By Diana Nelson
When school starts next fall, the students at Marcos de Niza High School will be greeted by a new principal, but one with a very familiar name and face: Sarah Tolar, the school’s current assistant principal of academics.
Tolar has been part of the Marcos leadership team for the last four years, first having served as the assistant principal before transitioning to the academics role in 2017.
In her view, says Tolar, the transition will allow a continued focus on “defining our vision for Marcos de Niza and creating the path to achieve that vision through the avenues of all of our different departments, including athletics, activities and academics.
“I feel very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to oversee the Activities Department and the Academics Department at Marcos before moving into this role as principal because it has given me a unique perspective of the importance of all of the different aspects of a comprehensive high school,” said Tolar via email.
Over the past 40 years, A-rated Marcos earned a strong reputation for excellence in academics and athletics. Its current enrollment is 1,580.
“Marcos de Niza has a rich history and I would like to honor that history and tradition and develop ways to spotlight and appreciate where we have been as we grow and evolve, to support and to enrich our students,” said Tolar.
As an added benefit, Tolar noted, the school is near ASU, which allows a special relationship to flourish, such as the Marcos Business Academy, a three-year educational program that partners with ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business. The relationship, says Tolar, allows students a unique learning opportunity in the field of marketing and a connection to ASU students and professors.
Tolar adds that Marcos is a unique and special place.
“I love the size of the school that we have because it is small enough to feel connected among staff, students and community, but big enough to offer a wide range of opportunities to our students.”
Tolar also names the school’s Fine Arts Academy as an outstanding program, along with several curriculums that provide students with hands-on experience in career fields such as criminal justice, early childhood education and construction technology.
“Our teachers work hard to find unique opportunities for our students to experience the content area with real- world industry experts and to get an understanding of how the skills they are learning are applicable outside of the classroom,” said Tolar.
“We also have rigorous and challenging honors and AP courses to provide our students with the highest level of education and the flexibility to pursue a wide range of interests and opportunities throughout high school.”
An Arizona native who was raised in Mesa and graduated from Dobson High School, Tolar attended UofA and competed on the swim team.
As an undergraduate, she majored in psychology and minored in creative writing, then returned to Phoenix after graduating. She became a teacher—clearly the family business as her grandmother, mother and brother were educators, she said.
Tolar taught at both Dobson and Desert Vista high schools, and coached swimming. She also went on to earn a master’s degree in secondary education.
“My teachers and coaches…played such an instrumental role in my life and helped to shape who I am
today. It was clear to me from very early on that I wanted to be part of the educational process through my work, as well.
“When I started coaching after college it become clear to me very quickly that I wanted to work with high-school students as part of my life.”
In 2013, Tolar was given an opportunity to move to Mountain Pointe High School as assistant principal of activities, which placed her in school administration and allowed her move to Marcos in 2015.
After school hours, Tolar still maintains a busy schedule. She spends her time with her husband John, an educator who teaches in Mesa. She also ensures her two young sons, Colby and Gus, are actively engaged in learning.
“Both my sons attended pre-school through the Tempe Union Early Learning Centers. Now, at ages 8 and 6, they’re constantly exploring new interests to involve themselves in.”
“I also love to run and hike and drag my families outdoors to spend time together every chance I get,” concluded Tolar.