LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Patricia DiVasto

Position: Assistant Principal, Fine Arts Academy
School: Rio Rancho High School
School District: Rio Rancho Public Schools
City, State: Rio Rancho, NM

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Patricia DiVasto was nominated by a family member, Tamara Strauss.

First Lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” This quote personifies Principal DiVasto’s career in education.

Principal DiVasto started her career in education as a math teacher in the Albuquerque Public School (APS) system at Truman Middle School. Eight years later, she moved to Lincoln Middle School. When she made the move, Lincoln was a newer school in the developing community of Rio Rancho. At the time, Rio Rancho was changing from a rural suburb of Albuquerque to a bustling community with its own identity. Shortly after her arrival at Lincoln, Principal DiVasto became part of a group who believed Rio Rancho schools could break away from APS and form a new district. She believed Rio Rancho could better serve its students if the community had control of its own schools. Today, Rio Rancho is one of the top performing districts in the state.

After nearly twenty years in the classroom, Principal DiVasto made the leap into administration. She started as an assistant principal at Lincoln where she was a teacher. Soon after getting acclimated to the position, she was encouraged to become a principal by Lincoln's former principal, Richard Von Anoken, but she thought she wasn’t capable enough to occupy the top slot. Then, a principal position opened up at another Rio Rancho school, Stapleton Elementary, and her mentor, Linda Sanasac, told her it was time. She said she wasn’t ready, but Linda told her she was being ridiculous, and she jumped off the cliff – not to where she wanted to go, but where she ought to be.

Principal DiVasto spent four years as Stapleton’s principal. There, she realized she had her own vision of how to run a school and slowly she became comfortable sitting in the big chair. In 2016, Principal DiVasto was looking for a change – a smaller school, a Montessori program – and an opportunity opened up at Sandia Vista Elementary School.

At the time, Sandia Vista was a low-performing school with great potential. When Principal DiVasto arrived, the school had a D rating. She found a school where students weren’t getting what they needed, and some of the staff were disengaged. Principal DiVasto acknowledges that she came to Sandia Vista as the “bad guy.” She may have been the bad guy, but this bad guy had to make changes - and make them fast. Ever the math teacher, she knew that the standardized test results could help her chart a path to improvement. Principal DiVasto immediately hired an instructional coach to help her parse the data. Listening to the data, Principal DiVasto rewrote teacher schedules and formulated Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) made up of teachers teaching the same grade. The PLCs looked at the data and determined what students needed to focus on. This sounds like a basic concept, but it was revolutionary for Sandia Vista.

Another basic thing Principal DiVasto instituted was a culture of accountability with her teachers – this meant that teachers needed to get to work on time, standardize how they taught, and engage with each other about struggling students. Principal DiVasto recognized that this culture of accountability would not be for everyone, and she was honest about it. She knew not every teacher would fit into the culture she was driving.

Principal DiVasto emphasized that focusing on what the data was telling her and the PLCs did not mean Sandia Vista became a white coat laboratory. Quite the opposite. The school is a warm and fuzzy place, and she put greater structure in place to make sure it is warm and fuzzy for everyone. For example, Sandia Vista has solid Student Assistance Teams (SATs). If a teacher feels like a specific student is struggling, a teacher can go to a SAT and talk about what the student needs, whether it's a different setting or different approach. She also got rid of homework so families could spend their evenings enjoying each other rather than pouring over worksheets. The only thing she asks is that families read together.

Two years after the "bad guy" stepped into Sandia Vista, the school received an A rating. Two years! Principal DiVasto used the data, held people accountable, and created meaningful structures. All of these things sound so simple, but by doing each of them, every day, she took a failing school to a high-performing one. She took people from where they didn’t even know they could go to where they ought to be.

Now that Principal DiVasto has built this high-performing school, she’s sitting back and enjoying the view from top, right? Of course not! She has embraced Dr. Sharrocky Hollie’s “Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning.” Using Dr. Hollie’s concepts and data, she’s answering the question of how a school meets all students where they are while pushing them to where they ought to be.

Additionally, her school has partnered with the Ronald McDonald House to build a national fundraising template that benefits both the Ronald McDonald House and the school. She sees this partnership as one that’s teaching students, teachers, and administrators the value of altruism for altruism’s sake. She strongly disagrees with the idea of fundraising to win prizes or other individual recognition. For Principal DiVasto, the partnership is about the school connecting with its community and deepening its internal connections because of a shared goal.

Principal DiVasto believes in the concept of outrageous love—not something you’d expect to hear from a data-driven, former math teacher. “Students just need so much love,” she said. And it’s with love that Principal DiVasto moves her school to where it ought to be.

