As the school year commences Aug. 6, two new principals begin their first year at Colonel Johnston and General Myer Elementary schools. Thomas McIlrath is now principal of Colonel Johnston Elementary while Valerie Quarto is principal at General Myer Elementary. For both, this is their first year taking on the role.
McIlrath lets students and their parents know that he prefers to be called “Mr. Mac.” While his previous assignment was assistant principal for Pueblo del Sol and Huachuca Mountain Elementary schools in the Sierra Vista Unified School District, the new principal of Colonel Johnston Elementary is no stranger to the military.
McIlrath served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia from 1996-2000. After he left the military, it was his wife, Maribel, who inspired him to pursue a degree in education. Although the new principal has around 10 years of experience in the education field, he attributes his formative years to the ones he spent in the Army.
He explained that the same concepts of leadership in the Army also extend into the field of education.
“There’s an old adage that I picked up in the military; it’s the troops that build the leader and it’s very much the same thing in education,” he said, commending his former platoon sergeant for teaching him about military leadership. “I’m only here because of exceptional teachers and exceptional mentors that guided me along the way. Even now, I have to earn [the faculty’s] trust.”
McIlrath continued, “It all comes back to common sense leadership, listening to the troops and in this case listening to the teachers.”
When educating children, the new principal feels that even at a young age, his students should be motivated to strive for success. He believes that those who have achievements want to accomplish them because it makes them feel good. However, sometimes children need a spark to create that mentality.
“You have to engage kids but the only way you can do that is be exciting yourself,” McIlrath said.
The new principal mentioned he is ecstatic already about his position and the upcoming school year. Returning to a military installation, he reflects upon something he did not see before as a single Soldier—how the Army supports its Families.
“ I knew it was out there, but when you really see the level of it, it’s pretty impressive,” he explained.
McIlrath hopes he can add to that level of support through educating children.
Although this is Quarto’s first role as principal, she has been with the installation’s school district for 29 years.
Her previous assignments were Department of Defense Education Agency grant director and technology integration specialist at Colonel Smith Middle School, and technology integration specialist for Cochise and Santa Cruz County schools. However, her other education experience included 11 years of teaching fifth grade at General Myer Elementary.
“It feels like coming home to me,” she said, expressing her excitement as new principal.
One of Quarto’s main goals this year is to have faculty and staff focus on a Professional Learning Community, PLC initiative. She explained how the process takes data from students’ test scores and other results to determine the focus of professional development and performance objectives.
“There’s always room for improvement, everybody can improve,” Quarto explained. “[PLC] is basically using data to strategically focus our attention and efforts.”
When it comes to children’s education, the new General Myer Elementary principal feels it’s important that students have music, art and physical activity in their curriculum.
“Even though I come from a great concentration recently in technology, I believe we need to get our kids up, moving and get them away from screens for awhile,” she said.
Quarto added that learning should be fun because one of the biggest tasks in education today is to help children love to learn, so they’ll become life long learners.
“Statistics tell us that kids are going to have as many as 13 careers as adults,” she continued. “How do you move fluidly between those careers with flexibility, with creativity and with problem solving? Those are things we need to have our students develop.”