As a principal, Sonia Flores wants to ensure students and staff discover and reach “their highest personal and academic potential by becoming responsible citizens within their community.” She has a clear vision to support students in achieving their maximum potential by attaining the skills, both personal and academic, to be successful beyond college and career.
She first joined Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy (GECA) as a teacher during its third year of operation, and Principal Flores is now in her eighth year as principal. Students at GECA, a school of choice located on the campus of Gavilan Community College, have the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree or two years of college credit. When Principal Flores took the leadership role, she focused on ensuring that GECA served a diverse student population.
In a small school setting such as GECA, everyone feels the impact of direct contributions and input. Therefore, Principal Flores believes it is critical to engage and address the needs of all stakeholders by maintaining consistent two-way communication. She grounds decisions in the school’s mission and vision. The relationships established with the college and the district also ensure that school policies are not only followed but examined and revised as needed. By acting with integrity, Principal Flores has established trusting relationships with all stakeholders.
Principal Flores considers herself a culturally responsive, reflective, and self-aware instructional leader. She acts as an organizational architect and uses the available resources. Over the past eight years, Principal Flores has focused on improving teachers’ instructional practices, implementing Professional Learning Communities, fortifying a positive school climate, and updating the school’s technology.
Principal Flores has also maintained the vision and mission of the school by including staff, students, and families in the decision-making process and by regularly communicating with stakeholders. Her leadership philosophy and structure revolve around shared governance and decision-making, with frequent communication and opportunities for input.
Principal Flores strengthened AcaPrep, or Academic Prep, by adjusting the master schedule so all ninth through eleventh grade students would take AcaPrep during first period. This change provided opportunities for peer tutoring, restorative justice led by an Honors Tribunal, and Associated Student Body-led activities and assemblies. To support students applying for college, Principal Flores contracted with InspireEd to work with upperclassmen and to speak with families at Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) meetings.
For students, Principal Flores has focused on promoting student well-being and mental health and expanding postsecondary opportunities. For example, she recognized that many students were experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, so she worked with teachers and the local community to integrate mindfulness into daily practices. GECA also instituted Mindful Mondays, which include activities that focus on students’ mental and emotional health, and Awareness Wednesdays to support the school community. When a group of students were concerned about the amount of assigned homework, she arranged for students to present their concerns at a staff meeting. Then Principal Flores ensured that teachers had the necessary time and resources to meet separately to review and adjust the student workload. This led to students having a more balanced schedule and decreased stress while increasing student engagement, student success, and teacher satisfaction.
Leadership is multifaceted, and no one approach is the answer to everything. Principal Flores believes that the Summer Principal Academy established the foundation for her leadership style and philosophy. The Academy inspired her to lead with integrity, creativity, and positivity with a collaborative approach and an unwavering dedication to student success. She realizes that a school leader must be forward-thinking and innovative while focusing on relationships, rigor, and relevance.
Sonia Flores is truly committed to supporting a diverse population of students and staff to fulfill Gilroy Early College Academy’s motto to “Be Someone. Go Somewhere. Seek Excellence.”