Kelly Parks

Kelly Parks took over as principal at Efland Cheeks Global Elementary in October.

 

When she originally came to Efland Cheeks Global Elementary School as a teacher, Kelly Parks was seeking a change of pace, and potentially looking to get out of teaching altogether. What she found at the school was both revitalizing and unexpected.

“When I came here, it sounds so cliché but literally my life changed,” Parks said. “I was reignited for teaching and I had this passion. I had amazing co-workers who are still here to this day. It changed everything for me and I fell in love with teaching again.”

She continued in a classroom for several more years before earning her Master’s degree and transitioning to an administrative role. In October, Parks was picked to be Principal at Efland Cheeks.

“I came back to Efland because I’d said for years that that was my home,” she said. “It’s so funny, because my husband said ‘You’ve always said you wanted to go back home.’ It just felt right. When I stepped into this role, it was just amazing. It felt like I was home, and I love this community. I love these families. The community is still so amazing and so embracing and it’s such a special place. I’m just thrilled to be a part of it, and I wanted to give back to a school that gave so much to me.”

One of Orange County Schools’ newest principals took time out of her bustling schedule to talk with the News of Orange County about what her first few weeks have been like running the school that means so much to her. 

NEWS OF ORANGE COUNTY: What specifically was it about Efland Cheeks Global Elementary that rekindled your teaching spirit?

KELLY PARKS: I was incredibly supported. The children here are amazing. They have this love that you don’t see everywhere. They want to be here. (The students) want to learn here. We have such a diverse staff. They bring so much strength to the table and they are all about our kids. It’s wonderful to be part of a place like that. 

NOC: What were some of the challenges you were expecting to face in your new role?

KP: Learning a new role is difficult, but there’s always a learning curve. I’m not great at sitting back and watching. I really take action. I like to hit the ground running. There’s a lot of staff that were here when I was here as a teacher, so they know how I am. They know that I’m just gonna get up and go, and I think they were ready and excited for that.

NOC: You mentioned one of the characteristics of Efland Cheeks that changed your trajectory as a teacher was the support you received. How will you now convey to your teachers that you support them?

KP: I am always a teacher at heart. I think that it’s easy when you move into an administrative role to lose touch with students, because the business of this job can be overwhelming. But every decision I make, every step I make, every conversation I have is always led with what is best for students and what is best for children and their families. I think always being in the mind of a teacher brings me back to what is best for children. That is the only thing you can never stray from.

NOC: How many students are at Efland Cheeks?

KP: About 500. We are a magnet (school), so other families can come in that are not specifically districted for our school. We do have a handful that come here for the magnet focus, but it is primarily families who live here in this community, which I think is the beautiful piece of it. I believe a school is not just teachers and children and it’s not isolated to the building walls. A school is a community. And while we are teaching children and we’re supporting our teachers, we are also making an investment in the families that are a part of this community. 

NOC: What is the magnet focus?

KP: It’s a global equity curriculum.

NOC: What time does your day start and end?

KP:  It’s all the time, you know? I think that my mind is always running about what I can do better and what I can pour into my skull and pour into my staff and my students. My own daughter is going to be here in kindergarten next year, which is so exciting. My philosophy is that if something is not good enough for my child, then it’s not good enough for anyone’s child. So, I’m always thinking through what would I want my daughter to experience here. I don’t ever stop. If I’m not at work, I’m thinking about work. But it’s good because I’m still so excited. And, genuinely, I do love what I do. And I always have. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Ever since I was in kindergarten. 

NOC: How has it been being a principal?

KP: It’s been great. I love being an administrator. I think it’s a great balance between being able to support students and being able to support teachers, and I love that balance. That’s really what a school is like: you’re you’re looking at all the different components and you’re helping them come together. I love this role. The transition is just a different place. The logistics and managerial things like that come with time.

NOC: Has Covid, and the guidelines in place to curb its spread, had any effect on how you’ve led this school?

KP: The goal was always to get the kids back on campus. It was a learning curve for everybody and we adults know that this is not normal, but a lot of our kiddos don’t know any different. I think that the adult modeling of this is how we’re going to handle things. The goal is to be back at school, and they’ve handled it very well. I think in a situation like that you will never regret doing too much, but you will always regret if you didn’t do enough.

NOC: What do you do for fun?

KP: I have two little girls at home. They are amazing. A 5-year-old and a 2 1/2-year-old, and they keep me very busy. I’m also in graduate school again for my doctorate. I wouldn’t say that’s fun, but it does take up a lot of my time. I love spending time with my family. That gives me life. And I have a wonderful, supportive husband, and he loves what I do. He doesn’t understand it. He’s a businessman, but you know, he’s my number one cheerleader.