Denair administrative shuffle: Silva once again leads special education, Sarmiento takes over as DMS principal

Amanda Silva and Gabriela Sarmiento began new duties this week in the Denair Unified School District.

Silva, the principal for the past three years at Denair Middle School, returned to the district office to become interim director of special education. She will oversee special ed programs for the 247 students at the district’s campuses. Sarmiento, an English teacher at DMS, stepped up to replace Silva as interim principal.

Superintendent Terry Metzger complimented Silva as “absolutely the right person at the right time to fill this role.” Silva served in the same capacity for two years before becoming principal at DMS in 2018.

“There had been a revolving door of principals at the middle school. Supporting the school and organization as a whole was why I went to DMS,” said Silva, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a credential to teach moderate to severe special ed students and a master’s degree in educational leadership.

She praised the commitment of the DMS staff and is proud of the relationships she has built with students and staff. 

“My first group of eighth-graders are now juniors in the high school,” Silva said. “I love when I see them and they say, ‘Hi, Mrs. Silva.’ Those long-term relationships drive me. I feel very close to all the teachers and staff at DMS. They all want to do the right thing.”

In her new role leading special ed, Silva expects to focus on the big picture, including ensuring the district is in compliance with the myriad of state and local rules governing special ed.

“We have an experienced staff; they are experts now,” she said. “My role will be to take the 30,000-foot view.”

Sarmiento joined the district two years ago to teach sixth-grade English Language Arts after three years in Riverbank. She has a bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and psychology as well as a multiple subject teaching credential from CSU Stanislaus, but this will be her first job as an administrator.

“Educational leadership was something I knew was in my future,” Sarmiento said. “When I came to Denair, I knew that I had found my home district. When I showed my interest in leadership, Amanda took me under her wing and became my mentor.”

Metzger admitted that “it’s never easy to make staffing changes in the middle of the year,” but feels confident she has the right people in Silva and Sarmiento to make the transition as seamless as possible.

“In this case, I had to think about the impact on the district as well as the impact on the school and students,” Metzger said. “Because Mrs. Sarmiento already knows the DMS families and has provided leadership for the DMS campus and initiatives, it made sense to ask her to step into the interim principal role. Her teaching position has been filled with a long-term sub, whom Gabriela will be able to mentor and coach.”

Metzger said Sarmiento inherits a positive situation at the middle school.

“DMS is a well-oiled machine right now,” Metzger said. “It has a stable and capable teaching staff, dedicated support staff and a positive school climate. I think a challenge will be keeping in motion the work that’s already begun under Amanda’s leadership and putting her own stamp on it.”

One of the existing DMS programs Sarmiento is most invested in involves the Dual Language Immersion class. The first group of 23 students – including her son — arrived as sixth-graders this year; a seventh-grade class will be added next fall. Sarmiento, who has a bilingual teaching certificate, was among the staff members who researched curriculum and visited middle schools in other districts to see how they teach students in English and Spanish. She also taught math and science in English to this year’s dual language sixth-graders.

“My son is part of DLI program. I want it to be successful,” said Sarmiento, whose eighth-grade daughter also is on campus.

The responsibility for 233 students and 20 teachers, plus the support staff, was thrust suddenly upon Sarmiento. She acknowledged the initial learning curve may be steep, but she is confident that she is up to the task.

“I’m here to continue the course,” she said. “We have strong relationships with our staff and especially strong relationships with our students. The district goal is authentic literacy. That’s the path we’re on. Will there be challenges? Of course. We’re still educating in a pandemic, for example. 

“But Amanda is great to work with and so is Terry. So just picking up in the middle of October, I feel like I’m in the best place to do that, as opposed to a brand new school. I have relationships with colleagues and students. It just sort of felt like a natural process.”

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