Meet Pasadena Unified New School Leaders


3 women and 2 men photos over a building

(L-R) Marco Villegas, Ana Maria “Ria” Apodaca, Leonard Hernandez, Jr., Merian Stewart, and Merle Bugarin (Photos –,

The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) introduced new school leaders who have joined their team.

By News Desk

Meet the new leaders:

Marco Villegas, Ph.D.
Associate Superintendent of Specialized Student Support/SELPA

Dr. Villegas will be responsible for administering all programs and services for children with disabilities, leading cross-departmental strategic planning, improving standardized procedures and training for staff, strengthening collaborative partnerships with parents, and improving the organizational efficacy of the Special Education department.

Villegas joins PUSD from the Ontario-Montclair School District in San Bernardino County where he served as Regional Director of Learning and Teaching since 2015.

Dr. Villegas says:

I truly feel honored to join the Pasadena Unified School District family, and I am excited about the level of collaboration and the systems already in place that support students with disabilities. I look forward to partnering with general and special education educators and families to provide the best possible educational opportunities for all of our students.

Ana Maria “Ria” Apodaca
Director of Health Programs

Ms. Apodaca will lead the planning, development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of all district student health programs, including the delivery of health services, health education, staff development, and assistance pursuing competitive grants.

A member of the PUSD team since 1995 when she began her career as an educator, Ms. Apodaca moves to the Director of Health Programs position from her most recent post as a second and third-grade teacher at Madison Elementary School.

Ms. Apodaca says:

In these challenging times, services that support the health and well-being of our students, teachers, staff, and families have never been more essential and therefore the work of the Health Programs Department is even more valuable. I have been honored to have served PUSD for many years as both a teacher and an administrator and now I am honored to continue to serve our community by joining the Health Programs team as we continue our vital mission.

Leonard Hernandez, Jr.
Director of Maintenance, Operations, Transportation, and Facilities

Mr. Hernandez will lead the management of district-wide facilities planning, maintenance and repair functions, custodial services, transportation services, fleet management, utility management, and District safety, recycling, indoor air quality, and security programs.

Mr. Hernandez has served in high levels of school district facilities management, led facilities and operations for an 1,800-student school complex, taught JROTC, and retired from the U.S. Army as a Sergeant, First Class after more than two decades of honorable service.

Mr. Hernandez joins PUSD from the Pomona Unified School District. He says:

I am honored to join the PUSD team. As a former site administrator and classroom instructor, I know that the role of school facilities and maintenance is to support and serve students, teachers, and staff with clean facilities in good repair.  The facilities and maintenance team has a powerful influence on the educational experience of our students, staff, and families. I look forward to working collaboratively to provide excellent and caring service to our students and staff during the challenging times we face now and in the future.

Merian Stewart
Interim Principal of McKinley School

Dr. Merian Stewart will serve as the interim principal of McKinley School for the 2020-21 academic year. Dr. Stewart brings 29 years of steady experience as an elementary and middle school principal.

Dr. Merian served as principal of Franklin Elementary since 2016, where she ushered in a computer immersion program, and Washington STEAM Middle School from 2008-2016, where she led the school’s transition to a STEAM magnet school.

Dr. Stewart previously served as principal of Noyes Elementary and as Program and Services Director of D’Veal Family and Youth Services Mental Health Agency. She began her career as an instructional assistant in PUSD. Dr. Stewart brings experience with technology and her commitment to family and community partnerships.

Merle Bugarin
Interim Principal, Don Benito Fundamental Elementary School

Dr. Merle Bugarin will be the interim principal of Don Benito Fundamental Elementary for the 2020-21 academic year. Dr. Bugarin brings 23 years of experience as an elementary and middle school educator and administrator.  She successfully served as principal of Roosevelt Elementary for the last five years.

Prior to becoming a principal, she was a Teacher on Special Assignment coordinating the K-12 English Learner program for the Pasadena Unified School District for two years, a curriculum coach for twelve years and a classroom teacher for five years.

Dr. Bugarin has consistently mentored colleagues throughout her career. Her focus while at Roosevelt was to use a growth mindset model to develop learners who are curious, motivated to think critically, innovative in developing solutions, and strong communicators.

News Desk

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