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Principal Priscilla Salinas: The Lifelong Mentor

By December 27, 2019February 21st, 2022Principals, Star School Leader, Stories

This is the final spotlight in a series of twelve, in which we feature the winning recipients of Kiddom’s annual Star School Leader Award. Look for the next one over the coming months by signing up for our newsletter.

Like many exceptional school leaders, Principal Priscilla Salinas of Henry Ford Elementary has had her sights set on community involvement for a long time. For her, each school day, decision, and action is bookended by questions like, what can I do to make a difference in other people’s lives? Or how can we impact students, parents, and staff beyond the school walls?

Although her father was a teacher and a coach, Priscilla was not initially drawn to the profession: “Everything I did was to get out of the ‘ordinary’. So I told him, ‘No way! I want to be something bigger.’”

At first, Priscilla thought that law school would help toward that goal. But ultimately, she found that she could make the biggest impact inside the classroom. Principal Salinas spent 5 years teaching before becoming an administrator. But it wasn’t until she became a principal that she landed on ‘out of the ordinary’ — whether from her seat at the front office, behind the podium at morning assembly, or face-to-face with a goat at a petting zoo.

Principal Salinas was nominated for the Kiddom Star School Leader award by school librarian Narda Lugo, a longtime colleague. She wrote to us about the many hats that Priscilla wears over the school week:

“Mrs. Salinas leads by the heart. On Sundays at her home, she reads a bedtime story to the students and puts the video on our school social media to impart the importance of literacy.  She takes time from her family and demonstrates to the students and staff how much she cares for our community. She kissed a baby goat in the past when the whole school received perfect attendance.  She sincerely is a remarkable leader that many look up to and have learned to love.”

— Narda Lugo, librarian at Henry Ford Elementary, TX

Henry Ford Elementary and the Spirit of Giving Back

Located in the southern heart of Hidalgo County, TX — which neighbors Mexico — Henry Ford Elementary School serves roughly 800 students. According to 2018 statistics, 44% of students are English language learners, and 92% are economically disadvantaged. As principal, Priscilla has made it her mission to ensure that the statistics stop there.

For most young kids, elementary school is one of the first secular, non-familial communities that a child ever knows. As such, Principal Salinas makes it her job to help students and families feel supported within the school community. Under her purview, Henry Ford has become a place that affirms the value of each child, parent, and family, as frequently as it assigns value to students’ schoolwork.

“The best part of my job is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces, and knowing that somehow — whether it’s because of their grades, or because you gave them a hug — the kids come to you and say good morning. They acknowledge you for a reason, and they know that you care.”

— Principal Priscilla Salinas, Henry Ford Elementary, TX

Henry Ford Elementary begins each morning with a Daily Assembly. Students can get involved by leading the pledge or reading announcements, or they can simply enjoy each other’s company over breakfast. In order to foster a sense of respect for one another, every accomplishment, milestone, and birthday is celebrated together. These daily assemblies feed into a larger initiative that Priscilla has dubbed Project Respect.

Periodically, the daily assembly will include a PowerPoint presentation on vital social skills that may otherwise go untaught. “We teach kids how to apologize to each other, or how to accept ‘no’ for an answer — just simple things. Our culture here is to be respectful.”

The focus on respect and community travels with the students wherever they go: “When our kids go on a field trip, [the hosts] can tell the difference between our students and those from other campuses, or other districts. for that matter.”

Over the past two school years, students have visited the elderly to sing holiday carols, and rounded up gifts to give away at a local hospital. They’ve even invited families to the campus for a holiday meal, presenting every child with a gift — no matter their age. “That’s the biggest difference, year to year. We bring the community in.”

Principal Salinas has even had parents comment on the marked difference between the culture at Henry Ford and that of other schools. “That’s just the biggest reward,” Priscilla says. “It’s all you ever wanted; to hear and see that [the hard work] that has transpired, and spirals back into the community.”

“There’s so much that we deal with on a daily basis—you’re really the custodian, the counselor, the teacher, the principal, the parent. So you have to be passionate about what you do. If you don’t love what you do, every day and every minute, it’s just not for you.”

— Principal Priscilla Salinas, Henry Ford Elementary, TX

Inspiring Lifelong Learners, by Being One

As passionate as Principal Salinas feels about her job, she works day after day to make sure her staff can feel the same way. Priscilla recognizes teamwork among teachers and staff as the driving factor that makes kids excited about learning.

It’s what makes them proud to call Henry Ford Elementary their community. “When you find a community like this, you’ll give 110%, you’ll work hard, you’ll want to come to work every day. That’s the culture I try to instill in them, so they can bring that love to their classrooms and get results from the kids.”

Ford Elementary staff also uses technology to elicit passion from the students. “Our teachers have been using media pieces to create their lessons; it’s all very interactive. They are very, very creative, and the lessons are amazing. We have a librarian who really pushes technology as well. Every time we have something new, whether it’s nationally or district-wide, she brings it in and incorporates it into lessons, and in the library as well.”

The afore-mentioned librarian, Narda Lugo, who nominated Priscilla for this award, has a twelve-year history with Principal Salinas. In fact, it was Principal Salinas who inspired her to pursue a more administrative role:

“Mrs. Salinas inspired me to continue my education by obtaining my Master’s. I worked with her for seven years as a teacher before going back to school for my Master’s in Library Science. I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Salinas for giving my first teaching position, then for hiring me again as a librarian…. She is a role model to many, and continuously encourages us to grow.”

— Narda Lugo, librarian at Henry Ford Elementary, TX

Leading by example is a key tenet in the culture that Principal Salinas has built at Henry Ford Elementary. “The leader that you become,” she says, “is a reflection of what you build. So you need to have a great administration sitting right beside you.”

Most notably, she has inspired multiple Henry Ford staff members to return to school for their own education, saying that “this community might lose a teacher, but there are others out there who will gain a role model.”

This framing of sacrifice for the greater good has trickled down to the teachers at Henry Ford, and Principal Salinas believes they are all the better for it. Each year, the school hosts a Goody Week for the teachers, where each grade level team has to bring breakfast for one day of professional development.

Year after year, the teachers eagerly pitch in on the menu. The tradition of Goody Week sustains a sense of community in which everybody has a stake. “I think they realize they’ve got something special. It’s just an amazing campus, a dream team, and a dream place to work at. It’d be hard to find it anywhere else.”

Recap: What Makes a Star School Leader?

Great school leaders empower their teachers. What teachers do is one of the most difficult, and often thankless jobs. And while we all agree that teachers are the true heroes of every school system, it takes a special kind of leader to enable their teachers with the right support to focus on the important things. Like teaching.

The Star School Leader rubric stands on three pillars, hanging from one common theme:

  1.  Empowering others by setting a positive attitude, culture, and environment.
  2.  Empowering others with the right use of technology as a means and not an end.
  3. Empowering others through supportive coaching and access to professional development.

To read about the rest of the Star School Leaders, visit our recipient announcement page.


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