Principal Feature: Dawn Sandoval, Founding Principal of Catalyst Maria

Dawn Sandoval is the founding principal of Catalyst Maria, which is a campus of the Catalyst Charter Schools that serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade. This is her 31st year in education and has always dreamed of working with other educators and developing them to ensure that they could stay in education for life, in a sustainable way. She believes that when educators and school staff members remain at a school for a longer period of time, a school community can flourish and that is when real growth happens. 


Over the last 31 years, Dawn has come to know education inside and out, as she has worked in a variety of roles. She started out as a chemistry teacher, and moved into different roles as an Assistant Principal, Curriculum Director, and now Principal. All this experience has been incredibly important in the way that she led her team over the last year. 


Last Spring, when Dawn and her team faced the COVID pandemic and the challenges that brought to her families and school community, she credits her amazing team of staff and teachers for being able to support students to get all of the supplies they needed to feel connected and continue learning. It was during that time that her team really questioned what they had control over and what to prioritize – and that was providing high quality educational platforms for their students from afar. Within just 10 days of school closing, 800 devices were sent out to families and all students were on their way to continue learning. They regularly surveyed families to see what they needed and promptly gave it to them. Homeroom teachers were given a small list of families to check in on. This year, because of their hard work, 100% of scholars have devices and WiFi. 


One of the things that helped keep the communication strong even from afar, was due to the fact that Dawn ensured that Catalyst Maria had a strong foundation of communication prior to the pandemic. Their goal is for 100% of parents and family members to come in-person to school on a regular basis for events, including student-led conferences. They usually hit around 95%. This practice really laid a foundation for “we’re all in this together.” 


Heading into this school year, Dawn ensured that every scholar has a full school day. Each day, scholars log in for live classroom lessons and independent work. Over 90% of scholars are in regular attendance – 95% at the high school and 92% at the elementary school. She is also ensuring that several committees at Maria are focusing on social justice. The Legacy Team has a strong focus on social justice this year and the newly formed Anti-Racist Committee is working to ensure that teachers and staff have the tools and insights they need to practice anti-racism within the classroom.