Welcome to PUSD

District welcomes new team members this summer

Courtesy Pasadena Unified School District

New school years bring new staff members and Pasadena Unified School District is no different. Here are a few new faces to PUSD this school year. 

Marco Villegas

Dr. Marco Villegas is associate superintendent of specialized student support. Villegas is responsible for administering all programs and services for children with disabilities, leading cross-departmental strategic planning, improving standardized procedures and training for staff, strengthening collaborative partnerships with parents, and improving the organizational efficacy of the special education department.

With nearly three decades of experience as a teacher, successful principal and regional director, Villegas has provided leadership skills training and coaching, and customized professional development for schools across the state. 

“I am pleased to welcome Dr. Villegas to PUSD where he will focus on improving the efficacy of systems that serve students with disabilities,” says Superintendent Brian McDonald. 

“As a teacher, successful principal, district administrator, and mentor to emerging educational leaders across the state, Dr. Villegas is uniquely qualified to lead our district’s special education department in developing effective teams and creating systems that support a culture of learning for all students.”

Villegas joins PUSD from the Ontario-Montclair School District in San Bernardino County where he served as regional director of learning and teaching since 2015. In this position, he was the direct supervisor of 16 schools in the region while supporting the general administration of instructional, business and operational functions.

“I truly feel honored to join the Pasadena Unified School District family, and I am excited about the level of collaboration and the systems already in place that support students with disabilities,” Villegas says. “I look forward to partnering with general and special education educators and families to provide the best possible educational opportunities for all of our students.”

Villegas earned a Ph.D. in urban educational leadership from Claremont Graduate University and has been an adjunct professor in the educational administration department at Azusa Pacific University and California State University Los Angeles. 

An experienced educator and leader, he has served as a mentor for aspiring school administrators and leaders through the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators’ (CALSA) mentoring program. He has also presented at numerous state and national educational conferences over the past 10 years. He replaces Dr. Cherilyn Lew, who accepted a position with another district.

Ana Maria Apodaca 

Ana Maria “Ria” Apodaca, director of health programs. Apodaca leads the planning, development, implementation, evaluation and maintenance of all district student health programs, including the delivery of health services, health education, staff development, and assistance pursuing competitive grants. 

“I am pleased to welcome Ms. Apodaca to PUSD at this crucial time in our history,” McDonald says. “As a proven educational leader with deep ties to our community, non-profit administrator, and devoted advocate for the health and well-being of our students and staff, Ms. Apodaca is a crucial member of the PUSD team as we confront the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for our district’s return to normal times.”

With 25 years of experience as a leader and advocate for student wellness, a trauma-informed practices administrator and coach, school principal and classroom teacher, Apodaca brings a dedication to the academic, physical, social and emotional growth and development of the children of PUSD. She has extensive experience working with nonprofits and has deep ties to the community, having grown up in the area and devoting her professional life to serving the needs of the students of PUSD.

“In these challenging times, services that support the health and well-being of our students, teachers, staff, and families have never been more essential and therefore the work of the Health Programs Department is even more valuable,” Apodaca says. “I have been honored to have served PUSD for many years as both a teacher and an administrator and now I am honored to continue to serve our community by joining the health programs team as we continue our vital mission.”

A member of the PUSD team since 1995 when she began her career as an educator, Apodaca moves to the director of health programs position from her most recent post as a second- and third-grade teacher at Madison Elementary School.  

From 2017-2019, she was director and trauma-informed practices coach with the Resilience in School Environments program of the Los Angeles Education Partnership. Apodaca supported the management of Kaiser Permanente national pilot project, designed and implemented professional development focused on trauma-informed practices, collaborated with district and school leadership to ensure that policies and procedures reflected a trauma-informed mindset, and coached school personnel to implement and sustain trauma-informed practices. She developed a curriculum for the Resilience in School Environments program funded by Kaiser Permanente.

