Vaega Toilolo knew from a young age that he wanted to work in education. From the time he was in preschool, his mother either volunteered at his schools or worked as a substitute teacher. Evidence of his parents’ dedication to their children’s education is shown by Toilolo and his siblings, as well as his spouse, having each earned at least a master’s degree, and some having earned doctorates.
“My first teachers, my mom and dad, raised me in a home of love and service,” he says. “I just lost my dad recently but will always be grateful for everything he has taught me, especially how to care and provide for my family.”
Grateful for his parents’ example and support, Toilolo responded with excitement when Mike Glenn, his principal at the time, reached out to him about attending the Aspiring Principals Academy, which teaches educational leadership skills and helps prepare candidates for principal preparation programs.
“I knew from the first day of the academy I wanted to pursue a leadership role,” he says. “I didn’t even bother looking at other programs because BYU had exactly what I was looking for.”
Toilolo says he wanted to attend BYU for his master’s degree for the ways the gospel is part of each class and the genuine love he felt from the professors.
“From the wealth of the professors shared, I knew they genuinely wanted nothing more than for all of us to be impactful leaders in school,” he says.
After his experience in the education leadership and foundations program, Toilolo became an assistant principal at Bingham High School. His focus is on supporting student wellness by recognizing that students need physical, social, emotional, and mental support. As part of that effort, he worked with Jordan School District mental health specialist Jodee Packer to create a “calm room,” where students can go to regulate themselves and find peace and support when they need it.
“I would rather our students have a place to go than struggle on their own in their car or go home,” Toilolo says.
The calm room’s motto is, “Come to calm, return to learn,” and it appears to be working, Toilolo says: students report on their wellbeing when checking in and checking out, and data shows a positive response when students check out.
“At first, it was a new thing to learn for our teachers and counselors, but the feedback I have received is nothing but positive,” Toilolo says.
As he continues his career in education, Toilolo wants to continue inspiring his children, students, and other Polynesian people to become leaders in schools and add more representation. He said his goal is to serve with love, wherever he is. A Samoan proverb that Toilolo strives to live by says “O le ala I le pule, o le ,” meaning “the pathway to leadership is service.”
“I hope to honor my parents and ancestors who have paved the way for me and have afforded me this opportunity to live and thrive in this beautiful country by following their example of service and leadership,” he says.