April 2018 Member Spotlight - Maria Austria
Principal, Paragon Mills Elementary School, Nashville, TN
Career highlights & education:
I began my professional career in 1997 when I built my own learning center, which I managed for 12 years, in the Philippines. I decided to move to the U.S. in 2006 to complete my doctorate degree; wherein I was also given an opportunity to teach in an urban school district. I have 20 years of experience in education--- as a teacher, mentor teacher, supervisor, author, instructional coach, instructional specialist, curriculum developer, assistant principal, program director, central office administrator, and currently a principal of one of the biggest and most diverse elementary school in Nashville, in which we celebrate 43 languages and 20 countries. I have a Bachelors in English Language (University of the Philippines), a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling (Ateneo de Manila University), and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Maryland College Park. I was selected as the commencement speaker for the College of Education at the University of Maryland’s Graduation Ceremony in 2011.
As a global thinker and proactive leader, I am passionate about promoting social justice, diversity, and equity in education. I strive for excellence by providing high quality teaching, learning, and program offerings to students, teachers, parents, and community-at-large. My leadership in large urban school districts with high ELL population has led to an increase in rigor, quality professional learning opportunities for educators, a comprehensive and fiscally-sound budget, and the integration of technology into teaching and learning of K-12 ELLs.
What I like best about my job:
Every day when I wake up, I am humbled and blessed being the principal of a very diverse elementary school with students and families from varying cultures---Hispanic, Kurdish, Arabic, Somalian, Burmese, Nepalese, Vietnamese, etc. I love the many cultural celebrations that we have, especially the Heritage Festival, which more than 600 families attend; where each family brings a dish that represents their culture-- to be shared with everyone. Most of all, I love interacting with my children from age 4 to 11 years old. Every time I visit their classrooms, I get a lot of hugs from them--- I feel like I’m a Rockstar!
The best advice I’ve ever received:
A mentor once told me— “Never burn a bridge with anyone”. Burning bridges is limiting your choices and your opportunities in life. Meet and treat people the way you wish to be treated. Keep in touch with as many people as you can and treasure your relationships because they can’t always last forever. You should desire to be on cordial terms with everyone. What’s important to remember is that the world is a small place. You never know if you have any mutual acquaintances. You never know who you will meet again—or who will help and pick you up in your time of need.
Advice you would give a new superintendent or school system leader:
Winston Churchill once exhorted— “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” As a new leader, you are going to make mistakes and wrong decisions along the way. However, they happen for a reason. Mistakes allow us to learn, grow and develop to even a greater leader. If you are able to learn from your mistakes and continue to strive enthusiastically, you will begin to embody the concept and idea of “real” success. So, do not be afraid of failure. Treat failure as a fuel to your success; and when you do so, you have a higher chance at surpassing your goals and turning your dreams to reality.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I would probably be found:
Walking and playing with my dogs. They give me profound happiness!
People would be surprised to know:
People would be surprised to know that I hate going to the mall and the grocery store.
One thing I wish more people knew about ALAS:
I wish more people knew that ALAS is more of an inclusive rather than an exclusive organization. Many people thought that ALAS is an organization exclusively for Latino leaders. I am so glad that many educational leaders who are non-Latinos but have the advocacy in educating and empowering Latino Youth are very much welcomed in the ALAS organization.