Claudia Mendoza, principal at ASU Preparatory Polytechnic STEM Academy, is beloved by her students, staff and teachers.
This is evidenced by the students who light up when she enters the room and by the teachers and staff who enthusiastically sing her praises.
In fact, this praise is the reason Mendoza was recently selected as the recipient of a 2017 Stories of Inspiration award by the Charter School Capital Group, a national organization that provides growth capital and facilities financing for charter schools.
The Stories of Inspiration competition gives “recognition and thanks to the teachers who inspire us to do, and be, our best.” Mendoza’s story detailed how she transformed the school from a happy elementary campus into a happy, innovative and rigorous STEM academy, while maintaining its family-oriented atmosphere.
ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy is located on Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus and is one of many ASU Preparatory Academy schools serving students in elementary, middle and high school grades. The school is embedded in the ASU community; collaborates with many ASU colleges, divisions and units; and fosters a college-going mindset and sense of Sun Devil pride in students — a mission that Mendoza’s leadership helps drive forward. Most recently, ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy was tied for the top spot in Arizona school ratings based on the final letter grades and scores released last week by the state Department of Education.
“Claudia is an exemplary model for how a leader can truly impact student success by setting a culture of excellence and cultivating an environment of collaborative teaching and learning,” said Beatriz Rendon, vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services, and CEO of ASU Preparatory Academy. “ASU Prep is proud to have such an extraordinary professional on our team and thrilled to have her receive this well-deserved recognition.”
The award also includes a $1,000 donation to ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy, to be used at their discretion.
Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Mendoza received her Bachelor of Science in education from New Mexico State University and her master’s in educational leadership from Arizona State University.
Throughout her career, she has served multiple roles in the education field, both in and out of the classroom. Before coming to ASU Prep, Mendoza served as executive coordinator for Access ASU and executive director of the Parent Institute for Quality Education.
Prior to that, she spent 10 years working in the Tempe Elementary School District as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher, and as a language acquisition coach and reading specialist.
Mendoza says she is humbled and grateful to receive this honor.
“My hope is that my leadership will always inspire teachers, staff and students to be the best they can be,” she said.
We asked Mendoza a few questions about her career, the education field and the school where she works every day to motivate students and teachers to do and be their best. You can also learn more about ASU Preparatory Academy by viewing the Educational Outreach and Student Services digital annual report.
Question: What inspired you to choose a career in education?
Answer: My early years in elementary were difficult. I was learning to speak English as my second language while simultaneously attempting to learn the grade-specific content, including reading and writing. I persevered because I had amazing teachers, Mrs. Hawk and Mrs. Asbury, who believed in me and valued who I was and my culture.
As I explored my options during my first year of college, I knew I wanted to make a difference. As I reflected on my education and life up to that point, I realized how big an impact a good teacher could have on a young student. In my years in the classroom as a teacher, I hope I was able to touch the lives of my students the same way Mrs. Asbury and Mrs. Hawk touched mine all those years ago.
Now in my role as an instructional leader, my continued inspiration comes both from working alongside the same type of amazing teachers at ASU Prep Poly and my love of children. I also credit Dr. JoEtta Gonzales, my last principal, whom I consider a role model for instructional leadership.
Q: What do you think is the best thing about being an educator? The most challenging?
A: The best thing is seeing the potential in every student come to life each day. In my role as principal, I enjoy building relationships with students and watching them learn and grow from year to year. I look forward to coming to work each day, and as a lifelong learner, every day is a new adventure in learning for me. The most challenging part of being an educator is not having enough time to do all that we'd like to do for every student.
Q: What do you think makes ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy a unique place to be an educator? What makes it an ideal place for students to learn?
A: Our affiliation with Arizona State University makes ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy a unique place to be an educator. Not only are we located on the ASU Polytechnic campus, our objective is to ensure that every student sees themselves as college-going from the start. Students identify as Sun Devils as early as preschool and kindergarten. Their educational journey starts with us at ASU Preparatory Academy and ends when they graduate from college.
Additionally, teachers are passionate, hard-working, collaborative, highly focused and dedicated to every student. Teachers enjoy what they do, and it is evident. It is an ideal place for students because of our approach to individualized learning, technology integration, higher-level thinking and problem-solving implemented through our rigorous curriculum. Additionally, students take part in interdisciplinary STEM experiences at every grade level, K-8.
Q: What guides you in your leadership of teachers/staff and students at ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy?
A: First and foremost, my priority is always to remain student-centered in everything that I do. Second, I base my leadership on relationships with teachers, staff, students and families.
When I make mistakes, I use them as opportunities to grow my leadership. I practice reflection and allow myself to learn from them to become a better leader. Collaboration, teamwork and delegation also guide me in my leadership. It takes the entire village! I work to create a culture of shared ownership and innovation. I whole-heartedly appreciate and value every teacher and staff member at our school. Every single one of them is important. Finally, it is all about positivity: my cup is always half-full!
Top photo: ASU Preparatory Polytechnic STEM Academy Principal Claudia Mendoza works with first-grade student Ady Podmanik on an assignment. Mendoza says she will often pop into classrooms to see what her students are doing and how she can help them succeed. Photo by Will Argeros/ASU