.

Describing her background with the District, she said, “I have worked as an instructional assistant, a long-term substitute teacher, a classroom teacher at Gracey and Cruickshank, a Teacher on Special Assignment for a site and then the district, a categorical resource teacher at Cruickshank Middle School, and more recently, learning director at Reyes for the last eight years.”

To become a school principal, it is necessary to go to school for an administrative credential.

Ayala said, “All of us are teachers before we are principals, and we have Teaching Credentials. Then we got our Administrative Credential, which is put into effect when you are in an administrative position. It takes two years in an administrative position to clear it, and there are classes you need to take to be fully certified. Some get Master’s degrees. I was in an Administrative Credential/Master’s program in Leadership.”

Describing her vision for Sheehy as its new Principal, Ayala said she is focusing on “ROAR”.

She said, “ROAR is Respectful, Ownership of your Actions, and Rise, as in rising to the occasion.

I ask students, ‘Are you learning what you’re supposed to learn, behaving the way you’re supposed to behave and being the best you can be?’”

She continued, “I’m also focusing on our Intervention program. On the academic side, I am focusing on kids who need extra help. We’re doing district assessments, and for the kids who don’t meet grade level, we’re doing further assessment of those kids to find out which skills they don’t have and target those through the intervention process, so we’re working with kids at the exact target level as far as phonemic awareness and phonics skills because all students are to be literate by third grade.

“The district supports us in our Intervention program, and I have had experience with it at Reyes Elementary, and it worked out well there and we saw academic growth. I see a great opportunity to establish it here at Sheehy, and I know it’s something that I can do to help the kids.

When asked why she thinks the district sometimes moves administrators to other school sites, she said, “As far as moving principals and administrators to other school sites, I think they look at our strengths and make decisions where we would best fit, and they figure out what is needed at a school and who can bring it to that school.”

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