Munoz Taking Helm at Fairfax High
Zachary Muñoz believes that if he can earn a Ph.D. in education and become a high school principal, then any one of the 500 freshman attending Fairfax High School have at least as good a shot at success.
Muñoz was named the first principal of Fairfax High, the Phoenix Union High School District’s newest school. Though both of his parents were educators, Muñoz said he was only an average student who didn’t really take his academics seriously until the end of his sophomore year at Glendale Community College.
“I’ve had to work at (academics),” he said. “I’m proud of my accomplishments this far—I never thought I would be completing my doctorate.”
“If I can do it,” he added, “anybody can.”
Muñoz is one of six children; he was born at St. Joseph’s hospital and raised in Glendale. His parents grew up in the mining town of Globe and it was Muñoz’ dad—the first Mexican American teacher in the Glendale Unified School District—who inspired his son to follow in his footsteps. His father passed away this spring.
“My dad was a big influence on me,” he said. “I watched him impact students.”
Muñoz has been an educator for 19 years now. After graduating with a bachelor’s from Arizona State University, he became a physical education and health instructor at Carl Hayden High School and Maryvale High School, until he was tapped to become the Assistant Principal for Activities at North High. He stayed at North High, eventually taking on the job of Principal, until this move to Fairfax.
As a new school, Fairfax is building its classes with in-coming freshmen only; this first year there are nearly 500 freshmen, 70 percent Hispanic.
You can hear the passion in Muñoz’ voice when he speaks about his career: “You get an opportunity to drive the bus,” he said of being a principal. “There are a lot of things I like about it—you really are on the ground floor of impacting students’ achievement.”
His goals are simple but concrete: “They’re just pretty focused: high academics and strong character for our students. I guess I could add we want our students involved in their school. I think the goal is to have our school known as a high academic institute.”
Fairfax already offers honors classes, but Muñoz is ensuring that Advanced Placement courses will be instituted. He also speaks about ways to encourage students’ learning of the “hidden curriculum”—the skills one needs to be successful in school.
“The number one thing is we put our students first,” he said. “Their interest is always my top priority: this school is their school. This is their community.”
Nora Gutierrez, who is Assistant Superintendent for the Phoenix Union High School District, said when he wants to relax, Muñoz is all about football and probably happiest when watching a game.
“But in the workplace,” Gutierrez said, “his priority is student achievement. Zack is a very effective leader and I’m proud to say he’s a principal in this district.”
Gutierrez and Muñoz met seven years ago as assistant principals. She said he has “a very calm, relaxing, caring demeanor” and added, “he’s a listener—a very good listener.”
“I’ve been told that I’m a no-nonsense type of person,” Muñoz said of his leadership style. “I set high expectations for my teachers and hold them accountable for the success of our students.”
In his free time, Muñoz and his family like to relax at their cabin in Show Low, fishing in the summers and skiing in the winter. He and his wife, Patricia, have three daughters—Danielle, Talia and Alyssa—and the oldest two will be heading off to high school soon.
Despite that the family lives in Peoria, will the girls attend Fairfax, too?
“Quite possible,” Muñoz said. “We’re looking at that.”