Comments (43)

Ali Bunting Posted over a year ago

Patricia is an inspiring leader. We’re so fortunate to have passionate educators like her helping to shape the future of our children!

Jeanne Lotito Posted over a year ago

I have known Patricia since the 1970's. She has always stood out above the crowd so this is a well-deserved nomination.

Lorraine Romero Posted over a year ago

Patricia, You've helped to change this world. What an amazing woman you are. We go back a long way and your path in this life took you to levels that you worked long and hard for. You are so so loved and you know what you are loved by me!! I am so PROUD of you!! Lorraine

Janet Molicki Posted over a year ago

Patricia is an educator to her core. Her students will always come first. She has turned schools around and has made a major difference in the lives of so many of her young people.

Suzanne Nguyen Posted over a year ago

Patricia is an incredibly warm, kind, and loving person. She is an outstanding principal and educational leader. In addition to her wonderful disposition, she is extremely intelligent, reliable, and hard working. If you need anything, go to Patricia and she gets it done! She is a highly respected individual and has a way of making everyone feel welcome, and very special. Children and adults alike simply love Patricia. She is an inspiration to all of us with her dedication and commitment to all students.

britnye Posted over a year ago

Mis DiVasto was my high school Principal at Rio Rancho and she was the best principal at the school at that time... love you

Jason Posted over a year ago

Ms DiVasto is awesome she was the assistant principal at Lincoln middle school when I was in middle school. She was also an assistant principal and administrator while I was a student at Rio Rancho High School.

Madge Johnson Posted over a year ago

When Pat was an assistant principal at Rio Rancho High School, I was her secretary. This was the “big time” for me and I had no idea what I was doing. She took me under her wing from day one and I saw compassions and tough love combine to meet student needs. With a student population of about 3000 students, many days, I felt like I was working in a circus but Pat was the ring leader and lead, she did. She dealt with discipline issues daily as an assistant principal and the students knew she could be tough but caring. It was such an honor to work for “Miss DiVasto” and she was, yes, a life changer for me.

Antoinette Metzgar Posted over a year ago

Patricia DiVasto is a very special person and friend. I met her while student teaching at Lincoln Middle School. There is where our friendship began. As my children went through school, Ms. DiVasto was always there. First, as their friend and then as their Principal. She has been a huge advocate and cheerleader for my children. I will always be grateful that my own kids were touched by her love and commitment to education.

Deanna Posted over a year ago

I had the privilege of teaching two years at Stapleton Elementary. Mrs. Divasto was the kind of leader that encouraged me to guide my students in the classroom with confidence. She was a strong leader and an expert in her field of education.

Wendy Robinson Lorenzen Posted over a year ago

Pat is priceless! I just showed her picture to my now middle schooler who has had a difficulty switching to middle school. He said, "Mom, I miss her so much! She loves me!" If a principal takes enough time to show a very spacial needs boy love, then she IS a life changer!! She understands his very unique thought process and gets in HIS world to show him love... literally every single day of his time with her. She is beyond a life changer. She shows kids who are outside of the "norm" that they matter. She celebrates with the autistic kid who is in his second year of 5th grade and is reading at a kindergarten level. She understands that he has shown gains and makes him feel amazing for them! What more could you ask for? What more love would you wish showered on your child? She changed the game at Sandia Vista. She's not only changed his life, but my 11 year old daughter's life, and mine. She is so deserving of this award! Please see her dedication from the "normal" Ed to the "special" Ed and how she loves them all as if they are members of a family... her family!

Nicole Garduno Posted over a year ago

I have had the honor of knowing principle DiVasto for more then 20 years she knows my whole family and has thought us all. She inspired me to be a better person to strive in school and to better myself she helped me when I had little to nothing and pushed me to get where I am today if it wasn't for her I probably would have took the wrong path in high school and I am very grateful for her.

Naomi Garcia Posted over a year ago

I was a first year teacher when Ms. DiVasto started at Sandia Vista. She gave me opportunities that most principals would overlook in a new teacher. I always appreciated her feedback. She was always so supportive of not only my career, but life outside of work. I couldn’t be more grateful to have worked with her!

Ashley Posted over a year ago

Keep up the hardwork

Jennifer Jeffers Posted over a year ago

There are not enough words to describe how truly special and amazing Pat DiVasto is. If every administrator had the integrity and character she has then this school district wouldn't be as awful as it is at the middle school level. Everyone should follow her example. She truly cares for everyone and she makes the world a better place.

