SMMUSD HDQTRS — Irma Lyons, the principal of Will Rogers Learning Community and 17-year veteran of the school district, died on Thursday at the UCLA Medical Center after a long battle with cancer.

Lyons began her career as a teacher at Will Rogers and was later promoted to assistant principal and then principal, replacing Maureen Bradford when she moved to the central district office about four years ago.

Those who were close to Lyons described her as a passionate and compassionate educator who remained close to the classroom even as she went from being a teacher to administrator at Will Rogers.

“It was a gift to have known this remarkable woman,” Kelly Pye, a school board member whose two children attended Will Rogers, said. “Irma was profoundly inspirational, she was a true instructional leader who touched countless lives.”

Chief Academic Officer Sally Chou said that Lyons launched several successful programs at Will Rogers, including STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — Academy, which helps build student interest in those subject areas. The program is aimed at maintaining student achievement in the areas of math and science as they go from elementary school to middle school, a time when those subjects see a dip in performance.

The school under her watch also finally exceeded the target 800 API state test score in 2008, going from a 799 in 2007 to an 812 last year.

Even when Lyons became ill this spring, she remained in constant contact with the school, working from home.

“She just never missed a beat,” Chou said. “Her heart was really with the students.”

Peggy Harris, the director of curriculum and instruction for the district, said that Lyons never turned away a student, teacher or parent who asked for help, always making time for everyone.

“All of the years I worked with her, at the core of her life was an abiding and unwavering love of children and the belief that each child deserves the best,” she said.

Lyons is survived by her husband and two children.

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