Principal Christy Flores was inspired by her grandfather who was the principal of the only middle school in a small town. She remembers the strong connection he had with the community and how important “building trust, developing relationships, and demonstrating a genuine care and concern for each individual person” was to him. With this memory as her guide, she embarked on a professional journey as an educator across several elementary schools in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, including Maude B. Davis Elementary School (Davis Magnet School), where she became principal in 2013.
Not surprisingly, Principal Flores’ vision as a leader is grounded in the model demonstrated by her grandfather – to sustain a strong, positive school culture built on trust, relationships, and community to support students. As the principal of a high-performing school that attracts students from across the district, Principal Flores is seen as a dynamic leader who espouses the belief that students must “Maslow before they can Bloom.” She leads the school community towards academic success through multi-tiered levels of support and outstanding instruction, but also emphasizes the value of attending to human needs by focusing on well-being, growth mindset, relationships, empathy, and resilience. Principal Flores used these themes to build community at Davis Magnet School and underscore the foundation for teaching and learning each academic year.
When the whole school focused on empathy, Principal Flores planned and developed professional learning using a theme-related book and engaged families in a monthly book club. She collaborated with teachers to design engaging instruction and activities for students to build empathy and self-awareness. The theme translated into concrete actions where students could demonstrate what they learned about seeing things from other people’s perspective. Students created a morning greeter job to make sure everyone felt welcomed when they arrived at school, older students worked together to teach younger students how to play recess games, and all students engaged in fund-raising activities.
These activities prepared the Davis Magnet School community to lead with empathy when the pandemic hit, and the school transitioned to remote learning. Principal Flores maintained important traditions and consistency for students, staff, and families. Davis begins each morning with Flag Deck, or a motivational morning assembly designed to create a sense of community and purpose. During remote learning, Principal Flores continued this tradition by creating videos from different locations across campus and reminding the school community that they matter, the school was still there, and that they were the same Davis Ducks. She instilled certainty during uncertain times through music, humor, and honesty.
Building and sustaining meaningful partnerships is also part of Principal Flores’ vision for Davis. She leveraged partnerships with the Parent-Teacher Association, School Foundation, and Hoag Hospital to develop a deeper level of support for the mental health and wellness of all students, staff, and family members during remote learning. Principal Flores started the Davis Magnet Foundation to strengthen, expand, and add programming. She recognized that students needed more in terms of academic and student supports. The Foundation has supported an after-school robotics teams, a ceramics kiln, teacher assistants, and grade level supports. She also improved the physical environment by adding murals, a community garden, and building upgrades. She values the perspectives of staff, families, and students to foster a decision-making culture. As one teacher stated, “Principal Flores seeks information and two-way communication… so that major decisions affecting curriculum, instructional practices, and student learning are well-informed and meet the needs of staff and students.”
One parent explained that Principal Flores is loved and embodies the spirit of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This parent explained that she created safe places for children to create, explore, and learn. She connected with parents, “with much needed support and resources, giving [parents] a place to rest in the midst of an overwhelming season of navigating our children through distance learning…and safe spaces to mourn the things we had lost.” She also provided her staff “branches of experience, leaves of encouragement, and an opportunity to watch fruit grow.” For Principal Christy Flores, educational leadership has always been about supporting people and cultivating community.