News from the Arizona Daily Star

3 Tucson-area principals finalists for Rodel award

By Alexis Huicochea, Arizona Daily Star – January 21, 2012

The leaders of three Tucson-area schools have been named finalists for the Rodel Exemplary Principal award.

The principals, who represent the Flowing Wells, Sunnyside and Tucson unified school districts, are being recognized for their ability to inspire high academic achievement in high-needs schools.

Two will be named winners, receiving $5,000 in cash and going on to mentor aspiring principals over the next two years. The winners will be revealed in the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday.

The Rodel Exemplary Principal initiative is intended to recognize the state’s most exceptional principals and to populate a pipeline of highly skilled school leaders.

“A great principal is the heart of a successful school,” said Jackie Norton, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. “The leadership these outstanding principals exhibit is the key to success for their staff and students.”

The three principals were nominated by their district superintendents. As part of the review process, school data was examined, campus visits were conducted and interviews were held with the candidates, their teachers and staff.

Jim Brunenkant

• Age: 50

• School: Flowing Wells High School, Flowing Wells Unified School District

• AZ Learns label/Grade: highly performing/A

• Years as a principal: 7

• Favorite part of being a principal: “Seeing these kids walking around, laughing, getting to class on time and wanting to be in school despite their struggles at home. It’s inspiring to me.”

• Best advice for new principals: “Never forget what it is like to be a teacher; never forget what it is like to be a student.”

• Tidbits: He’s a self-proclaimed reality-show addict. His favorites include “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Top Chef” and “The Bachelorette.”

• Vouch: “Jim is a visionary in the sense that he doesn’t just maintain,” said Flowing Wells Superintendent Nic Clement. “He is always looking to the future and how he can open up opportunities for the kids.”

John Robertson

• Age: 62

• School: Craycroft Elementary School, Sunnyside Unified School District

• AZ Learns label/Grade: performing-plus/B

• Years as a principal: 22 at various schools, 6 1/2 at Craycroft

• Favorite part of being a principal: “Getting the chance to work with really outstanding students and with some of the best teachers in Tucson on a daily basis.”

• Best advice for new principals: “Every decision you make is based on what’s in the best interest of your kids. That’s the only thing you have to think about.”

• Tidbits: He golfs over the summer to rejuvenate himself for the new school year.

• Vouch: “Mr. Robertson’s leadership is extremely important in a high poverty area which has greater demands in leadership,” said Sunnyside Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo. “Craycroft continues to be a highly performing school which helps be a model for other Sunnyside schools.”

Stephen Trejo

• Age: 52

• School: C.E. Rose K-8 School, Tucson Unified School District

• AZ Learns label/Grade: performing-plus/A

• Years as a principal: 9

• Favorite part of being a principal: “Seeing students do things and surprising themselves with what they can achieve.”

• Best advice for new principals: “Model hard work and walk your talk because it builds high trust.”

• Tidbits: He got his first teaching break mid-school year when another teacher quit because the students were “so bad.” Trejo says it was rough for a couple of weeks, but called it a great experience.

• Vouch: “He really is a leader that understands the important nature of advocacy for students and achievement as a bottom line,” TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said of Trejo. “He is relentless in getting what he needs in order for his school to succeed.”

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at or 573-4175. On Twitter: @AlexisHuicochea