ASPIRE principal plans to keep educating after retirement |

ASPIRE principal plans to keep educating after retirement

by Amy Alonzo
ASPIRE Academy High School Principal Michelle Trujillo is retiring.
Amy Alonzo |

ASPIRE Academy High School principal Michelle Trujillo can sum up her career with Douglas County Schools in one word — relationships.

“Academics and rigor are critical, but without the relationships, sometimes it’s challenging for students to get there,” she said in a recent interview. “ASPIRE is a family. Students graduate but they’re always part of the family.”

After 25 years with Douglas County School District and 10 years with the ASPIRE program, Trujillo is retiring. Her last day with the district is June 30. Douglas High School principal Marty Swisher will step in to fill her shoes, and he also will assume her role as head of the district’s alternative education program and as principal of Jacobsen High at China Spring Youth Camp.

“People say when you don’t love what you’re doing anymore, they say ‘get out.’ But for me it’s the opposite … I love what I do,” she said. “While I’m working I want to dedicate everything to my students and my school. This has been on the backburner for a long time.”

ASPIRE (all students pursuing integrity, responsibility and education) provides an alternative to students who struggle to find success in a traditional school setting. The program started at Pau Wa Lu Middle School in 2007 with about 20 kids. By the end of the school year nearly 50 kids were participating in the program, and in 2013-14 ASPIRE became an accredited high school, rather than a program that served students at the district’s other schools.

Trujillo, 49, of Gardnerville, began serving as principal of the school during the 2013-14 school year.

“I always tell teachers this will be the most challenging and rewarding thing you will ever do, and that is what it’s been to me,” she said.

Trujillo didn’t intend to go into education — she entered college with an interest in physical education. After reflecting on her mom’s career as an occupational therapist for Douglas County School District, she realized it was a more natural fit for her to work with kids and to teach.

She received her bachelor’s degree in physical education, with a minor in sports medicine, from Pepperdine University, and earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from Concordia University.

This year Trujillo was named innovative educator of the year by the Nevada Association of School Boards, and she is a motivational speaker who has also authored three books — “Why Can’t We Talk?”; “Teens Talking Faith”; and “Chicken Soup for the Soul Presents Teen Talking Faith.” She is in the process of writing a fourth book, titled “Culture of Character: Igniting Hope in Schools and the Workplace,” which she hopes to have finished at the end of the summer.

Trujillo said even though she is retiring from ASPIRE, she isn’t retiring from education — she recently started an educational consulting business, TruEd Consultants, LLC. She said she is set to work next year as a consultant for the Office of Equity and Diversity in Clark County, one of the largest school districts in the nation.

“I don’t know if I could ever sum up my time here,” she said. “It’s been so fulfilling. My schools, our students, our staff — I think we’re on a mission to help kids really better themselves, not just as students, but as human beings. It’s really tough to walk away from that.

“That season’s here. It’s a way to honor our students and the success of ASPIRE and Jacobsen — to take what I’ve learned through our students’ successes and our teachers’ contributions and share it out. I think it’s a gift to give to others.”

She also looks forward to spending more time with her husband, David, a high school biology teacher, volleyball coach and chiropractor, and her two grown children, Corey and Dani.

“Miki has been a wonderful leader for our students,” said Superintendent Teri White. “Her vision with ASPIRE has been instrumental in creating options for students and she will be sorely missed.”