Evan Grasser Posted over a year ago

I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Pat DiVasto for 5 years. As as a colleague, friend and former supervisor I have seen her amazing work in a variety of roles. She is passionate about her students first and foremost - she works tirelessly to promote an environment which fosters success. In order to ensure her students are successful she focuses on the strengths of her campus professions working together to build a culture of high expectations and exemplary performance. Pat has incredible energy and vision!

PPR Posted over a year ago

Mrs. DiVasto is not only an educator who leaves an impact on students she teaches, colleagues she works with, and staff she leads, she is one of those rare people who leaves her mark on all of those she meets. She takes time to get to know her students, families, and staff members and works to help them reach their potential.

Stephanie Nieto Posted over a year ago

I have known Pat for many years now in three different capacities. When I was a student at Lincoln Middle School she was a math teacher. I never had her as a teacher but many of my friends always had nice things to say about her. She was a very popular teacher with all of the middle school students. Fast forward 10 years and I am a teacher at Ernest Stapleton Elementary where Pat was the Assistant Principal. She was very supportive of me as a special education teacher and always gave me the necessary tools to do what was best for my students. As a teacher working under the supervision of Pat, I appreciated her feedback and guidance. She is very direct, but kind. She made a comment to me after an observation that forever impacted my career. Within her feedback she encouraged me to move forward within an administrative capacity. I'm not sure that she understands that she planted the seed that has encouraged me within my professional career. I now have the pleasure of working with Pat as a peer. We are both Principals at elementary schools within the Rio Rancho Public School system. Pat is always someone that I can lean on for guidance. I have been able to witness Pat's growth throughout my education and professional careers. Pat is very important within our community and she has done a lot for the students and staff that she serves.

Linda Sanasac Posted over a year ago

Pat and I have worked together for many years. I personally watched her evolve from a teacher of math, to a teacher of students, to a loving change agent of students, teachers and even parents. Pat's success comes from years of dedication, personal commitment and determination, but most of all, the ability and willingness to never stay status quo, but always look for a better way to improve the learning community around her. I have never been with anyone who seems to know everyone like Pat. It seems like no matter where we go, someone is always coming up to her, with a big smile, to say hello. As a teacher and administrator myself, I have someone occasionally come up to me and ask if I remember them. I do, but vaguely. Pat remembers their names and all about their family. She really makes a difference in the lives of everyone who is fortunate to know and work with her. She is one of a kind! Oh, and she does it all with an amazing sense of humor. What could be better?

Sam Johnson Posted over a year ago

I am a parent of kids that attended Stapleton Elementary during your tenure there. We always thought Principal DiVasto was the best Principal that we had ever had, and were sad when she left. However she built a survivable structure, and our last child of four still receives a great education at Stapleton because of it. We also thought she was amazing to attend our children’s singing event every October at their Church. She not only did great things at school, she was caring and involved with her students outside of school. Because of this, my children knew that she believed in them. Success comes on a two way street. Thank you for making a positive impact on my family.

Guadalupe Sosa Posted over a year ago

Ms. DiVasto was my middle school math teacher, which was nearly 36 years ago. Her influence wasn't just profound in her teaching ability but also as a role model. To see a woman with skills in the arena of mathematics is one of the reasons why I never underestimated my ability to do anything as a woman. I looked to my future and went into the male dominated field of Achirtecture. A field that required math and physics. There are programs around the country trying to influence young girls to pursue fields in math and science. I was lucky to get that from Ms DiVasto a generation ago. I was so fortunate to have a positive math role model in my formative years. I am truly lucky to have some influence my life so positively. Sincerely, Guadalupe Sosa

Kara Mignone Posted over a year ago

I have had the honor of knowing Patricia since birth. Whenever I am in Patricia's company, I always have a smile on my face. She has a way of making you feel special and lights up any room that she is in with her stories, kind heart, and genuine interest in you as a person. Being an educator myself, I have always looked up to Patricia and admired her hard work and dedication. I am always amazed at how passionate she is about the field of education, and look to her for advice when it comes to my own students. I am in awe at all that she has achieved and continues to achieve in this profession. She is truly an inspiration.

Noreen Rochford Posted over a year ago

Pat is one of the kindest, most generous, caring, hard working, and energetic people l know. She has a joy and appreciation for life that is infectious! I am blessed to have her in my live and lucky to call her friend.

Alexa Gartiser Posted over a year ago

I have had the honor of knowing Patricia for my whole life. She has lead by example of how to be a great leader and teacher. Patricia has always believed in me and always puts a smile on my face with her stories and her kindness. She has taught me how to be the best educator I can be at my school and how to never give up on my goals and dreams. Patricia is very deserving to receive this award. I have never met anymore more dedicated to her students and staff. Patricia will always be there to support you in whatever life throws your way.

