New Ireland principal to stress reading

Mercedes “Cede” Shirley will soon be taking on her first principal role at Ireland Elementary School. She has served in a variety of roles with ECISD and other districts. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Mercedes “Cede” Shirley will soon take on her first principal assignment at Ireland Elementary School.

Currently the assistant principal at Blackshear Elementary, Shirley started with Ector County ISD in 2006 serving in a variety of roles from teaching to assistant principal. She taught in New Braunfels for six years before returning to ECISD.

“I’m really excited for the next step. It’s kind of been my focus for the last few years to get back into administration and this is … where I wanted to land as administration was in a principal role,” Shirley said.

The Odessa native said she is happy about working with teachers that she went to school with and some that worked with her mother-in-law, Julie Shirley, for years.

“It’s a very comfortable place to be and I’m really excited to pick up where Mr. Ortiz, the current principal, has left off. They’ve brought that campus up to a B, and we’re going to try to raise it up to an A for this next year. It’s in a good position,” Shirley said.

She added that she is trying to fill some teacher openings.

“But we’ve got a really good solid base of a staff, so I think we’ll be ready to hit the ground running,” Shirley said.

Noe Ortiz, the current principal at Ireland, is moving to become principal of Crockett Middle School, which will be transitioning to a middle years International Baccalaureate program.

“The goal for Ireland is to create an environment that is comfortable and happy for all of my teachers and students. I want to integrate a culture of reading on our campus. We’ve really talked about this a lot. I want to engage with some authors to do some visits. I want to really unite my campus in the special areas like PE, library and our STEM” and connect them, she said.

If they are working on poetry in fourth grade, she wants to see it not only offered in the library, but also in the classroom and at PE and music.

Shirley said she is a big proponent of Donalyn Miller and her book “The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child” and giving students solid, sheltered time for independent reading.

“I want to see books in kids’ hands. It’s very important and I think sometimes we lose sight of that because they have their devices in their hand all the time. … I believe in blended learning. We need both, but I do want to see books in kids’ hands,” Shirley said.

All ECISD campuses have some blended learning. According to the Learning A-Z website, blended learning is “an educational methodology that blends online or digital components with face-to-face instruction. Including technology in education helps set students up for success later in life.”

“All of the kids have a one-to-one device so they have access either to an iPad or a Chromebook,” she added.

Born and raised in Odessa, Shirley earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from University of Texas Permian Basin and she has post-baccalaureate certifications in special education kindergarten through 12; general education early childhood through fourth grade, general education fourth through eighth grade and a principal certification kindergarten through 12th grade from the Texas Education Agency.

She was excited to get the principal assignment at Ireland.

“I applied for and got to join a group of five other administrators this year in an Aspiring Principal Academy. The director of leadership led us and we have met once a month all year this year. That has really helped prepare me for the position, but it has also given me some connection with other aspiring leaders in that same group. …,” Shirley said.

“When I was asked to apply for the job … I wasn’t really planning on it. … This was going to come in the next few years and when I was asked to apply for a couple of jobs, I was a little hesitant but I thought I’ll go through the interview process. But when I sat down with my Ireland crew for the interview, it was just so comfortable and it was just really exciting. I think we all kind of felt like yes this is a good fit, so that was really energizing. After the interview, I thought okay, yeah this could be my spot right here. You know you can feel it when you talk to a group,” Shirley added.

She said she also feels like she has a support network from fellow principals and Principal Valerie Rivera.

“Ms. Rivera has been a mentor to me since my early teaching days. She has been so helpful and really let me step in and take a lot of administrative duties that a lot of APs don’t get to do. We’ve worked really well together and I really have a lot of respect and reverence for her, for what she’s done and how she’s grown me as an administrator,” Shirley said.

Rivera said the quote “A great person is the person who makes every person feel great” best describes Shirley.

“She is one that always walks into a room with a smile, greets everyone personally, making them feel great and noticed. She is great with kids; always hugs on them and praises them. She knows how to motivate people and gets them to put effort into their work and goals. She is a great motivator for all,” Rivera added.

Shirley didn’t intend to go into education until she was at the end of her college career.

“My last year I went and finished up and then went to Region 18 (Education Service Center) to do my teacher certification. Then I was at Dowling for four years as a special ed teacher, then moved into gen ed (general education). In 2011, I decided to go back and get my master’s degree. I finished that in 2012,” she said.

Her master’s degree, also from UTPB, is in education leadership.

Shirley has other educators in her family. Her mother-in-law taught in the district for 30 years and spent 17 of those years at Ireland. Her sister-in-law is a fourth-grade teacher at LBJ Elementary School.

This was Shirley’s first year at Blackshear, but she had worked with Principal Valerie Rivera previously.

Shirley was glad to come back to Odessa. She and her husband, Dossie, have two sons and two grandchildren.

“My sons are 26 and 23. They both moved when we moved to New Braunfels. They were there for a few years and my youngest finished up high school and they both decided to move back here because of the oilfield. They could make better money. So they both moved back here, which meant my husband and I quickly moved back especially when we found out we were having grandbabies. We had two beautiful grandbabies this year. I have a granddaughter that’s 6 months old, and a grandson that is 4 months old. … We were very happy to come home,” Shirley said.

Her father, Sam Gonzalez, has lived here his whole life and her mom, Jill, moved here after she married Sam.

“My family has been here for generations. My husband’s family has also been here for generations, the Shirley family, so both of our families are pretty rooted here in West Texas,” Shirley added.