Melissa Galaz

Melissa S. Galaz

Sonoma Elementary School
Las Cruces Public Schools
Las Cruces, New Mexico

For the last decade, Melissa Galaz has served as principal of Sonoma Elementary School (SES), where she has implemented modern, data-driven practices for meeting the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of the school’s 800 students. Following a “D” rating in 2015, Galaz embarked on a rigorous turnaround effort that transformed instruction through root-cause analysis, intensive staff development, and collaborative strategy. Within just one year of implementation, the school’s rating increased to a high “B,” an impressive accomplishment made possible by a strong culture of professional learning and shared leadership. More recently, Galaz has focused on implementing restorative practices at SES, a progressive behavior management model that emphasizes community-based approaches to justice while avoiding the harmful effects of punishment. Galaz has supported her staff in the culture shift required of this transition, which includes creating “respect agreements” instead of classroom rules. In turn, the program has decreased disciplinary referrals while offering students tools to discuss their feelings and seek conflict resolution with their peers. Galaz is highly regarded by her colleagues for her devotion to the field, which is evident in her skilled mentorship and coaching of teachers and fellow administrators. Prior to her principalship at SES, Galaz served her district for a decade as a bilingual first- and second-grade teacher. She holds an M.A. in K-12 Administration and a B.A. in K-8 Elementary Education from New Mexico State University.