- Mesquite Junior High
GPS celebrates our school principals for National Principals Month.
In honor of National Principals Month, Gilbert Gold is spotlighting four Gilbert Public Schools’ principals. The dedication of our principals to the district and their unique connections to our community are part of what makes the GPS family so special.
As a former athlete, Jim Leeper understands the value of discipline and hard work. As a former physical education teacher and track coach, he knows what it takes to motivate a team. As the principal of Boulder Creek Elementary, he knows how to execute a vision.
“Not one person can do it. I might have an idea, but I can’t implement it unless I have the buy-in from others,” he said.
Leeper is in his third year as principal of Boulder Creek. The neighborhood school has a large number of veteran staff members, strong classroom communities, and an effective “culture for learning.”
“I would love for every kid to leave Boulder Creek knowing that we set them up for success in junior high,” he said.
Leeper believes in making sure students have a clear understanding of expectations, including learning what they are supposed to learn, trying their best, and behaving appropriately in the classroom. Boulder Creek also invests in helping students develop their emotional intelligence through a program called, “All Things EQ,” which features a morning announcement, weekly themes and a quarterly award.
“It teaches kids not just academically, but how to have a positive outlook on school, their classroom, their peers and workload. There are a lot of good weekly mottos and daily announcements that are taught,” Leeper said.
More than 40 percent of the school’s population qualifies for free and reduced meals, making Boulder Creek Elementary a Title I school in the district. Through federal funding, students have access to a math specialist, a reading specialist, instructional assistants, and an additional paraprofessional to support the social worker on campus. Leeper also makes it a priority to make sure he interacts with students daily before and after school, in the classroom, cafeteria, or the playground.
“I want them to remember me as a kind and visible principal,” he said.
The connection between Leeper and Boulder Creek students is very strong. When he was out of the office for a few days, between 300 and 400 students wrote and designed ‘Get Well’ cards for him. He has several hanging on his office door.
“I really feel appreciated. We have a good culture going on right now, and I couldn’t be more proud,” he said.
To learn more about Boulder Creek Elementary, schedule a school tour or enroll today!
Jennifer Greene got her start in education 25 years ago shortly after graduating from college. She was hired to be the science teacher at the newly built Highland Junior High. At the time, she was looking for a career that would combine her love of science, children and passion for giving back.
“When I was teaching, my goal was to get kids to love science as much as I did,” Greene said, “I love being around kids. I always have.”
She quickly fell in love with the Gilbert community. Her family moved to town, and her career took off. Greene eventually stopped teaching in the classroom and pursued other roles within GPS schools, including working as a guidance counselor, assistant principal and then a principal. She is now in her seventh year of being principal at Neely Traditional Academy, a high-performing school that’s A-rated by the Arizona Department of Education.
“Our real big focus is on creating a family culture. We do a lot of things in order for that to happen. We have a strong connection between our teachers, our students and our families,” she said.
Neely Traditional Academy is unique in that it welcomes students and families from communities all across the Gilbert Public Schools boundaries, and as a result the Neely family is very diverse.
“We have 14 different languages, outside of English and Spanish, that are spoken on our campus,” Greene said.
The staff at Neely are always looking for ways to create a community connection. The school hosts a number of events throughout the year to provide students with the opportunity to hang out with their friends outside of school hours.
“Their parents want them to come here, and my goal is for the students to want to stay here,” Greene said.
She uses her experiences as a GPS parent to help support Neely families. When it comes to the staff, Greene uses her background in teaching, social work and school counseling to help in any way that she can.
“It’s a lot of strong foundations of relationships. I have an amazing staff,” she said.
There are also many opportunities for her to connect with students in small groups or one-on-one. Neely has a positive rewards program, which encourages good behavior on campus. When students earn enough tickets, they can swap them for prizes, including lunch with the principal.
“It’s really my chance to get to know the kids when it’s not for discipline. For me, it’s one of the highlights,” Greene said.
To learn more about Neely Traditional Academy, schedule a school tour or enroll today!
Kari Ramirez is no stranger to blazing her own path. Born into a working-class family in a small farm town in Illinois, she hardly ever saw anyone go to college. The expectation for most was to begin working right out of high school. While that seemed like the obvious plan for her, she quickly realized that she wanted something different. She wanted something more out of life.
“I just ventured out. I worked all through college. It took me longer than most to finish, because I did it all on my own,” she said.
Ramirez was the first person in her family to attend college. She graduated when her daughter was just three months old, and she began student teaching while caring for her newborn.
