Brenda Arroyo and Susan Thomas, Highland Middle School principals

October is National Principals Month! Our principals work hard each and every day to promote student well-being and support our exceptional staff. Throughout the month we will be featuring some of the principals you know and love and highlight what makes them unique.

Susan Thomas and Brenda Arroyo can have an entire conversation with limited words – the two finish each other’s sentences and communicate seamlessly with non-verbal communication. It’s no wonder that this dynamic team is working together so well at Highland Middle.

Thomas, principal, and Arroyo, assistant principal, are both new to Highland, but have worked together in the past. Thomas was previously the principal at Tyee Middle School with decades before that as an educational leader, instructional specialist and classroom teacher. Arroyo has worked in education for nearly 15 years and was most recently director of special education for the Bellevue School District. They will tell you that they bring different strengths to their work, but describe their values as being aligned. “We are both here for the kids and for the teachers,” says Thomas. Their partnership also inspires each other. “I want to work more because I work with Susan,” says Arroyo.

Thomas started her career as an elementary music teacher. She majored in music and was encouraged to earn a music education degree. “I took my education courses, student taught and fell in love with working with kids,” Thomas explains. “27 years later and I still love it.” Thomas and her husband have three dogs and she describes herself as a homebody – unless she’s out at a concert. This summer, she particularly enjoyed Debbie Harry and the Gypsy Kings. In her work at Highland, Thomas focuses on collaboration and demonstrating compassion and respect. “We make our connections through building relationships and collaborating for a common purpose.”

Arroyo personally understands the struggles of students who do not speak English as their first language or face other barriers to education. She was inspired to pursue education and work with children because of her own experiences moving to the U.S. as a child. She talks openly about needing to learn English in order to meet grade standards, while also adapting to a new culture. “I see myself in each student,” describes Arroyo. “I find myself motivated by being a small part of their journey to discovering what they can accomplish in life no matter their circumstances.” She describes herself as someone who identifies with the BSD value of service. “I am a firm believer that I am not above any job that needs to get done,” says Arroyo. “I’ll step in to do anything that needs to be done to serve our students and families, as well as standing behind teachers to do their best every day.” She enjoys spending time with family and friends – especially her two children. They keep active connecting as a family and favorite activities include bowling, hiking, skiing, paddle boarding and scuba diving!

What else do Thomas and Arroyo share? Outside of work, they both love their labradoodles. Of their partnership at Highland, both identify challenges, opportunities and shared strengths. “We can’t reach each student without a team,” says Arroyo.