The legacy Maite Iturri leaves behind
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.
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.
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.”
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.”