EARLY — As an Early High School student in the 1990s, Judith Ozuna had a dream: to come back to the school as a teacher.

Ozuna, who graduated from Early in 1996 as valedictorian and from Howard Payne University in 1999, fulfilled that goal.

She never imagined as a high school student that she would one day become the school’s principal. Earlier this month, Early school board members approved Ozuna’s selection as principal beginning in the 2019-’20 school year. She will replace Robert Weyman, who is retiring.

Ozuna, an Early native who attended Early schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, has spent most of her 20-year teaching career at Early High School, teaching math and Spanish. “I’ve been a teacher there the majority of my life,” Ozuna said. “It’s home to me.”

Ozuna’s husband, Juan, is a vice president at the Mills County State Bank.  They have two sons — Kaleb, a seventh-grader, and Elijah, who is in the second grade.

She said her selection as principal is exciting.

Ozuna explained the difficult circumstances that ultimately became a catalyst for her to enter teaching.

“My freshman year as a student at Early, my father passed away in a tragic car accident and it just kind of sent our family into a tailspin,” Ozuna said. “It was a very hard time, and it was the teachers at Early High School who noticed and supported me, encouraged me, mentored me.

“If not for them I probably would not have graduated valedictorian nor been able to go to college. 

Her teachers, Ozuna said, encouraged her to get involved in extra-curricular activities. The more involved Ozuna became, the more she excelled.

“The school just really became my home,” Ozuna said. “I stayed at school more than I was at home.”

Ozuna, a first-generation college student from her family, graduated sigma cum laude from HPU after three years with a major in math and a minor in education, and received the Outstanding Math Education Student award from the university.

She began teaching in Early in 1999 and taught briefly in Georgetown before returning to Early in 2003.

“My hope was to inspire students just as my teachers inspired me,” Ozuna said. “I don’t consider teaching a career (or) a profession. I consider it a calling.”

In 2007, Ozuna’s colleagues voted her teacher of the year for the Early school district, an award she received again in 2014. “One of the reasons it’s so special to me is because it’s colleagues that vote,” Ozuna said. 

In 2010, Ozuna was honored as a Girl Scout Woman of Distinction. 

Ozuna was encouraged by four principals at various times to become an administrator. The principals told her she had the qualities to be an administrator. “I would always say ‘no I’m content in the classroom, this is my niche,’” Ozuna said.

Ozuna turned 40 in 2018, and she decided to go back to school for a master’s degree — most likely in math or Spanish, the two subjects she teaches.

That changed when Weyman, the current Early High School principal, called Ozuna into his office.

“I really want you to pray and think about getting your master’s in educational administration,” Weyman told Ozuna.

“My first inclination was to say ‘no thank you,’” Ozuna said. “But he said something that really stuck out to me. He said ‘as a teacher you influence your 100 students. As an administrator, you’l influence the faculty and all 370 students.’ And so I began to pray about it, and I felt the calling stronger and stronger to pursue my master’s in educational administration.”

Ozuna went on to receive a master’s degree by taking online courses through Angelo State University, and passed the principal’s exam in January.

Ozuna mentioned a fellow classmate from the Early High School class of 1996 — Chad Burleson — who is now the principal of Early Middle School.

“We attended kindergarten through 12th grade together at Early,” Ozuna said. She said it “speaks volumes” to the Early school district that two former Early students have been selected as principals.