Center alumnus receives highest honor from MDCPS
“The 2016 Miami-Dade County Public School Principal of the Year is … Dr. Manuel Sanchez!”
When those words announced the winner of the coveted title at the awards ceremony at Jungle Island on April 21, 2016, Manuel Sanchez III, principal of Miami Lakes Middle School, received the top recognition from the District for his achievements, talent and leadership.
“I was overwhelmed – and so appreciative of this honor made possible because there’s such an outstanding team at our school,” Dr. Sanchez says. “I had a speech prepared just in case, as all the finalists were asked to do; but it was difficult to pull myself together to deliver that speech.”
Dr. Sanchez has served as principal of Miami Lakes Middle School (MLMS) since 2011 and has more than 20 years of experience in administration and curricular expertise. He began his career as an Exceptional Student Education teacher at Miami Park Elementary in 1994 and also served as Assistant Principal at Carol City Middle School and Principal of Palm Springs North Elementary.
Under Dr. Sanchez’s leadership, MLMS began a Legal Studies Magnet Program that attracts many students as does the school’s highly successful Cambridge Academy. Over the past four years, MLMS has increased enrollment by 45 percent and increased academic achievement each year.
Dr. Sanchez, who is married with two children, has earned three advanced degrees: from Florida International University he received a Bachelor of Science degree (1994) and a Master of Science (1995). He completed his PhD from Barry University in Educational Leadership in 2002. He continued his leadership development as a member of Cohort VI of the Principals Leadership Development Program (PLDP) presented by the Center for Leadership at FIU. This program, designed to empower Miami-Dade County principals to become more effective leaders and change agents, integrates the most effective leadership/management tools and business practices based on cutting-edge leadership research conducted at The Center. To date, more than 200 principals have participated in these programs, with another 30 scheduled to attend this summer.
“We heartily congratulate Dr. Sanchez for this exceptional recognition from the school system,” says Mayra Beers, PhD, Director of Strategy for the Center for Leadership at Florida International University. “Research tells us there is an extremely strong link between great principals and effective teaching. Dr. Sanchez’s participation in our nationally recognized program shows not only his quest for lifelong learning but also his desire to maximize the positive impact he has on his school, faculty, staff and students.”
“My bachelor’s degree encompassed a lot of hands-on learning, my master’s degree and doctorate were more philosophical learning,” says Dr. Sanchez, “But the Center’s program was a game-changer for me, showing me the latest findings from leadership research. I keep the leadership plaque I received right on my desk so I look at it often to remember what I learned. There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t use something I learned from this excellent program.”
The ABCs of Success
Dr. Sanchez says what really defines a leader’s success is how he or she treats others. “My grandfather was a school custodian and he spoke with such pride, you would think he owned the school,” Dr. Sanchez recalls. “I learned to treat every member of the team with respect, as if each is the most important member of the team. And each one is! When you have an air conditioning problem, the AC mechanic is the most important team member. When there’s a particular challenge in a classroom, that teacher is the most important person you can have to solve the problem.”
What may seem like a paradox is really a marvelous method of leadership that Dr. Sanchez has created. “I consistently treat everyone differently,” he says. “With brand new teachers, my role is to help them understand the ‘play book’ and get the basics down. For more experienced teachers, I’m their cheerleader, encouraging them to reach new heights. But for the truly self-sufficient team members – the place where I want everyone to move — I make sure I empower them.”
Dr. Sanchez advocates learning as much as possible about each team member’s job, and acknowledging faculty and staff members in small meaningful ways, even with something as simple as personally delivering a birthday card to each person on their big day- minor acts with big payoffs.