The legacy Maite Iturri leaves behind

The list is long of Iturri’s accomplishments during her 15-year tenure leading El Verano, where the student population is overwhelmingly Latino and from low-income homes.|

In a surprising and unexpected evelopment, longtime El Verano Elementary School Principal Maite Iturri submitted her resignation this week. Iturri, who has worked in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District for more than 25 years, is leaving to take on a leadership role as district academic coordinator for Petaluma City Schools.

Iturri is regarded as one of the most innovative and hard-working educators in Sonoma Valley, according to her peers. Her resignation came as an unwelcome shock, just days before the start of the new school year.

Including Iturri’s departure, Sonoma Valley will have weathered turnover of the principal at seven of its nine campuses within the past two years.

Iturri told the Index-Tribune that prior to July 2021, she was fully committed to staying in Sonoma.

“I dedicated my entire life, my professional career to this community and to this school, and this is one of the hardest decisions I've ever made in my life,” Iturri said on Aug. 11. “I never intended to leave this way.”

The list is long of Iturri’s accomplishments during her 15-year tenure leading El Verano, where the student population is overwhelmingly Latino and from low-income homes. Her focus throughout, she said, has been on leveling the playing field by equalizing access and opportunities.

Iturri opened the district’s first on-site preschool, introduced new science and art programs at El Verano, organized community forums, expanded after-school enrichment programs, hosted the Valley Vibes youth orchestra program, created new parent leadership programs, transitioned El Verano into the community school model and transformed teaching there “to be more responsive to students.”

Iturri also created a Family Resource Center at the campus to provide parents with mental health services and other support. Beyond her responsibilities as principal of El Verano, she has also served as the district’s summer school principal at the high school and the K-12 summer coordinator.

Iturri is also a masterful fundraiser. In the past decade, she has brought in more than $7 million in grants to the school and district.

“We have gained the support of the community, business and foundations, who all believe in what we were trying to accomplish for our students and families,” she said.

Her career

Iturri was born and raised in San Francisco in an immigrant, bilingual and bicultural home. She attended Lowell High School and received her undergraduate and graduate degrees and teaching certifications from U.C. Berkeley, Sonoma State University and U.C. Davis, respectively. She is within a year of completing her doctorate at Davis.

Prior to being named principal of El Verano in 2005, Iturri taught in bilingual positions in Napa and in classrooms at Sonoma Valley High School, Altimira Middle School and Flowery Elementary. She is credited with helping to start Sonoma’s first dual immersion program at Flowery.

When Louann Carlomagno was a new principal at El Verano, she was so impressed by Iturri that she lured her from Flowery to El Verano. When Carlomagno moved to the district office in 2002, Iturri was named principal, a role she’s held ever since.

Full Iturri resume.pdf

Carlomagno has nothing but praise for Iturri and the legacy she leaves behind. “Maite was the heart and soul of El Verano School for the past 15 years,” she said. “She leaves them with the knowledge and grace she shared over the years. I know she will be terribly missed and always remembered.”

Louann Carlomagno and Maite Iturri in 2019. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Louann Carlomagno and Maite Iturri in 2019. (Photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

When asked by a reporter earlier this year what traits are most important to be an effective principal, Iturri spoke of the ability to reflect, to receive feedback, to be an effective communicator, to build community and to hold high expectations for yourself and others.

Iturri says that her background as having come from an immigrant family informed how she leads and her ability to connect with parents.

“I have led with love and focused on a holistic approach to our sometimes disenfranchised and marginalized community,” she said. “Academics are critically important, but all those other pieces that I put in place to support families was critical to the academic success of those students.”

In an April 2021 interview with the Index-Tribune, Iturri spoke passionately about her goal of making her campus a place where parents feel welcomed and accepted and a beautiful place for students to learn.

“My role is to help remove barriers for students and educators so they can be the best they can be every day,” she said. “Being able to identify those barriers by listening to the people in the school is really important to their success. I go to work every day with the goal of making a difference in a student’s life.”

She feels strongly that the health of the community has a direct impact on the academic achievement of its students.

“When families have limited access to health care, food, shelter and work, there is an opportunity gap that impacts learning,” she said. “These are big issues and not limited to Sonoma Valley; nevertheless, it does keep me up at night.”

Part of the community

Iturri lives just down the street from El Verano School on a small compound with her mother, husband Ryan Carpenter, son Cameron Ituirri-Carpenter, 30, and Cameron’s wife.

She is a familiar face to many, not just on the El Verano campus but also as an active Springs resident and local volunteer. She serves as a chairperson of the Springs Municipal Advisory Council, which serves as a bridge between the community and county government.

She also started a nonprofit to provide food and resources to the most vulnerable in the community; called Food for All/Comida para Todos, and the group has supported the feeding of more than 20,000 people over the last year.

