Sunnyside chief proud of efforts
Arizona Daily Star

Bejarano to get Mexican honor

By Carmen Duarte


Tucson, Arizona | Published:

Raúl Bejarano, superintendent of Sunnyside Unified School District, will be presented with the prestigious Ohtli award by the Mexican consul during festivities marking Mexico's Independence Day, Sept. 16.

Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives the award to Mexicans or Mexican-Americans who have dedicated their lives to better the well-being of Mexican nationals.

The award — a medal and diploma — is presented to those who are trail blazers and have helped younger generations, according to the consulate. The presentation is set for 9:30 p.m. Saturday during Mexican Independence Day festivities at Sunnyside High School.

"I am very honored and as an educator I feel very proud that I have done everything that I could to further all students from all backgrounds," Bejarano said in an interview last week.

He mentioned his work in developing bilingual education programs and English as a Second Language programs to help students progress, graduate from high school and attend college. "I helped move them forward like other people helped me move forward," he said.

Bejarano, 60, a native of Nogales, Ariz., who was raised in Tumacacori, has been an educator for 37 years. He attended the University of Arizona, earning a bachelor's degree in education, a master's in education administration and a doctorate in education.

The former butcher and baker began teaching Spanish in Nogales High School and also worked as an athletic director, assistant principal, principal and superintendent in the Nogales Unified School District.

He was hired as superintendent of the Sunnyside district in 2000 and plans on retiring in June. Bejarano is credited with bringing stability to the district, which has 21 schools and serves nearly 17,000 pre-schoolers through 12th-grade students, 88 percent of whom are Hispanic.

In six years, the district's graduation rate fluctuated between 55 percent and 61 percent. The district attendance rate since 2000 remained between 93 percent and 94 percent.

Most recently, the Arizona School Administrators Superintendents' Division named Bejarano the 2006 All-Arizona superintendent for large school districts. The selection was based on nominations from his staff, which included a summary of Bejarano as an educator who "understands the urgency of doing what needs to be done for children."

Bejarano gave credit to his parents and Nogales High School teachers for helping form who he is today.

"I had good teachers who provided the incentive for me to go into teaching," said Bejarano, remembering his Spanish teacher, Frank Amado, who accepted him and expected the best from him. He also recalled English teacher Doris Seibold, who he said brought out the best from students and taught them to be proud of their heritage, piquing his interest in studying his ancestral roots.

Bejarano was the youngest of four children, and the one to graduate from college. His mother, Lucila, cared for the family, while his father, who died at age 43, worked as a vaquero on Baca Float Ranch in the Santa Cruz Valley and as an agricultural worker.

"They always expected the best from us, and expected us to do well in school," Bejarano said. "My mother was my inspiration for finishing school," he said. Lucila Bejarano, 87, lives in Tumacacori.

Before he retires next year, Bejarano said he will continue working to develop a community initiative that will involve families, businesses and neighborhood leaders to work on improving graduation rates and remain involved in children's education within the district.

"There is more work to be done, and when I retire I know I will miss being in the classroom. I'm sure I will get involved in educational issues down the road," Bejarano said.

That is when he and his wife, Christine, who have three grown children, are not at work remodeling a 90-year-old adobe home in Tumacacori that belonged to Bejarano's grandparents.

"I want to rebuild it," said Bejarano. "The area is so beautiful and I want the property to stay in the family."

● This story appeared in Wednesday's La Estrella de Tucson. ● Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or at