Julie Valenzuela's commitment to the Amphitheater school district is as strong as her commitment to education itself. It is this passion for local that led to her holding multiple education positions, from teacher to administration to where she is now: principal of La Cima Middle School. This passion also resulted in her winning the award for Administrative Champion at Tucson Local Media and Inside Tucson Business' 2020 Women of Influence awards ceremony, held at Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment, Sahuarita on Wednesday, March 4.
Valenzuela is an Amphi High School graduate herself, and said one of the reasons she wanted to return to the district to teach is because of the closeness of Amphi. Her two sons even attended Coronado K-8 before graduating from Canyon del Oro High School. Because it’s a smaller district, she says it’s like a family.
“We get to know everyone really well and everybody gets along,” Valenzuela said. “We only have 21 schools, and we all work together very closely. A lot of people working at Amphi actually graduated from Amphi, and it’s because of our great schools, hardworking teachers and amazing support from the administration.”
However, education is Valenzuela’s second career. She said she never thought she'd be a principal, and grew up wanting to be a secretary. Upon graduation from Amphi, she worked at an accounting firm as a secretary, and then as a bookkeeper. But she returned to school to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University.
Valenzuela then worked as a teacher at Prince Elementary School for 15 years before becoming an instructional coach for the district for two years. She then served as an assistant principal at both the middle and high school levels, before becoming principal of La Cima in 2017.
“Up until the year before I became an administrator, I still didn’t think I’d be an administrator,” she said. “After coaching, I was planning on going back into the classroom, because I learned so many amazing things from all the teachers in our district. So, I was planning on going back into the classroom and using all those great things I learned from other teachers. But then a door opened, and here I am.”
Valenzuela admits it’s difficult for her to talk about herself and her successes, and even kept her acceptance speech short upon winning Administrative Champion. However, she did thank her co-workers: La Cima’s counselor Suzanne Graun who nominated her for the award, and Gayle Taylor, her assistant principal.
“I really love the people I work with at the school,” Valenzuela said. “I love the students and the staff, and it just makes it easy to work when you have people that you respect. It’s easy to go to bat for them and make it a place for them to feel comfortable.”
Valenzuela also attributes her success to having an “open door policy” with her staff and students, wanting them to feel comfortable coming to talk with her.
“I try to be there for my staff and listen and do whatever I can to help them if at all possible, all while keeping in mind that everything we do is in the best interest of the kids,” Valenzuela said.
She says her core educational belief is that "all students can learn." They may learn differently and at different times, but “the sky is the limit” in regard to their learning. In addition, all students should feel welcome and cared about.
“It’s all about working to have strong relationships with kids,” Valenzuela said. “Because if you have strong relationships with kids, that’s half the battle. And once those relationships are strong, kids will be very responsive to learning.”