Alumni Spotlight

"UC Irvine fostered my love of learning and my passion for teaching, and I am forever grateful."
Shannon Villanueva
DeMille Elementary School
Westminster School District
UCI Alumna

When I began my academic adventure at UC Irvine as an undergraduate, I wholeheartedly believed that I wanted to be a Clinical Child Psychologist. I eagerly pursued my studies in Social Ecology with an emphasis in psychology and human behavior in order to meet that end. I guess you might say I had a bit of a reality check when the one class that I really did not do well in was Clinical Child Psychology. I vividly recall taking a soul searching walk after class along Ring Road. It was one of those reflective “What am I going to do with my life?” walks. I ended up at the Department of Education where I inquired about the requirements for the multiple subject credential program. This was probably the smartest inquiry I made in my life.

My studies at UC Irvine, both as an undergraduate and in the teacher credential program, provided an excellent foundation for an exciting and rewarding career in education. Most of my career has been in the wonderful Westminster School District. I have had the good fortune of growing professionally as a classroom teacher for a variety of different elementary and middle school grade levels. Being a Title One reading teacher was a unique position in which I worked with students from Kindergarten to 6th grade. Eventually, I held the position of Title One Coordinator and reading teacher at a middle school for a couple of years. This position really allowed me to develop some leadership and administration skills. It was during this time that I returned to school to earn my Masters of Science in Educational Administration degree and my Administrative Credential from National University. I was not on the career fast track to become an administrator, because I LOVE to teach. I also knew that I wanted as much experience as possible before I ever, if ever, pursued an administrative position. 

One of the most interesting positions I think I have held is that of Student Achievement Teacher in a middle school, Grades 6-8. This position held a variety of responsibilities. I think my favorite was facilitating collaboration sessions with every department. During these sessions teachers analyzed student data and focused on student achievement. I also worked extensively with the AVID (Advancing Via Individual Determination) program and teaching writing skills to English Learners. This was another position that further honed my leadership skills. I think I could have done this job for a very long time. However, it was a position that was categorically funded; when the funding stopped, the position ended. 

When one door closed another one opened. This journey has led me to where I truly feel I am meant to be. I am now the principal at DeMille Elementary School in the Westminster School District. I absolutely love being a principal. I pull into the parking lot each morning energized by the successes and challenges each day may bring. My years of teaching in the district have prepared me well for this role, and I draw upon these experiences on a daily basis. It is exciting to feel that I can be an integral part of our students’ safety and success, as well as playing a role in the success of my staff.

One of my favorite aspects of the principal position is participating in and providing professional development. We have many exciting initiatives being implemented in our district and at the school sites. DeMille is part of a grant to become a PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) school. All of our teachers are being trained in G.L.A.D. (Guided Language Acquisition Design). All of the teachers are trained in using Thinking Maps. As a Thinking Maps trainer, it is very exciting to walk into classrooms and see how these effective tools are being employed. The district as a whole has been doing extensive work in the area of Cultural Proficiency. The staff is learning and growing as our students learn and grow.

I am enjoying co-chairing the district’s Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtII) committee. We are striving to put systems in place in that will ensure that each student has an equitable opportunity for success. As this committee continues to work together, I become more and more passionate about the work we are doing. We are currently working on creating and implementing a consistent, district-wide Student Success Team (SST) process. We have had the opportunity to share our work with members of the California Department of Education and have received some favorable feedback. 

Education has changed much and often over the years. It is exciting to be a part of the technological advances, research, and new strategies. I fully believe that we educators need to do everything possible to prepare students for a very dynamic future. As far as my future goes, I would welcome the opportunity to pursue an Ed.D. some day. I was born to teach, and I would love to have the opportunity to teach aspiring teachers and administrators at the university level. To teach teachers is truly touching the future and beyond. UC Irvine fostered my love of learning and my passion for teaching, and I am forever grateful.