Leadership Insights: How Dallas ISD Principal of the Year and PIC 2019 Cohort alumna, Ruby Ramirez, uses values-driven leadership to empower and uplift others
Ruby Ramirez is the daughter of an immigrant mother and a proud product of Dallas ISD. She had no intentions of going into education at the beginning of her career, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity presented by the district’s “Grow Your Own” program (an initiative that pays two years of college tuition for students committing to teach in Dallas). She now leads the School for the Gifted and Talented (STAG) at Pleasant Grove, a unique Two-Way Dual Language Talented & Gifted campus, and is consistently hailed by colleagues across the district as a positive, passionate, and committed leader. Most recently named Dallas ISD Choice/Magnet Principal of the Year, she’s committed to empowering and uplifting her staff and students to reach the same success she’s experienced in her own career.
Growing into one’s leadership persona can be an intimidating task. This was certainly true for Ruby, who admitted that she felt ill-equipped when first interviewing to be a principal. A good friend, however, encouraged her that everything would be okay if Ruby could “just be herself”. Now, seven years later, being herself is one of the things Ruby does best.
“I'm not trying to be anyone else and that helps others be their true selves,” Ruby said. She further explained that she values laughter, light-heartedness, and making her campus an enjoyable place to work. “I try not to take everything too seriously because it's important to love what you're doing and be happy.”
Ms. Cook, Director of Magnet programming at STAG, affirmed this culture of authenticity and fun. “When you walk through the hallways you constantly hear laughter and know that someone has either said something hilarious or done something hilarious,” Cook said. “We believe it's okay to laugh and make mistakes and to not get it right the first time.”
Ruby is also committed to uplifting her students and staff. One way she does this is by using distributive leadership to provide opportunities for staff to grow. She’s created several campus committees and ensures that all staff members, teacher assistants, and campus volunteers are placed on the committee that best suits their skillset. Ms. Cook referred to her as a “master systems thinker” in this process and affirmed that Ruby’s ability to identify peoples’ strengths and help them build on their weaknesses is one of her best traits.
Katie Benningfield, an instructional lead teacher at STAG, painted a picture of the impact this has had in her own life, “The first year that we opened STAG, Ms. Ramirez assigned me one of the distributed leadership roles and I panicked because I thought I couldn’t do it. I had honestly never seen myself as a leader. But through that leadership experience, I was able to leverage my strengths and grow in areas that I considered to be weaker. She has helped me to grow in confidence not only as a teacher, but also as a leader.”
Kassandra Dena, Dual-Language teacher at STAG, similarly affirmed how Ruby’s leadership has helped her grow. “She knows where I want to be in 5-10 years and all the opportunities she has given me are growing me to get there.”
This desire to empower others goes beyond the staff. Ruby also encourages her students to have a voice and advocate for themselves. Ms. Benningfield explained, “If students have really great ideas they're able to bring them to Ms. Ramirez and adjustments will be made. One example of this is when a group of students requested a recess period. While Ruby couldn’t acquiesce to a full elementary style recess model, she did change the lunch structure so that students could go outside after eating and enjoy fresh air and social interaction. It’s changes like these, her staff members affirmed, that make the campus feel so bought in and engaged.
Investing in self
While Ruby is committed to investing in and empowering her school community, she is also transparent about the demands of the job. As a natural caretaker, Ruby explained that she sometimes had trouble focusing on herself, but PIC’s wellness focus held her accountable to take time off for herself, too. She now feels “more capable of fulfilling her role” and that she “knows her limits”. She also says that she no longer feels guilty when she needs to take time off and she is better at investing in activities, such as meditation, that recharge her. This, she believes, has had a positive impact on her campus because it has modeled balance and boundaries for staff, especially during times of crisis such as the COVID 19 pandemic.
Further reflecting on the importance of self-care, Ruby shared a few words of wisdom for fellow principals. “When you hear about great things that a leader does it can be very easy to be self-conscious. It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as perfection. There is no secret sauce. When you can accept that and stop chasing a certain culture and climate and just work on being the best you, you'll realize that you get much farther.”
This positive attitude and healthy mindset have certainly helped Ruby to go far. It’s clear to see that she cares about her staff members and is committed to elevating everyone toward professional success. We’re grateful for her visionary leadership and eager to see all that she accomplishes.