Maricopa County Exemplary Principal Award Lagos Dual Language Academy Principal Ana Gomez del Castillo

After being notified she had won the Maricopa County Exemplary Principal Award, Lagos Dual Language Academy Principal Ana Gomez del Castillo is flanked by, from left, Kyrene board member Margaret Pratt, county schools Superintendent Steve Watson, board member John King and Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely.

Two Kyrene School District principals – including one in Ahwatukee – were surprised last week with a special visit and even more special award.

Ana Gomez del Castillo, principal of Lagos Dual Language Academy in Ahwatukee, and Nancy Branch, principal of Mirada Leadership Academy in Tempe received the Maricopa County Exemplary Principal Award.

Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely joined county School Superintendent Steve Watson in surprising the two principals with the award.

It is given annually to school leaders “who set high expectations and create an environment for exceptional student learning, build community by actively engaging staff and community, use data to guide instruction, have a history of high teacher retention, and demonstrate an ability to inspire others,” the district said in a release.

“The Maricopa County School Superintendent values school leaders that support and empower teachers by providing excellent education opportunities to students,” Watson’s office said.

Both Gomez del Castillo, an Ahwatukee resident, and Branch have led their schools to Arizona Education Foundation (AEF) A+ School of Excellence awards. Both schools also are rated A by the state.

Gomez del Castillo started at Lagos in the 2012-13 school year after spending 13 years at Ninos, where she began a dual language academy.

In an interview at the time she started at Lagos, she spoke about the dual language academy, telling AFN, “I believe the teachers who are there are truly the backbone of that program and will continue to make it an excellence program and one that the district will be proud of.”

When she started as Lagos she also expressed a desire to “be the person who is learning as much as I can” from teachers who “exemplify practices and leadership that contribute to high expectations and exceptional student learning.” The county award virtually certifies “Mission Accomplished.”

The county award is given after a rigorous screening process and recognizes principals for achievements in several areas.

Principals must have a track record showing that they:  actively engage staff, parents and community members in developing an effective school culture; utilize data to guide instruction and decisions regarding staff development; have a history of high teacher retention; and demonstrate the ability to successfully develop and inspire others.

Researchers review the last three years of achievement data to identify schools with a history of high student achievement, student growth and teacher retention.

A teacher survey is sent to the staff of selected principals and those results are reviewed by a committee to pick semifinalists.

They are then interviewed by the committee, which also visits their schools to interview staffer, tour classrooms and observe a leadership team meeting.

Gomez del Castillo, or “Dr. Ana” as she is affectionately called, is an Arizona native and earned all her degrees from Arizona State University.

Under Branch’s leadership, Mirada was named a Franklin Covey Leader in Me Lighthouse School for outstanding work implementing leadership practices on campus.

Branch is also an Arizona native and has spent 26 of her 28 years in education in the Kyrene School District. 

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