By Matthew Rodriguez
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
Beloved by her colleagues, Pasadena Unified School District administrator Dr. Trudell Skinner died on Aug. 27 following a brief illness. She was 61. She is survived by her husband Pastor Tyronne Skinner and their two children, Trinity and Tyler.
“She will long be remembered for all that she has done for this district,” Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald said. “We’re going to make sure that her legacy is never forgotten.”
An educator and administrator for over a decade, the strong-yet-humble Skinner was known for putting her students first and creating a family-type environment where she nurtured her pupils.
After serving as a teacher and assistant principal early in her career, Skinner became the principal of Blair High and Middle School. During that time, the school earned the distinction of a California Distinguished School in 2011. After six years, Skinner transitioned to the administrative side of education, working as the district’s equality coordinator and coordinator of the office of enrollment records and permits. A month before her death, Skinner was promoted to senior director of TK-12 schools, where she would reconnect with many of the employees she mentored.
McDonald said that her position will be left vacant until at least the end of the year.
“We want to honor her memory and leave that position as vacant as long as we can,” McDonald said. “We would much rather divide up the duties than to have somebody just be placed in that role. We want to honor her in that way.”
Described as a “leader of leaders,” Skinner mentored many of the principals and senior staff at PUSD, with three of her former employees serving as principals in the district.
“She’s touched a lot of lives in this town and in this district,” McDonald said. “She took (people) under her wing and put them on the path of becoming administrators in this district and some in other districts as well.”
At the beginning of her career at PUSD and as a new teacher at Blair, Benita Scheckel panicked as she struggled to find the materials and textbooks she needed for her seventh grade English class. Skinner, noticing the frantic look on Scheckel’s face, helped the new teacher find the materials and set up her classroom before school started.
“She always put everybody else’s needs ahead of her own,” said Scheckel, now the principal of Altadena Arts Magnate and Eliot Arts Magnate. Scheckel also earned her doctorate with Skinner at Azusa Pacific University.
“She removed barriers for you so that you could be successful.”
Tough but fair, Skinner nurtured her staff just as she did her students.
“I say that I was raised by her in PUSD,” Scheckel said. “We know she’s going to make us cry, but we knew she’s going to support us, make us stronger and make us better.”
Willard Elementary School principal Maricela Brambila remembered this support and tough love vividly when she worked as the assistant principal at Blair.
“You make a lot of mistakes as a first-year (assistant principal),” she said. “If you don’t deal with things quickly, they could fester and take on a life of their own. She would call you out when you made a mistake, but she was always your fiercest defender.”
Skinner pushed her staff to reach their full potential. She often noticed others’ potential before they realized it.
“I was very comfortably a math teacher,” Madison Elementary School Principal Noemi Orduna said. “I was going to teach forever, just be a teacher in the classroom forever, but she pushed me.”
Skinner helped Orduna find her voice, pushing her to be a keynote speaker at a professional development seminar. She encouraged Orduna to apply to be the math department chair and persuaded her to attend conferences, where Orduna grew out of her shell.
“She’s like, ‘I think it’s your turn,’” Orduna said. “Everyone put in their time. I think this is your time. … When there were leadership opportunities she would just say, ‘I think you’re ready for this.’”
In the wake of her death, the three women and many others confided in each other to grieve their mentor.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this without her,” Scheckel said as she cried. “I said yes to something crazy — to be principal of two schools. I thought she was going to be there with me. I thought she was going to help me.”