Walking down the halls of Democracy Prep Charter Middle School (DPCMS) with Principal Tanya Nunez, you immediately notice that she makes an authentic connection with each scholar she passes. This might be a hug, a question about classwork, or it could be her offering a snack to a scholar who may have missed breakfast. You can see in the scholars’ faces that they are at ease around her. They smile and are genuinely happy to be interacting with their principal.
This is no accident; developing a positive culture for scholars is a priority for Tanya every minute of every day, including the moment scholars enter the building.
“I plant myself at the main entry door in the morning, and I want to shake every scholar’s hand,” said Tanya. “I look them in the eye and I say something that might be personal to them. I want to welcome them. ‘Yes, you’re going into nine and a half hours of instruction today, but gosh it’s really great to see you, and we believe in you every moment.’”
Each of those affirming scholar interactions contribute to sustaining a culture of love at DPCMS. When taking steps to build DPCMS’ culture, she always returns to the question, “How do I want scholars to feel?”
“The word joy always resonates in my head,” said Tanya. “I want scholars to feel happy at school. I want them to feel proud, and I want them to feel like they do have an impact. I think the school should breathe that [feeling].”
Tanya is in her 7th year of being a school leader, and she still absolutely loves it. Because she is a woman of color, her status as a leader takes on a special significance. She is keenly aware that she is a model of leadership that her scholars look up to.
“My leadership is strongly rooted in my identity as a woman of color, especially as a Latinx woman of color,” said Tanya. “As a woman of color, I bring rich cultural experiences, important life lessons such as the value of self-identity, pride and striving for excellence, and an example of what others like me can be. Not a day goes by that I do not lean in on my identity as a Latinx woman of color as, while this does not solely define me, it does impact my vision, my execution style, and my connectivity to the community that I proudly serve.”
In a world where women, and especially women of color, are underrepresented in leadership positions, Tanya hopes that when her female scholars see her in a leadership role that they realize they, too are capable of achieving at high levels professionally.
“When girls see women from their own communities in leadership positions or management roles, the possibilities for their own accomplishments become more real and limitless,” said Tanya. “Empowering women, improving their representation and participation in all walks of life, but more importantly in leadership, is critical to demonstrate that women have the power to choose and define themselves above the notions of motherhood, keeping a home, and family, but also in selecting their career paths.” She added, “It is important that the dismal statistics of women in leadership be eradicated and a more equitable representation of their worth and value be magnified.”
Tanya is glad that she works for an organization that prioritizes female leadership and has many women of color in leadership positions. She loves Democracy Prep just like she loves her staff and scholars.
“Everything goes back to love,” said Tanya. “It is not just a job, but life work. The struggle is real, but it is so worth it in the end.”