Noemi Méndez the New Associate Principal at Capitol View Elementary Photo by Tar Macias / Hola Iowa
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Before the announcement of her new role as associate principal, Noemi Méndez went to the school to familiarize herself. While walking through Capitol View Elementary Méndez saw a group of kids in a single file line. One of the kids from the line approached her and asked, “Are you the new cafeteria lady?” Méndez said “No, I am your new Associate Principal.” “You could do that?” asked the young girl in amazement “Yes, and so can you” Méndez said.

Before becoming the associate principal, Méndez oversaw the English Language Learners program for Des Moines Public Middle Schools. Méndez has been incredibly involved, not only as an educator with the Des Moines School District but also in the community, she’s the Executive Director of the  Latina Leadership Initiative (LLI) . To read more on LLI, here is an Article of her involvement.

During her career she decided to go into administration and got a Masters degree from Drake University.

“I wanted more opportunities. So I jumped into getting my administrative degree a year after I got my specialist degree in education. I was doing a lot of things as a teacher. I got the curriculum job, and I finished when I was at Harding Middle School. ” said Méndez 

After getting her degree, she was ready to take on bigger roles in education. 

“So all these administrative positions started coming up. My boss encouraged me and said, “think about it, you have your admin degree ready; you should take a shot at it” said Méndez 

After a few years as a Curriculum Coordinator, the associate principal opportunity jumped at her, with the support of her community, family, and colleagues she took the risk and got the job.

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“Although the climb to where I am was not easy and I did advocate for myself throughout the way, I now want to encourage others to do the same. Just like I have always shared with my own children and my students, never give up! Getting this position was not easy, I was rejected at first, but I kept applying until it was my time. I’m a strong believer in whether things are meant to happen or not, and when it’s time it’s time. One could disagree and quit of course we can easily do that or we can take the bull by its horns and fight for what we want!” said Méndez 

Some of the experiences in Mendez ‘career as a coordinator are pretty enlightening yet true! With such a high need for more Latinx educator representation at Des Moines Public Schools, Mrs. Mendez shares some of her experiences.

“Every time that I go into the schools, there are Latinos. In K-12 it was more evident in the higher grades because they’d be like, “You speak spanish!” “That’s so cool!” That made me feel good & that empowered me. It’s crazy how the students see you differently,” said Méndez 

One of the things Méndez is really excited for is meeting the families at Capitol View  Elementary and communicating with Spanish-speaking families in their language. 

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“I wish my mom had someone that spoke Spanish like her and someone that looked like her, and helped her feel welcomed when I was going to school. That’s kind of our motto here at Capitol View, that everyone is welcome. We want to make sure everybody feels accepted, embraced, and appreciated.” said Méndez 

Méndez continues “…I want to tell parents that we are here for them. We can’t wait to meet them and for us to have a conversation, and get to know them personally. I want them to be able to come in and talk to me and feel that I will be listening to them.“ 

As the Associate Principal, she takes her role seriously. She wants to be present in every way possible and to listen to the students, teachers and parents’ concerns and ideas.

“I want to know how they feel and what we are doing so that we could improve in any way that’s needed because they see things differently than we do. To me voice is important and anytime I’ve worked with students or teachers, their voice was always heard.” said Méndez 

In all of her years teaching, some of her favorite memories come from her earlier years at Harding Middle School in Des Moines. 

“When I got there, I didn’t realize the kids I was going to work with were new to the country. Kids that came from refugee camps and immigrants that just arrived.” said Méndez 

Méndez started her career there teaching 4 students. Over time, she started getting more and more students; and by the end of her first year she had 9 students in her class. 

The students taught her a lot and these students’ lives changed, as well as hers’. During her fifth year she went from 9 kids to 30 students. 

Her classroom was a little over capacity, but she was excited to see each and every one of the kids in her classroom. Méndez had kids from Central America, Mexico, Afghanistan, and China; the future of the world was in her classroom. Unfortunately, her students also felt the impact of broken immigration laws. 

One day, as the kids were finding a seat during roll call, Méndez heard one of the students crying. She approached them and they said, “I am going to get deported.”

Upon hearing that, more kids started to cry for their friend & classmate. Méndez had to think fast to keep the class under control. She kept her cool and said,  “Everythings going to be okay!” 

But another student looked at her and said,  “No Ms. Méndez, it’s not going to be okay.” I had a student teacher at the time Ms. Cox and all the kids were counting on me,” said Méndez.

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“We walked to the library and we sat.  We were just sitting there hugging each other and embracing each other.” said Méndez

That experience taught her many valuable lessons she carried throughout her career at various schools across the district. Everytime she walks the halls, visits schools, and sees other students, she smiles and talks to them in both English and in Spanish to let them know she understands them and to acknowledge that both worlds can exist.  

“I want kids to feel empowered, I want to empower them and staff too and in some way empowering them fills my bucket, my purpose in life is fulfilled with their joy and success…” said Méndez

Méndez continues, “…And other adults as well, particularly our families that don’t speak English. Señora, we will help you. I want you to know that you do hold that power and we want to empower you as well because you have a voice in this school and in this district.”

Méndez is excited to be in her new role and welcomes both parents and students with open arms virtually and in person. 

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