V. Sue Cleveland Posted over a year ago

Patricia is a warm and caring person, a strong principal, and an educational leader. As Superintendent of the Rio Rancho Public Schools, I have had the opportunity to work with her for the past 25 years. I first met Pat when she was a math teacher at Lincoln Middle School. I found many parents worked every possible angle to get their children enrolled in her classes. She has worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels and improved teaching and learning wherever assigned. Her current school, Sandia Vista Elementary, went from a "D" to and "A" under her leadership. Patricia has been invited to serve on many committees/task forces during her career, and through that participation, she made a positive impact at the district, state, and national levels. She is energetic, determined, and has a great sense of humor. Pat DiVasto is definitely deserving of this recognition.

Jo-Anne Mignone Posted over a year ago

I have known Patricia for 59 years.I am blessed by the thousands of smiles, laughter, and tears we've shared that linger in my heart. Patricia is kind, sensitive, a great listener and a woman who always puts her staff, her students and her school first...Patricia will fight for what she believes in and will let nothing get in her way . As an Educator she has put her heart and soul into everything she has achieved . Patricia is one of the smartest people I know . She has been such an inspiration to me and a treasure to my life. Patricia is a dedicated individual whose work ethic goes above and beyond. I recommend Patricia for LifeChanger of the Year .

Jaime David Posted over a year ago

Mrs. DiVasto advocates for children in every way! She is committed to the learning, safety and growth of all students and it is very appreciated. Thank you, Mrs. DiVasto!

Nina Garde Posted over a year ago

I have worked with Mrs. DiVasto for the past three years, and it has been a pleasure. She advocates for students and staff, and is willing to go the extra mile to get things done!

Angela Lattuca Haslach Posted over a year ago

I have known Patricia DiVasto since 1962 and have watched her weather many storms. No matter what goes on in her life she remains laser focused on the task at hand. Education has always been in the forefront of her mind. She is smart, compassionate, empathetic and a problem solver! She is instrumental in changing lives not only through the education system but through her friendships and love of people. Awarding Patricia the Life Changer of the Year Award will not only reward her for her hard work and dedication but will reflect highly on the Award itself having such an esteemed recipient.

Suzanne Citere Posted over a year ago

My sister is one of the hardest working people I know. Even when she is supposed to be on "vacation" and visiting me her mind is always on her school, faculty and above all her students and their families. She is always the first one to step up and help people when they need something, no matter how many things she has going on. She sets a great example for not only those who she works with, because she hasn't forgotten what it was like to be in the classroom as a teacher every day, but for all of us in our family as someone who is kind, compassionate and loyal. She is one of the friendliest people I know and always knows how to make everyone feel valued and included!!

Rose Masotto Posted over a year ago

Patricia has been a dear friend of mine since grammar school. She has devoted most of her life in the field of education. She is passionate about her job and cares deeply for her students and staff. Patricia has a wonderful rapport with people of all ages especially children.She is cheerful and has a smile for everyone she comes in contact with. Her hard work and leadership has made a positive impact on her school and community. I highly recommend Patricia for the Lifechanger of the Year Award.

Phyllis Aufiero Posted over a year ago

Patricia is my cousin who is more like a sister to me. She is one of the hardest working people I know. She goes above and beyond at her job and is extremely dedicated. She is passionate about education and her students. She has excelled at any position she has had and has made a difference in many lives. Even with the ups and downs of life , she has always kept focused on her job and done an exceptional job. She is well deserving of this recognition in being a life changer for children of all ages.

Cathy Lynch Posted over a year ago

Ms. Di Vasto is a Principal extraordinaire! She works tirelessly to make sure her school is on track to meet and exceed yearly expectations and goals. Her dedication in education and her care for students are beyond compare. She has a heart of gold and has never met a stranger! Ms.Di Vasto has been an integral part of RRPS and its success. Her passion is contagious, apparent in each fiber she has woven into her career as an exemplary leader.

Missy Posted over a year ago

We built a home just for our children to be at Sandia Vista. We loved the feeling that the school had, From the start we felt welcomed and heard. Both of my kids have excelled in confidence and in grades because of the environment that Mrs. Di Vasto has cultivated. She makes everyone want to be better, do better. Thank you Mrs. Di Vasto for all of the time and work to make my children feel important and brave. They both know that if you run into them in five years, ten years, you will know them and they will never forget you. You are a life changer!

