Mario Mendoza wants to foster the dreams of Bashaw Elementary students.
A quarter of a century ago in Los Angeles, Mario Mendoza walked into the office of his high school counselor and told him he wanted to enroll in Advanced Placement courses.
The guidance counselor asked what Mendoza’s dad (also Mario Mendoza) did for a living. When Mendoza told the counselor that his dad was a carpenter, the guidance counselor suggested he take a shop class instead.
That played a big part in his attitude toward education.
“You don’t know who you have in front of you, so you have to approach every kid like they’re the next president of the United States,” he said.
When Mendoza takes over as the principal of William H. Bashaw Elementary July 1, he will bring along the passion he developed for education during his young life.
He will also bring the lighter side of his personality.
At Wakeland Elementary, both Student Support Specialist Jaime Kitchner and Guidance Secretary Valerie Meridan described Mendoza, who served as principal there for seven years, as a prankster.
Both Meridan and Kitchner remained tight-lipped on what kinds of practical jokes Mendoza pulled, but both their smiles told how much they appreciated their principal.
“He’s fabulous, and I’m sad to see him go,” Kitchner said.
Mendoza is leaving because Wakeland Elementary School has merged with Johnson Middle School. He will replace current Bashaw Principal Joshua Bennett, who is moving to Braden River Elementary.
As an educator, Mendoza’s biggest passions include fostering the dreams of students and helping them use their education to break out of poverty.
Mendoza feels like he’s accomplished a lot — like improving Wakeland Elementary’s overall rating from a ‘D’ to a ‘B’ and helping students receive Take Stock in Children scholarships — but he’s quick to pass on credit for his success to his team.
At Bashaw Elementary, Mendoza understands he will be an unknown factor.
“I’m really there to make a difference,” he said.
Meridan will miss Mendoza’s wit and sympathy.
“He treats everybody as if they’re his own family,” she said. “The kids love him.”
Meridan said the whole process has been stressful but that Mendoza helped her through it.
“He always had a kind word for something to put me at ease for the situation,” she said.
Kitchner echoed Meridan’s thoughts of Mendoza’s support.
“We’re all losing a friend,” she said.
Although Kitchner won’t get to see Mendoza every day, she knows they will stay in touch, and said he will bring a lot to the table at Bashaw, including a love of family, the ability to create a supportive culture and his sense of community.
“They’re very lucky,” she said.
Though Mendoza has lived in Florida for more than 20 years, he was born in California. From 2 to 10 years old, he lived in Honduras, before returning to Los Angeles. His parents moved to Miami when he was 16, but he stayed behind in Los Angeles on his own.
Then he ran into the counselor, who, indeed, helped him select a career path.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Florida International University and his master’s degree from the University of South Florida, he started his career as an educator as a language arts teacher at Osceola Middle School in Pinellas County, and he eventually became an assistant principal there.