Submitted by Denair Unified School District
In the end, the choice was sad but not difficult for Sara Michelena. She cares greatly for her staff and students at Denair Elementary Charter Academy. But she loves her husband and two young daughters, and her family needs her most right now.
So Friday, Michelena told her staff that she will resign at the end of the current school year to become a full-time mother to adopted daughters Emily, 3, and Elizabeth, 2. Emily has a mild form of 22q, a genetic condition that predisposes her medical and emotional issues.
“The biggest motivation is my children. They’re getting to be critical ages,” Michelena said. “I have a child with special needs and I want to encourage her development. I’m a former kindergarten teacher and they’re getting to the age I dealt with.”
Michelena has led the elementary campus for two years. Last year, she spent months spearheading the effort to write the charter that blended two independent campuses into DECA.
“The importance of her leadership at our elementary schools can’t be overstated. In fact, her tireless work in writing the charter for DECA made this new school possible,” praised Denair Unified Superintendent Aaron Rosander.
“Sara has been an important part of our district’s growth and success over the past two years, and she leaves us in esteemed standing,” Rosander added. “Sara’s warm personality, smile and work ethic will be missed. Sara loves Denair and I know her personal decision to leave us was not easy. I wish Sara and her family the very best.”
Michelena said she is grateful for Rosander’s understanding and kindness. They broke the news together to the DECA staff.
“Because they know I’m going to be staying home with my kids — and most of them are moms — they’ve been very supportive,” Michelena said. “The parents who do know have been supportive. Children are the priority in any parent’s life.”
Longtime fourth-grade teacher Patti Morrissey, whose two adult children were toddlers when she began her career, said she could identify with Michelena. “As we get older, time moves quickly, and our priorities change,” Morrissey said. “You can never regain time lost from your children and family.”
Michelena said she timed the announcement now to give the district plenty of time to find her replacement and ensure the transition happens as smoothly as possible.
In the meantime, work remains to be done.
The DECA staff is deeply involved in implementing the elements of No Excuses University, a national education model shared by 250 schools that stresses college awareness at the elementary level and encourages deeper collaboration between teachers. All 26 of DECA’s pre-school through fifth-grade classrooms have “adopted” colleges as part of the initiative.
There are plans to expand DECA’s Spanish dual language immersion program from kindergarten to first grade next year. There are tests to take, students and staff to lead, and parents to consult.
“I’m fully committed to the rest of this year,” Michelena said. “I feel like I’ve done some good things in Denair and brought some good things to the school. I feel like those will continue. My staff is phenomenal and I believe they will continue their upward trajectory. … We’re growing and the future is very positive.”
Morrissey echoed that sentiment, saying, “No Excuses University has been awesome, and my hope is that we can continue building this program with our future leadership. I also feel that the dual immersion program has created much needed enrollment growth.”
Once the school year is over, Michelena said her plans are to spend more time with her daughters and husband, Joe, who teaches at a junior high school in Modesto and also at Modesto Junior College. There will be day trips for the girls, hanging out with grandparents and cousins, and other “fun stuff.” In a few years, when her daughters are in school, Michelena said she likely will resume the career that has been her passion as a teacher and administrator for 16 years.
“I’m excited,” she said.