After 38 years with the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, Superintendent Phil Alvarado recently marked his final last day of school as his retirement date loomed.
In a short span, he attended graduations for pre-schoolers, sixth-graders, junior high students and new teachers, covering key education milestones for 4-year-olds through adults.
“One of the things that is most surprising to me was how the message to all of those groups is the same, regardless of how old you are,” said Alvarado, who attended his district’s graduations and provided the keynote speech for the newly credentialed and master’s degree recipients from the Cal Poly School of Education.
“In its barest sense, as I shared with the graduates from Poly, ‘work hard and you’ll be noticed’ is something that I so firmly believe in,” he told Noozhawk. “The second one is, love what you’re doing. And the third one is, give back to your community.”
Alvarado announced earlier this year that he would retire June 30. In the ensuing months, he was showered with accolades, including receiving honors from the teachers’ and classified employees’ unions, a resolution from the Santa Maria City Council and many more.
“These last two months in particular have been extremely emotional,” he said during the June 2 City Council meeting. “You come to a point where every day is your last day of doing something. I don’t know if anything will top this.”
At the meeting, Alvarado hailed the strong relationship that the district and the city have had over the years.
“Phil looks at issues and challenges as problems that can be overcome and opportunities and possibilities …,” said City Manager Rick Haydon, noting the school district and city have worked together on numerous projects.
“I think the school district, the teachers and the students have been blessed over the last several years with a man of his integrity at the helm.”
Alvarado’s final school board meeting brought more honors, including a top leadership award presented by several principals from the district’s managers’ group.
According to Alvarado, his years working for the district — including as an instructional aide, a teacher and administrator — have “absolutely flown by.”
After all these years and job promotions, he said, he thinks his legacy is that he has not forgotten his core values, and the biggest compliment is that has remained the same person regardless of what title he held.
“I’m a real simple guy, a simple guy grounded in some basic common sense values that have always worked,” Alvarado said.
Now that he’s retired, he said he plans to do “a little bit of everything.”
“The first on the agenda is to re-acquaint myself with relaxation and playing,” he said, pointing out that he had been a manager for 31 years since becoming a principal at a young age. “It’s just learning how to slow down a little bit.”
A native of Santa Maria, Alvarado has deep roots in the valley, and intends to remain in the community, where he will stay active helping nonprofit organizations. He has been very involved in Gen-Span Foundation, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley and Cruzin’ for Life, among others.
His connection to Santa Maria-Bonita schools began before he received his first paycheck since he attended the local schools as a student.
He met his wife, Cindy, while he was in eighth grade and she was a seventh-grader at El Camino Junior High School. They have been married 35 years. They have two daughters, Amanda and Alicia, and a grandchild.
Alvarado intended to pursue a career in photography and was set to attend Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara.
But after working as an instructional aide, a teacher — Ken Milo, who went on serve on the school board — suggested Alvarado would have a great career in education if his original pursuit didn’t work out.
Milo was the first of many mentors Alvarado had in his career.
“As I told the Poly graduates just the other day, others will recognize potential that you have before you do,” Alvarado said.
He said the time is right for retirement since it comes after district voters passed a school bond and the district’s 20th campus is ready to open in the fall.
“I’m the kind of person who could work forever,” Alvarado said. “I love this job. I love this district, and it’s just been absolutely the most incredible journey that I think anyone in this profession could ask for.”