“If our parents are healthy and feel taken care of and loved, their kids are going to show up that way,” she said.

She is a vociferous advocate for the Springs, where a quarter of residents live below the poverty line, and the El Verano school community, where 86% of the students are economically disadvantaged, according to Sonoma County Office of Education data.

She describes El Verano’s transition to a community school model as the highlight of her career and is credited with a surge in parent involvement on campus.

“The vision from the beginning was to include everyone — to be an inclusive environment,” she said.

Iturri was selected as October’s 2020 North Bay Spirit award winner, which honors “exceptional individuals who go above and beyond in voluntary service to their communities, often by identifying important needs and creating programs or organizations to address those needs.”

The opportunity and the turmoil

Iturri has worked under nine superintendents in Sonoma Valley, including five in the past five years. She confirmed that she applied for the job the last two times the role was open.

Sonoma Valley Unified Superintendent Dr. Adrian Palazuelos was hired last month.

In a letter to the school community on Aug. 11, Palazuelos stated that once his office was aware of Iturri’s desire for a district-level position, they “worked diligently to identify an opportunity for (Iturri) to continue to work in SVUSD where she could utilize her knowledge, skills and abilities on a district level.”

Iturri declined the role offered, and told the Index-Tribune that she “was not involved in the communication plan regarding her resignation.” In a Facebook post on Aug. 11, her son, Cameron Iturri-Carpenter, questioned if the offer was “political maneuvering.”

Iturri is just the latest in a string of high-level SVUSD departures in the past 24 months which include Prestwood (Principal Catherine Larkin), Sonoma Valley High (Principal Alberto Solorzano), Adele Harrison Middle School (Principal Mary Ann Spitzer), Flowery Elementary (Principal Esmeralda Moseley), Sassarini Elementary (Principal Tom Stubbs) and Woodland Charter School (Jamie Lloyd) as well as with the departure of former Superintendent Socorro Shiels in November 2020, and a slew of other high-level district staffers.

Former Mayor Logan Harvey, who worked closely with Iturri in the Food for All initiative, has tremendous respect for the educator. He believes the fact that Iturri was not even granted an interview for the superintendent role by the school board contributed to her decision to leave.

“Maite Iturri broke her back for this district for years, uplifting families, advocating for students and parents and going far beyond the call of duty,” he wrote in the Facebook post upon learning the news on Aug. 11. “She is a hero, a role model, and deserves the respect of a superintendent role. No one will be able to fill her shoes, that’s impossible. I just hope the district can find someone who is actually willing to put them on, knowing they're five sizes too big.”

Esmeralda Sanchez Moseley has worked alongside Iturri for almost 15 years, and she credits Iturri with her success as a new principal at Flowery Elementary back in 2009.

“Maite helped me to come into my own,” said Moseley. “She is a role model for her staff and for all educators and her work here was transformative. All that she accomplished at El Verano is a testament to her values and her work ethic.”

Building a team?

The first day of school in Sonoma Valley is Aug. 16. District staff are currently working on an interim leadership plan for El Verano, Palazuelos said, noting also that input sessions will be scheduled for the community to share the qualities and attributes they are looking for in their next leader.

In the Petaluma City Schools District office, Iturri will join former Prestwood Principal Jason Sutter, who now serves as assistant superintendent of human resources; and Moseley, its new director of education services, curriculum and instruction.

“I’m so excited to work with Maite again here,” said Moseley.

Iturri spoke highly of Petaluma City School Superintendent Matthew Harris, describing him as someone who “leads with integrity and compassion.”

“They’re building an amazing team in Petaluma and I’m excited to be a part of it,” she said. She expects her first day in Petaluma to be sometime in September.

Maite Iturri biography

2006 - Present principal, El Verano Elementary School

2014 - Present adjunct faculty, educational leadership program, Sonoma State University

2019 - Present K-12 summer school coordinator and summer school high school principal

2010-2020 - director of district programs, Exploratorium, District Language Advisory Committee, student transfers, summer school K-12, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, Parent Advisory Committee, Teachers College Writers Workshop and Early Childhood Education, Valley Vibes Orchestra

2003-2014 - elementary and middle summer school principal

2001-2005 - academic coordinator, El Verano Elementary and Flowery Schools

1997-2001 - bilingual teacher, Altimira Middle and Flowery Elementary Schools

1994-1995 - Mexican American studies instructor “Computers for Educators,” Sonoma State University

1993-1995 - bilingual teacher, Shearer Elementary School, Napa Valley Unified School District

El Verano principal Maite Iturri with the first graduating class from El Verano preschool. (Photo by William R. Murray)
El Verano principal Maite Iturri with the first graduating class from El Verano preschool. (Photo by William R. Murray)

With additional reporting by Meg McConahey. Contact Lorna at

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.