The adventurous spirit in Thompson Middle School Assistant Principal Moira Balodimas has not died.
Fresh out of college, Balodimas left her home state of South Dakota in 1985 to take a teaching job in Yuma, Ariz. Her adventure eventually led her to the Murrieta Valley Unified School District in 1991 when her first husband, a border patrol agent, got transferred to Temecula.
More than 25 years later, Balodimas announced she has taken a job back in her hometown of Hot Springs, S.D. Her last day at Thompson will be Feb. 17.
Though she is sad to leave, she credits Murrieta Valley Unified for giving her the qualifications needed for her new position as director of curriculum and instruction at a private K-12 school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
"Career-wise I have grown up here," Balodimas told Patch in an interview. "I'm so blessed to have had the experiences I've had here. I know that is why I got a really great job back in South Dakota—it's because I bring all this with me."
Balodimas first taught English at a middle school in Yuma. When the family moved to the Murrieta area, she took a long-term substitute position in the Perris Union High School District. That is where she met Mary Walters, now principal of Murrieta Mesa High School.
Both were hired by Murrieta Valley Unified in 1991 to work at Shivela Middle School; Balodimas said at the urging of Walters she followed her. Shivela at that time consisted of portable classrooms, and Murrieta Valley High School was on the same campus.
"I really go back a long way with some of the people that are still here," she said.
She pursued her administrative certificate while she taught English at Murrieta Valley High for 10 years. There she became the department head.
"Murrieta was just booming at that time...we were hiring 10 English teachers a year, we were just really growing exponentially."
In 2002, she returned to Shivela as an assistant principal. Then in 2004, she took her current position at Thompson.
"I am proud that I was part of the growth. I know that every time I have ever gone to any conference or any type of professional meeting I always say with pride that I work for Murrieta Valley because it is an amazing district.
"We did handle the extreme growth very well—as well as could be expected. If it were mishandled it could have been a nightmare...But there were people in place that just really planned ahead. And those are the lessons I will take with me."
Reflecting on her life as an assistant principal at the middle school level, Balodimas said she will miss her students and their families, some of whom have gone on to be teachers and some with children who have come through her campus years later.
"Kid are just kids wherever you go. They have all the same needs, they have all the same hopes, and that is what you have to tap into and focus on: every single one of them is a beautiful individual."
The new job comes with its challenges, she said. But she is up for it.
"The reservation is a very poor, very poor community. That brings with it its own set of concerns and problems and to me that is very challenging and exciting. I hope that I am able to really go in there and do what needs to be done and help."
Balodimas explained that she needs to go now in order to get things prepared for next school year. The position she is taking is a new one to the school, so it is uncharted territory.
"They have not had to follow all the rules and regulations but as things are changing, they are starting to have to and they need to get some things in place."
Balodimas said she has been straightforward with Murrieta Valley Unified. She said she met with Superintendent Stan Scheer before she went to South Dakota over the winter break to interview for the job.
"He agreed should I get this position, I would need to go now. I have to go by February. With this kind of position, you have to be planning for next year now. You can not go into next year and not have that all planned."
Balodimas is a member of the Native American tribe Lakota Oglala Sioux, for which she will be working.
"I am really excited about my new adventure. My children are raised and I am here by myself now.
"I am sad to leave. I do have a lot of roots in this community, but on the same hand I am excited to go home. I want to spend these years with my parents and my three siblings while they are healthy. I feel compelled to do it."
Co-workers at Thompson said Balodimas will be missed.
Carol Mallinckrodt has worked side-by-side with Balodimas for six years.
"She brings humor. I love coming to work. She makes it fun, but very professional. She is just a great person and fun to be around. She puts the kids first but always goes to bat for the staff, too. She is going to be greatly missed."
Thompson Principal Dale Velk worked with Balodimas at Murrieta Valley High and then Thompson.
"We will miss her energy, her bright ideas, her organization skills. She is really good at keeping us on task. She is a very smart person and has great opinions; it is always good to run something by her," Velk said. "I knew it was only going to be a matter of time. I couldn't have asked for a better friend and a colleague. It has been wonderful."
John Fox, a social studies teacher at Thompson, will take over Balodimas' position for the rest of the school year.
"He is very involved in leadership district-wide," Balodimas said.
"I've had really good experiences and just people who really know what they are doing and I can call on them. It will be a big help to me, I know it will."