From receptionist to principal, school leader answers call to community

J.P. Henderson Elementary School Principal Maria Guerra’s journey in education went full circle from front desk to front office. Call after call, Guerra started her career in HISD as the front-desk receptionist at Henderson in the East End while working on her bachelor’s degree. Providing customer service that fostered trust and collaboration from parents and students was her priority. Fifteen years later, Guerra’s priority continues to be her guide, as she now leads J. P. Henderson as the school principal.

“At 15 years later, it is an awesome experience to be the same community,” Guerra said. “I share my story with my J.P. Henderson parents. I grew up in the community, and their encouragement and support helped me be where I am today. I encourage my staff as well, telling them ‘I was in your spot once.’”

It’s easy to see why Guerra is celebrated throughout HISD. Her peers and area superintendents see all the hard work she puts in at J.P. Henderson, from the start of the day until the final bell, to provide a warm and welcoming school experience for all, which is why many of her superiors wanted her story told during National Principals Month.

Guerra also worked in the classroom as a second- and third-grade teacher at Davila Elementary, where she helped elevate the school out of Improvement Required (IR) status. Guerra was told by many that she would make a great principal, and eventually she became an assistant principal at Davila before becoming the principal at J.P. Henderson. Guerra is also a product of HISD and a proud graduate of Milby High School.

A day in the life of Guerra as principal includes safety protocols, attendance verification, meetings with campus leaders, and sometimes going door-to-door to make connections with the community.

“She’s very positive and eager to learn new things,” said Assistant Principal Claudia Flores. “She’s really competitive and motivating us to do the best. I’ve learned a lot from her, which is great because I’m aspiring to be a principal, so it is always good to share new things to benefit the community and the students.”

In addition to her daily duties, Guerra has taken on the responsibility of reaching out to her area’s large Guatemalan community by connecting with them and providing events at the apartment complexes where the students reside. She provides their guardians with information and resources to assist with cultural differences and anything else needed by the students to be successful.

Guerra and her administration also provide the students with uniforms, shoes, and school supplies, as well as wraparound specialists to assist parents, counselors to provide support, and a partnership with the apartment complex through charities. Guerra also facilitated a bus service for these at-need students with help from Representative Sylvia Garcia and Superintendent Millard House.

Guerra’s generosity is celebrated, as former students often return to J.P. Henderson to share how they are doing. At the end of the school day, Guerra has many things to be thankful for.

“My favorite part of being a principal is the connections we make with students, the community, and teachers,” said Guerra. “I feel like I can really make a difference.”

It started years ago with Guerra answering the phones, but now she’s answering the call of the community she proudly serves.