Phyllis Aufiero Posted over a year ago

Patricia is my cousin , who is like a sister to me. She is one of the most hard working and dedicated people I know. She goes above and beyond for her work and her students. Her love for education and the children she works with is exceptional. She is passionate at what she does and has always excelled anywhere she worked. She is more them deserving of this recognition because she certainly has changed many lives in her career for the better.

Jeneva LiRosi Posted over a year ago

Patricia DiVasto has been a staple of the Rio Rancho community for decades. She has been a steadfast leader in the education community, impacting the lives of countless students. Patricia has always been a grass-roots changemaker, leading the charge to improve education outcomes by invoking passion in her students and the teachers she leads. In leading elementary schools, her family-first approach has reminded the community how much children benefit from the learning experience that comes with letting kids be kids. Rio Rancho is very lucky to have had the dedicated service of Patricia for so many years. Patricia’s work is always guided by what best serves her students, and it is her commitment to students that makes her extremely deserving of this nomination.

Christie Reynolds Posted over a year ago

I was a former student of Ms. DiVasto. I struggled a lot with math, but because she took the time to help me, I learned it. Ma. DiVasto is an amazing woman. Still to this day, she knows me. She knows all her former students. Thank you, Ms.DiVasto!

Maureen Storz Posted over a year ago

I have known Pat personally since 1993 and had the great honor of working for her in 1999. She recognized in me a talent for working with mid schoolers that I didn't see in myself. Because of her, I discovered the great joy of working with at risk students and changed the whole course of my career. Pat's ability to assess any situation in a fair and balanced way is, in my opinion, what makes her such a fine administrator. No one is more deserving of this nomination and award than Pat DiVasto

Naomi Elizabeth Montoya Posted over a year ago

Patricia DiVasto IS a Life Changer! She was the assistant principal at the school where I began my teaching career (21 years ago!) and I think I am the teacher I am today because of the many things I learned from her. She is an incredible leader who believes in tough love for the students and always provided stellar support and guidance to her teaching staff. She was respected by the school community as she handled really tough situations with grace and courage. She was a valuable mentor to me, as she also noticed and appreciated my hard work and dedication. I worked with her for four years, but although I took a job at another school district after that, I stayed in touch with her. Patricia is probably one of the primary reasons I stayed in education. We’ve stayed in touch despite being in different districts. I feel lucky to know her and lucky to have had the opportunity to see her do the amazing work she does and the difference that she makes - all often without accolades. She keeps a positive outlook, even during the most challenging situations. Patricia is truly a “sHERO!”

Miranda Jeantete Posted over a year ago

Pat is an incredible leader with a heart of gold! She has devoted 41 years of her life to education and I’ve been lucky to be by her side learning from her for the past two years. My favorite memories with Pat are the connections she has to the community! I cannot count the number of times she’s said ‘so and so is one of my former students?’ I’ve seen the students she’s talking about...they are first responders, chefs, business owners and more. The beauty in it all is that is she remembers them all and she treats them all as family! She truly loves outrageously and is deserving of this nomination!

Julia Henss Posted over a year ago

In 1994, I moved to Rio Rancho, New Mexico and had the pleasure of meeting Patricia DiVasto. Since then, she has been a co-worker, administrator, and friend. Her compassion and empathy are enormous, and she has more friends than anyone I have ever know. These are not just casual friends, but people she is committed to for life. As a former co-worker and employee, I have first-hand knowledge of Pat's commitment and dedication to her community and the people within it.. She has the strength of a fighter and the heart of a saint, and is dedicated to making her school, community, and the world, a better place. In spite of personal challenges in life, she always perseveres and bounces back to continue her good works. No one could deserve this nomination and award more than Patricia DiVasto. Her record in education speaks for itself. Although I didn't meet Pat until I was close to middle age, she is more than a friend to me, she is a sister for life.

Brook Lundie Posted over a year ago

Pat DiVasto is a true leader! She will have the tough conversations needed to implement change while remaining considerate of her staff's personal needs. She has high standards and a warm heart. I can't imagine a better combination for our children, staff, community and future! Pat is a go-getter who works hard to create a great learning environment. She is a daring leader and is willing to take chances. She acknowledges what doesn't work, learns from that and then goes on to succeed! Thank you, Pat, for being awesome You!

Janna Posted over a year ago

Pat DiVasto has been a staple of the Rio Rancho community. She is known for her dedication, determination and wit. Her ability to shape school culture and provide an environment for love and learning is well-known. She is well-deserving of this nomination and recognition. Thank you, Pat for your contribution to students, our community and our future.