“When you have a goal and you know what you want, you can do it! You make time for what’s important to you. It was important to me that I do better, and it’s important now that my kids do better,” Ramirez said.
She has set quite an example for her three daughters. After teaching in the classroom, Ramirez became an instructional coach and then spent several years working as an assistant principal. She is now in her first year as principal of Mesquite Junior High School.
"I'm smiling every day. I love the kids,” she said, "I'm really happy that I'm here.”
The entire administration team at Mesquite Junior High is new to the campus this year, including Assistant Principal Jonathon Stegall and Dean of Students Christina Jackson. It’s been a great opportunity for all three administrators to collaborate and work together to create a new environment on campus for students, families and staff.
“We’re all on the same wavelength, and we’re really good at communicating,” she said, “I feel like the kids have really embraced us. We have really been accepted by the teachers and staff.”
They are already brainstorming new ways for students and families to get engaged. Mesquite Junior High recently held a pastries and coffee event with their school resource officer, allowing parents to come to campus and learn more about the challenges teens are facing today. Students also got to participate in a club expo to learn more about on-campus activities. Ramirez is even making plans for a ‘Night of the Arts’ on campus.
“I really want to showcase our kids,” she said.
It takes a lot of courage to become a school principal. For Ramirez, it’s the same courage and drive that helped her pursue her college degree. While the journey wasn’t easy to get to this point, she knew that it was worth it. She is grateful for the support that she received along the way, especially from the Gilbert Public Schools leadership.
“They had faith in me, and they gave me an opportunity. At GPS, we really honor our people and want them to have the opportunities that they desire,” Ramirez said.
To learn more about Mesquite Junior High, schedule a school tour or enroll today!
For more than a century, Gilbert High School has been an institution of tradition, legacy and learning. Generations of students have come and gone, but they all have played a role in building the school’s rich culture and community. The outstanding administrators, educators and staff over the years have taught, mentored and inspired students to strive for excellence in and out of the classroom.
"I'm proud of Gilbert High School. I'm proud of the tradition that's in place, and the work that we continue to do on a daily basis," said Principal Brian Winter.
Winter has been at Gilbert High for the past three years. When he started as principal, he took steps to protect the traditions, but he also partnered with faculty to start new initiatives to help move the school closer to its goals. Gilbert High is also the home of Gilbert Accelerated Middle School, a school that provides an opportunity for seventh and eighth grade students to immerse themselves in honors and accelerated curriculum while accessing the resources available on a high school campus.
“We’re doing a lot of good things here, but with schools it’s always continuous improvement. You never really reach the pinnacle, so we can get better every day,” he said, “Even though it’s my 35th year in education, I want to be better tomorrow than I was today.”
When Winter was in college, he was undecided about his future career path until one night during his Shakespeare class. He went to take a break in the hallway and noticed a flier recruiting coaches for boys' basketball at a small private school.
“The next day I called the number and got hired to coach seventh grade boys basketball, and so I kind of really fell in love with the opportunity,” he said.
He loved it so much that coaching became part of his career. Winter pursued the path to becoming a teacher. During his first year of teaching, he was also named head coach of the boys' basketball team.
“Coaching was something that I did for 21 years,” he said.
It was his love of athletics that got him interested in working in school administration. As an assistant principal, he was also able to serve as a school athletic director for several years. He eventually transitioned into the role of principal.
“I felt like I could really have a positive impact on a lot of kids by being an administrator,” Winter said.
He hopes to make an impact alongside his staff at Gilbert High. One of the things that they have launched together is a campus wide literacy initiative for students in the wake of the pandemic. Winter says the goal is to help students get back on track academically.
“If we improve literacy, kids are going to achieve and have a better chance to excel in all the content areas,” he said.
Gilbert High students have access to a range of unique classes and programs that make their high school experience extremely special. Some of these include the International Baccalaureate Programme, a Metals/Jewelry course and an Agricultural Processing course focused on the meat industry, which takes place on-campus.
“There are a host of opportunities for kids to find their niche outside of the core academic classes,” he said, “Students have all of these other options to embed into their school day.”
Winter believes the best advice that he can offer to new school administrators would be for them to focus on their goals for their campus.
“Don’t ever lose sight of where you are trying to go with your goals. Obviously, for me, it is opportunities and outcomes for kids. That’s why I’m in this job to provide the best educational opportunities and outcomes for all of our kids at Gilbert High School,” he said.