When looking for Hearst Elementary principal Elias Muñiz Rodriguez around campus, you're as likely to find him in his office as on the playground playing four-square with students.
Making connections with students is key, Muñiz said, especially for educators who aren't in classroom roles anymore. He said he puts a priority on getting to know the students he's in charge of leading, even if the conversation never touches upon grades.
"You want kids to say years down the road, 'Mr. Muñiz, he cared about me. Not only did he care about my education, but he cared about my home life,'" Muñiz said.
Muñiz, a 35-year-old Livermore resident, started as Hearst's new principal this school year after 10 months as the school's interim principal. He's spent his entire career in Pleasanton Unified School District, rising through the ranks from classroom teacher to principal.
His first job was in 2007 at Valley View Elementary, teaching second grade and fourth grade in the Spanish dual-immersion program for six years.
In the 2013-14 school year, he was the vice principal for three elementary schools simultaneously: Walnut Grove, Alisal and Valley View. He was the vice principal at Valley View and Walnut Grove for part of the 2014-15 school year.
He was selected for the role of interim principal for Hearst in October 2014 and finished out the school year there. He was officially chosen as principal for the elementary school in May.
"My entire career has been at Pleasanton Unified, so I have a vested interest," he said. "Pleasanton is all I know."
During his time as Hearst's interim principal, he said, he focused on learning about the school's community to be able to provide support to teachers, staff and students alike.
"You found me out on the playground, playing four-square, playing football," he said.
His passion for teaching started early, and he said he learned from mentors who helped mold students into leaders, such as his sixth-grade teacher in the Hayward Unified School District, Mr. Rice, who "took me under his wing."
"I always knew I wanted to become a teacher," he said. "What ignites that passion is you want to give back."
He said he had several mentors who helped him see his Hispanic heritage wouldn't be a barrier to success.
"As a man of color, it was important for me to see male figures in positions where I could say, 'If he can do it or she can do it, I can do it,'" he said.
Growing up in San Leandro, Muñiz said he learned the importance of a good education early. He said he'll never take that for granted and aims to instill that respect for education in every child he meets -- and especially his own children.
"To come from that and to come to Pleasanton, that's when we notice how lucky we are," he said.
Muñiz has strong family ties to Pleasanton Unified. His wife is a Spanish teacher at Amador Valley High, and their 7-year-old son attends the Spanish dual-immersion program at Valley View. They also have an 18-month-old son.
When he isn't at home or work, Muñiz enjoys hiking or riding bikes with his family, riding (age-appropriate) roller coasters with his oldest son and playing soccer.
He said soccer is a passion of his, and he enjoys encouraging students who also enjoy the sport. Muñiz played soccer for Cal State East Bay and played center and forward for a semi-professional team, the Fresno Dragons.
Muñiz earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Cal State East Bay. He has his teaching and administrative credentials from that university, as well.
He earns a salary of $127,143 as principal of Hearst Elementary School, which is located at 5301 Case Ave.