Terry Davis always felt a sense of comfort when she brought her daughter to Santa Monica Alternative School House each morning.
“Every day that I walked off campus after I dropped her off I thanked our lucky stars,” Davis said.
Davis was grateful because she was leaving her child in the hands of Tamara Mugalian, a longtime teacher at SMASH.
The campus community is now mourning the loss of Mugalian, who died at home Feb. 9 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 50.
A celebration of Mugalian’s life was held Feb. 14 at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, less than a mile from the school where she had a profound impact on students, parents and fellow educators.
A crowdfunding campaign to help her family cover medical bills, funeral costs and other living expenses had raised more than $30,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
Mugalian joined the SMASH staff starting in 2003, teaching grades 2-4. She also represented her colleagues through the local Classroom Teachers Association.
Mugalian “possessed the ability to see right to the heart of a person,” Santa Monica-Malibu school district Supt. Sandra Lyon said in a statement. “She was a gift to her students, all of whom she adored. She had a clear vision of the kind of teacher she wanted to be. Even with four kids and a husband at home to manage, she spent extra hours planning everything from her art program to a student’s narrative assessment to her everyday lesson plans. She did them right, no matter how long it took.”
Originally from Kansas, Mugalian lived in New York before moving to California. She completed graduate studies at Culver City-based Antioch University.
Mugalian worked to align the K-8 curriculum of the campus and was a champion of student ideas, principal Jessica Rishe said. Her legacy of taking “the balcony view” of the overall direction of the school lives on through group morning meetings, student council and math lessons, Rishe said.
Mugalian was “the ultimate SMASH ambassador,” Rishe said. She was an advocate for visual and performing arts programming and took on a variety of leadership positions.
“We thank her for the heart, dedication, and connections with students and their families that she has shared,” Rishe said.
Suzanne Moscoso, a district librarian, recalled Mugalian’s magnetic temperament.
“I am so blessed to have witnessed Tamara’s warm personality and wonderful positive spirit each day,” she said.
Parents at SMASH have been sharing photos and memories of Mugalian. Student have been creating drawings, writing notes to her children and singing tunes she taught them.
The campus community has had support from SMMUSD mental health services coordinator Shuli Lotan, school psychologists and other counselors. Grief counseling services have been made available to SMASH students.
“Our loss is painful, but we are grateful to have known her as she touched the lives of countless students, their families and other teachers and staff,” Lyon said. “We offer our profound sympathies to her family. She will be missed and long remembered.”
Mugalian is survived by her husband, Steve, and four children: Emory, Olivia, Gabe and Duncan. Donations are being accepted online at gofundme.com/tamaramugalian.