Mary Quiroz: Heartland School

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River City Six: Mary Quiroz

Located at 731 South 108th Street in Omaha, Heartland School (heartland3.org) is a private, non-profit, Level III school serving verified emotionally-disturbed students from Omaha and Eastern Nebraska area schools. Mary Quiroz is the Principal and Director of the Heartland School.

Tell us a little about your business.

Heartland School provides a chance for struggling students to start fresh and develop the skills and insights necessary to overcome challenges and experience new opportunities. Students placed at Heartland School have shown over time that their behaviors were too severe and frequent to remain in their home school. The long-term goal is returning students to their home school so that they can earn their high school diplomas.

How did you get started in the business?

I was offered a position to teach at another area school almost 30 years ago. I originally had the intention to teach high school history. Despite not having a lot of training or education in special education, I agreed to take the position that was offered. Over the next 5 years I learned a lot and grew to love working with kids with special needs. I have been doing it every day since and never looked back.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced professionally?

Prior to my current position, I had been the principal at Uta Halee and Cooper Village Schools. After 17 years I learned that our programs had been cut and we had to close. Myself, my staff, and my coworkers were out of our jobs and we had to close a program into which many of us put our heart and soul.

What has been your most important achievement professionally?

Coming to Heartland School and leading a team that has turned a failing program around into a viable school again. I am very proud of the work that has been done over the last 5 years and the kids that we have been able to help.

Tell us a little about your family.

I come from a small town in Iowa. I was raised in a home that valued hard work and honest people. I have two brothers and my mother is still living. We lost my dad a couple of years ago and none of us have really recovered. We miss him terribly.

I am married to a retired Air Force man, now for 27 years. We have a 25-year-old daughter who has been the most wonderful gift; it’s a joyous experience to be her mom. She is an award-winning artist, having graduated from UNO several years ago. She has her own studio at the Hot Shops Art Center; it’s called Pink Pigeon Studio. She is married to a wonderful young man who is studying to be a psychiatrist. I also have a grandpig; sweet, delightful Wilbur is their baby.

What do you see as one of the biggest turning points in your life?

About 5-6 years into my career I realized what a huge need there is for the work that we do and the extent of its importance. It struck me hard to see how many kids struggle with school and what an impact that can have on the rest of their lives.

What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?

Absolutely nothing. I love when I can just take the day as it comes.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Always follow your instincts. Trust your gut, it will never steer you in the wrong direction.

If our readers would like to contact you, how should they do so?

Phone: (402) 393-0345; Email: maryquiroz2012@gmail.com.