Mentor principals have played a critical role in the success of the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) since the program’s inception in 2012. The experience, accountability, and personal attention that these leaders provide has been a defining characteristic of the LEI, helping Catholic school principals—and their teams— institute lasting changes.
After schools attend the LEI summer conference, mentor principals maintain regular contact with the 4-6 school leaders in their group through monthly video conference calls. These conversations, which focus on various themes related to Latino outreach, recruitment, and enrollment, are an opportunity for school leaders to learn from one another and receive real-time consultation and feedback from their mentor on some of the things that they’re doing in their school.
The commitment of our LEI mentors, most of whom are still active Catholic school principals themselves, is truly the engine that drives the LEI.
In 2012, Mary Flock joined the very first LEI cohort, having just been given the seemingly impossible task of saving St. Gertrude the Great School (Bell Gardens, CA) from almost certain closure as the new principal. Not only did Mary prevent St. Gertrude from closing, but the school thrived under her leadership. Today, she serves as the principal of St. Polycarp School in Stanton, California, and is one of the longest-serving mentors in the LEI.
What do you enjoy most about your job as principal?
The easy answer is the kids. But if I had to narrow down what I LOVE the most about my role as a principal, it is when I have an opportunity to help a parent realize a dream for their children that wasn’t part of their childhood reality. I believe education can be a way out of poverty. So when I’m talking to a parent who has an elementary-level education and is working jobs to support their family and I see the determination in their eyes, I listen to the sacrifices they are willing to make and I feel the pride they have to be able to provide a better opportunity for their children. That is God’s grace in action for sure. And I LOVE being in a position to make parents’ and students’ dreams a reality.
If you could meet anyone in the world, either alive or deceased, who would it be and why?
Mary Magdalene. I'd love to know what she knew, what she witnessed, what she thought, and how she felt being presumably the second-closest woman to Jesus.
Can you tell us a little about your family?
I’m the youngest of five girls. I was a "surprise" baby. Both my parents were 40 when I was born. Growing up with a house full of girls, my dad was determined to ensure each one of us could take care of ourselves, have and articulate opinions, regardless of what they were, and never be afraid to use our voices. Education was a top priority. My parents worked hard to put us through Catholic school and going to college was never an “if” conversation but rather a “when.” I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth but I grew up blessed and was taught the value of hard work, self-reliance, faith, and kindness.
My dad died unexpectedly when I was 20, one week before the second semester finals my sophomore year in college. It was a devastating time. I was never a "daddy's girl", but at that time, I was finally building an adult relationship with him and I was really enjoying it. The fact that I never got that to have that "mature" relationship I saw my sisters have still makes me sad today. I think we would have been besties!
Before becoming a principal, what was the most unusual or interesting job you've had?
During my senior year in college, I was on the Week of Welcome board, which was the new student orientation program. It wasn't a paid position (it is now) but it was definitely a full-time job. At the time, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo had the largest student-run orientation program in the country. From that experience, I learned how to work with professionals and what it meant to be a professional. The board had to talk with city officials, the university president and his office, professors, local business owners, the police department, and public works. We trained a team that trained the counselors and coordinated a week full of orientation events for 5000+ students. As board members we dressed up, sang, joined in activities, while handling all the behind-the-scenes "not so much fun stuff."
One of the days, I gave the welcome speech to an audience of 10,000 new students and their families. Right after that, I got into a chicken costume and performed the chicken dance with my team. An hour and a half later, I was driving a gas can out to one of the groups that was stranded at the Pismo Beach dunes. Without a doubt, this is the "job" that influenced me the most in my life and made me who I am today.
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see and why?
The initial conversation, in the 1820s, between the women who wanted to fight for the right to vote. Those are my type of women! Actually, anytime during the 100-year period where women came together to fight for their right to be heard would be amazing to witness. People coming together to empower and build up one another, that’s the kind of conversation I want to be part of, witness, and emulate.
If you won the lottery, what would be the first three things you would buy?
That's a tough one. I truly have everything I want - the love of a man, a home to cook in, a job I love, and a great family. I am happy and content and that makes me blessed.....BUT I suppose I could be persuaded to buy a house overlooking the ocean, a wildlife preservation (with a house on it so I could sit inside and watch all the animals thrive) and the Green Bay Packers Football team. If you know, you know!
Can you tell us something interesting about your childhood?
I sucked my thumb until I was 11 and I took my security blanket to college with me! In fact, I still have my security blanket. There isn't much left of it, but it's tucked inside my t-shirt drawer and every once in a while I touch it and I still get a warm, safe feeling inside.
What is your hometown and what is one must-see for people who visit there?
There isn't much in Whittier, CA, but Whittier College is where President Nixon graduated from College and one town over is his library. Both the campus and the library are worth visiting.
Mary Flock presenting at the New England LEI in Providence, Rhode Island. (2017)
Can you tell us something that might surprise us about you?
I am a closet introvert. I am good at public speaking and I am comfortable striking up a conversation with an absolute stranger, which makes people assume I am an extrovert, but I prefer to be at home with my family. I have a VERY small group of friends and I’m typically not the one talking when my little group is together. I like one-on-one conversations or small intimate settings. That is where I gather my energy, feel most at home, and find my happiness.
How does it feel being the principal of a school transitioning to become the only online school in the Diocese of Orange?
Surprisingly, I’m loving the creative, problem-solving part of this pioneering project. I really struggled with distance learning during the spring. Like everyone, I missed all the things I love about my job and couldn’t wait to get back to school. However, I found that I was even more anxious about how to bring everyone back on campus safely. The thought of having to keep kids six feet apart, put up partitions, make sure everyone has a mask, that the mask is on and that it's clean was concerning. I know it’s important but it still breaks my heart to imagine keeping kids from playing together during their breaks or canceling the breaks altogether.
There is also an immense amount of responsibility being placed on teachers and administrators to ensure the health and well being of their communities. It makes me sad, so when I was approached with this opportunity, my sadness and anxiety were quickly transformed into excitement and relief.
The Holy Spirit has been busy working through me during the lead-up and start of this school year! The online program that is being reimagined is coming together nicely and is catching fire within the Diocese of Orange community. We are building a virtual classroom with a rigorous curriculum, grounded in the Catholic tradition but are also being mindful of the need to intertwine social and emotional activities for the children’s well being.
More about Mary Flock...
Mary Flock began teaching in 2001 with a spunky second grade class at Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra, CA. Five years later, Mary moved on to St. Paul High School in Santa Fe Springs, CA, as the Dean of Discipline and multi-level Religion teacher for six years. Mary left high school administration and served as the principal of St. Gertrude the Great Catholic School in Bell Gardens, CA, from 2011 to 2018. St. Gertrude the Great was a struggling school located in a low-income, predominantly Hispanic part of L.A. With the help of a motivated staff and some serious intercession from St. Gertrude herself, the school went from a population of only 42 students during Mary’s first year to over 220 students in seven years. More importantly, the school went from having a reputation of having poor academics and a lack of Catholicity to a highly reputable and sought out school producing faith-filled, high achievers earning numerous local high schools’ scholarships and accolades. Watch the story of St. Gertrude's transformation here.
In 2018, Mary took on a new leadership position as principal of St. Polycarp School in Stanton, CA, which was reimagined in the Spring of 2020 as a pioneering online academy during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. The school now serves the Diocese of Orange as the official online, distance learning program.
If you're interested in learning how to recruit, enroll, and better serve Latino children in your school, as well as work with an incredible mentor like Noreen Dillon, consider joining the LEI!