ATWATER -- Her days may be fast-paced, even hectic, but Ana Boyenga loves all that is involved with being a school principal.
The 41-year-old leader of Atwater's Thomas Olaeta Elementary School recently was named Principal of the Year for a four-county region of the Association of California School Administrators.
"I love it all, I really do," Boyenga said. "I was extremely humbled with the ASCA award. I always enjoyed learning and being a student. I saw my teachers as role models."
Boyenga has led the 509-student campus on High Street for three years and has been an Atwater Elementary School District employee for 17. For several years Boyenga worked in the district office, but says she prefers the school environment.
A number of Boyenga's current and former colleagues sing her praises.
Suzanne Delaware, a retired assistant superintendent and Olaeta School's second principal, said Boyenga builds successful relationships and understands the power of networking with colleagues.
"She's probably one of the most caring and capable administrators you would ever want to meet," Delaware said. "She relates to all kinds of people and is just a fine person. She's the kind of person who gives 150 percent with every endeavor."
Boyenga said she has 20 wonderful teachers who have inspired her to do the best she could. She said it's exciting to see students grow academically and in terms of maturity. She wants to work on a doctoral degree in education in the near future.
Challenges? Boyenga said getting students to improve their writing abilities is a major challenge, as is dealing with students who have different skill levels within each classroom.
"This is a great town, community," Boyenga said. "One of the ways to give back is to provide world-class educational opportunities for the students of Atwater. We focus on students and have a really outstanding staff that is willing to go the extra mile to motivate students."
Karen Camp teaches sixth grade at Olaeta, where she has been for 26 years.
"She's a very inspirational leader," Camp said. "She's high energy, very focused and supportive of students, teachers and parents."
Boyenga's brother, Costa Aguilar, is principal at Golden Valley High School. He said what his sister has done is remarkable and he is delighted that the fruits of her labor have been recognized.
"She keeps me very motivated," Aguilar said.
Tad Massa, the parent of kindergarten and second-grade students, said the school is blessed to have Boyenga as principal and marvels that she knows everyone's name.
Brenda Hall, a first-grade teacher at Olaeta School, said Boyenga leads by example and sets high standards for herself and the school, which is contagious.
Rita Cardenas retired in 2007 from a 37-year educational career that included 25 years of teaching at Olaeta. Now she volunteers at the school and jokingly calls it her second home.
"The staff loves her," Cardenas said. "She's a real gift for this school and we see lots of positive things. She's very good and deserves that award."
Boyenga's award covers principals in Merced, Madera, Mariposa and Fresno counties. She has been an association member since 2001 and was the group's 2008-2009 president.
Boyenga said the school has implemented a strategic schooling model, which sets clear and ambitious targets. She said one question that is constantly being asked is what can be done to better themselves.
The school recently received an 830 API score on state achievement testing, and Boyenga hopes the momentum continues, with an 860 score-target for the round of tests now being administered.
Boyenga is especially proud that Olaeta's English-language learners subgroup logged an 817 API score the last time around.
"It's hectic and busy. It's about being the best we can be."
Boyenga graduated from Atwater High School in 1989 and received a bachelor's degree in liberal studies in 1994 from California State University, Stanislaus, and a master's degree in 2006 in school administration.
She taught at Mitchell and Peggy Heller elementary schools before a stint in the district office before becoming principal at Olaeta.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.