At Kendale Elementary School, principal Mary Ann Gil-Alonso was known for doing whatever it took to put a smile on a child’s face.
When she wasn’t meeting with teachers or helping a student in need, she could be seen rollerskating around the school, visiting classrooms dressed as the Cat in the Hat, or planning celebrations for the kids.
“She was just extremely full of life,” said Barbara Mendizábal, the South Region superintendent for the Miami-Dade school district. “She loved what she was doing. She loved being with children.”
Gil-Alonso died on Sept. 27 at the age of 47 after a seven-year battle with cancer. She worked up until Hurricane Irma, determined to do as much as possible for the school. One of her last projects was decorating the front office to make it nicer for the school staff.
“If she had to pick up a hammer or if she had to pick up a broom or if she had to pick up a microphone, it didn’t matter,” said Rosy Andrade, the parent of two Kendale Elementary students. “She was an easygoing person, very humble.”
Gil-Alonso transferred to Kendale Elementary at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, after a combined fifteen years as the principal of two North Miami schools, Benjamin Franklin K-8 Center and W.J. Bryan Elementary. At each school, Gil-Alonso worked hard not only to improve the academics, but also to beautify the grounds, partnering with parents to plant trees, create gardens and decorate the school.
“There was no limit to what she would do to create that feeling that every student had the opportunity to skyrocket out of there, to be whoever they wanted to be,” said School Board member Lubby Navarro.
Although Gil-Alonso was only at Kendale for a little over a year, she managed to transform the school inside and out, Andrade said. She accomplished so much that parents and staff called her “Wonder Woman.” At her funeral, the teachers wore Wonder Woman t-shirts in her honor.
But while it came naturally to her, Gil-Alonso didn’t always know she wanted to be a principal, recalled her mother, Felicia Gil. When she was about to graduate from high school, Gil-Alonso had no idea what she wanted to study. On a whim, she applied for a job at a church after-school program and within days she realized that she had found her calling.
After college, Gil-Alonso got a job as a teacher in the Miami-Dade school district and quickly worked her way up. “She was very energetic, very creative, it was like every job was too small,” Gil said. “She always wanted to do more.”
Gil-Alonso was also carrying on a family tradition. Her mother worked for the Miami-Dade school district for 39 years, serving as the principal of four different schools. Throughout her career, Gil-Alonso called her mother nearly every day to tell her about the projects she was working on and to ask for her advice. Gil-Alonso’s father, Modesto Gil, also helped out at the schools with the gardening and beautification projects.
Gil-Alonso applied the same love and dedication she brought to her job to her family, her mother said. She married her high school sweetheart, Domingo Alonso, and they had two children, Victoria, now 16, and Dominic, 12. Gil-Alonso is also survived by her sister, Frances Rodriguez.
She leaves behind a lasting impact on the school district, said School Board Chair Larry Feldman. “She will be missed, but her legacy of tenacity, perseverance and determination will have a lasting impact on all she touched.”