Previously, Apodaca was principal of PUSD’s Altadena Elementary School, where she collaborated on the successful application for a Magnet School Assistance Program grant and the development of an implementation plan for the school’s French Dual Language Immersion program. Prior to Altadena Elementary, Apodaca was principal of Field Elementary School from 2007 to 2016, leading the school’s Mandarin Dual Language Immersion program and implementing a successful Farm-to-School Program, including the development of a 12,000-square-foot vegetable garden and three hydroponic gardens. Under her leadership, Field Elementary won the California Distinguished School Award in 2010 and the Title I Academic Achievement Award in 2007. 

Apodaca earned a master’s in educational leadership from California State University, Los Angeles, a teaching credential from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a bachelor’s from the University of California, Berkeley. 

She replaces former Health Programs Director Ann Rector, who retired in June.

Leonard Hernandez 

Leonard Hernandez Jr., director of maintenance, operations, transportation and facilities. Hernandez leads the management of districtwide facilities planning, maintenance and repair functions, custodial services, transportation services, fleet management, utility management, and district safety, recycling, indoor air quality and security programs. 

Hernandez has served in high levels of school district facilities management, led facilities and operations for a 1,800-student school complex, taught JROTC, and retired from the U.S. Army as a sergeant, first class, after more than two decades of honorable service.

“Mr. Hernandez brings a unique blend of leadership, experience, and expertise in school facilities and operations, school site-level administration, classroom instruction, and military service to PUSD,” McDonald says. 

“His emphasis on excellence in service through delivering campuses that are clean and in good repair is especially important as we prepare for the eventual safe return of students and staff to our schools as public health conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic evolve.”

Hernandez joins PUSD from the Pomona Unified School District, where he was director of facilities, maintenance operations, from 2019-2020 and was responsible for directing, coordinating, evaluating, and planning the day-to-day facilities, maintenance, operations and transportation for the district’s 43 campuses and three sites. From 2003-2007, he was a school site administrator for Pomona Unified’s Pueblo K-8 and Village Academy High School complex that served 1,800 K-12th grade students and hosted an adult education program. In this role, he managed student discipline and student leadership activities, the schools’ operations, maintenance, and facilities, and supervised classified employees. He was subsequently promoted and served as Pomona Unified’s coordinator of civic center permits and operations from 2007-2016.

From 2016-2019, he was the chief facilities operations officer of the Inglewood Unified School District, where he supervised the construction, maintenance, and repair of school buildings and facilities, energy management, and facilities planning and operations. 

“I am honored to join the PUSD team,” Hernandez says. “As a former site administrator and classroom instructor, I know that the role of school facilities and maintenance is to support and serve students, teachers, and staff with clean facilities in good repair. The facilities and maintenance team has a powerful influence on the educational experience of our students, staff, and families. I look forward to working collaboratively to provide excellent and caring service to our students and staff during the challenging times we face now and in the future.”

Hernandez has a passion for education and is a life-long learner, obtaining several degrees and professional certificates. He earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix, a master’s degree in occupational studies in education from California State University, Long Beach, and a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College in New York. 

Merian Stewart

Dr. Merian Stewart, interim principal of McKinley School. Stewart is the interim principal of McKinley School for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Stewart brings 29 years of steady experience as an elementary and middle school principal. She has served as principal of Franklin Elementary since 2016, where she ushered in a computer immersion program, and Washington STEAM Middle School from 2008-2016, where she led the school’s transition to a STEAM magnet school. 

Stewart previously served as principal of Noyes Elementary and as program and services director of D’Veal Family and Youth Services Mental Health Agency. She began her career as an instructional assistant in PUSD. Stewart brings experience with technology and her commitment to family and community partnerships.  

Dr. Merle Bugarin

Dr. Merle Bugarin, interim principal, Don Benito Fundamental Elementary School for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Bugarin brings 23 years of experience as an elementary and middle school educator and administrator. She successfully served as principal of Roosevelt Elementary for the last five years. Prior to becoming a principal, she was a teacher on special assignment coordinating the K-12 English Learner program for the Pasadena Unified School District for two years, a curriculum coach for 12 years and a classroom teacher for five years. Bugarin has consistently mentored colleagues throughout her career. Her focus while at Roosevelt was to use a growth mindset model to develop learners who are curious, motivated to think critically, innovative in developing solutions, and strong communicators. 

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