In this series, the Institute for Classical Education sits down with leaders of classical schools to glean their wisdom.
Dr. Cruz serves as the Archway Headmaster over K-6 at Great Hearts, Maryvale Preparatory Academy. Originally from New Mexico, Dr. Cruz pursued her undergraduate degree in Economics and International Political Science at The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO. She moved to Phoenix in 2005 to serve in the Teach For America corps, where she taught second and third grades for a few years and also served as a K-8 Instructional Coach for her school district. While teaching she attended Arizona State University and obtained a Masters in Educational Administration and Supervision and her principal certification. In 2010, Dr. Cruz began working at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University as the Director of Recruitment and also taught several college courses. In 2013, she earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Innovation and superintendent certification.
WHAT IS YOUR SCHOOL’S MISSION, AND HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN IT TO STUDENTS?
Our school’s mission is to prepare students for a virtuous life, college, and leadership. We explain this to students by modeling these things ourselves and sharing our life experiences but also by teaching them practical ways to be virtuous, to pursue excellence with a mindset towards college and beyond and by delegating developmentally appropriate leadership opportunities to them.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED AS A SCHOOL LEADER, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Currently, the biggest challenge has been teacher recruitment and retention. We cannot always offer the financial incentives that are important to people. We overcome this by investing those we find in our mission and by fostering a strong school culture.
WHAT ARE THE KEY INGREDIENTS OF A VIRTUE-CENTERED LEARNING COMMUNITY?
The key is to model what a virtue-centered learning community looks like. Our faculty models this in their own pursuit of excellence and through their own collaboration and edifying relationships. We expose and help our students find examples of virtue in the literature they read, in themselves and in others. As a team, we are unified in our language and we engage our families to come alongside us and do the same.
HOW IS YOUR SCHOOL’S CULTURE SHAPED BY YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY?
Our community and those we serve are at the forefront of all that we do. We do this work at Maryvale Prep because we believe that all children, regardless of their zip code, deserve access to a rigorous and excellent education. We communicate and engage our community often and ensure that they understand our service mindset towards them.
HOW DOES YOUR SCHOOL IMPACT AND GIVE BACK TO THE LOCAL COMMUNITY?
We provide many services within our school and believe that serving the students and families in that way is the best way to give back. We provide wrap-around services such as before and after school care, free tutoring, free full day kindergarten, health screenings and more. We host an annual Thanksgiving dinner for our families and in the Spring we collect food for our local food bank.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE SETTING OUT ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP? WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU WISH SOMEONE WOULD HAVE TOLD YOU WHEN YOU WERE FIRST STEPPING OUT ON THIS VENTURE?
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to establish strong rapport and relationships with teachers, students and parents and work to grow that rapport across years. Trust and rapport are the best things to have in your pocket as you get through each year and any difficulties that may arise.
I do wish and still wish that school leaders had more support and guidance on ensuring a balanced life. It is easy to get buried into all of the demands of school leadership but important to still live a well-balanced life.
Classical education requires more than great books and good intentions. Learn more about the APEX Program for School Leadership.