Sandra O.C. Thiffault named winner of the 2019 Susan Schilling Legacy Award for exemplary leadership
Sandra O.C. Thiffault, Principal at Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence PK-8 School has been named the winner of the 2019 Susan Schilling Legacy Award. The Schilling Award is presented annually to a New Tech director or principal who demonstrates exemplary leadership at both the school and network levels. These dynamic leaders are committed to ensuring equitable outcomes, and recognize that this is only possible in school communities that are highly reflective, collaborative, and laser-focused on the improvement of teaching and learning. These instructional leaders work tirelessly to cultivate and sustain systems and structures that support inquiry-based, transformational adult learning. As lead learners in their buildings, school communities, and within our network, these leaders are continuously honing their ability to recognize, diagnose and address the complex challenges that accompany change.
Mrs. Thiffault was born in San Pedro, California but lived most of her childhood in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Her parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and she moved to Tucson in 1979. After years of learning English as a Second Language, she graduated from Sunnyside High School in 1985. Mrs. Thiffault took an 8-year break to be a stay-at-home mom for her three children before returning to finish her college education in 1993. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education in 1997 and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Northern University of Arizona in 2001.
After receiving her education, Mrs. Thiffault started as a Dual Language Teacher and then became a Title 1 School Improvement Specialist at the District Office. Two years later started her Administration career in 2007 working in a Title 1 public school. She served as an Assistant Principal for two years and Principal for ten years, five of those years as Principal of McCorkle Academy.
In the five years at McCorkle Academy PK-8, she built an effective school community culture and successfully implemented the New Tech Network model. Through her efforts, the school has grown in enrollment and currently has a waiting list. McCorkle Academy is now a New Tech National Ambassador School and hosted its first Teacher Residency. Mrs. Thiffault created a sustainable NTN PBL model by encouraging teachers to focus on leadership skills and complete the badging process. The school now has six Train of Trainers.
Mrs. Thiffault is a member of A for Arizona, an educational policy advocacy group who works on replicating excelling schools. Over the years, she has mentored three new administrators and four aspiring administrators. She has also partnered with faith-based organizations to support the communities surrounding the school. In 2012, she received the Community Service Award from Living Water Ministries.
Mrs. Thiffault believes that an effective culture is one of the most important components of any learning organization. A culture set on a “growth mindset” makes the biggest difference. To be an effective change agent, we start by creating relationships with students, parents, staff, teachers and community members. She believes that if we teach children how to learn, they will be able to close their own achievement gap.
“The experiences of growing up as a Hispanic immigrant girl, living in the southside, getting married young, having children, going to college and working in the school system have shaped my character. I have integrity and a faith that keep me centered no matter what position I have held. I have learned to persevere and be the best that I can be. We never stop getting better at getting better.”