Dr. Dalila Duarte understands how getting an early start in education can help better develop students for future success. As the first in her family to attend college, she eventually went on to earn a doctorate degree. She is now putting her education to work as the principal of Casa Azafrán Early Learning Centerfocusing on educating Metro School’s tiniest voices – Pre-K.

As principal of Casa Azafrán, Dr. Duarte places great emphasis on family services noting it as a healthy and critical part in enhancing a child’s learning experience.

“We welcome our children into the building to educate them, but we are bringing the families in as well,” she said. “We want to create a sense of support and help to our families through opportunities for services (medical, counseling and business) and parent workshops.”

Casa Azafrán is dedicated to preparing students for kindergarten and beyond through meaningful learning experiences based on play and discovery. To ensure the center is continuously meeting this objective, Dr. Duarte says she never loses sight of her top priority – the students.

“The priority is in providing them a space that empowers them not only academically but personally. We want them to know that everyone matters, and that they matter, so we personalize our practices to empower [our students],” she said.

Dr. Duarte, who relocated to Nashville from Chicago more than seven years ago, has found fulfillment in her work here. She says she “loves her job,” which allows her to positively impact the lives of children at an early age.

“I get the most joy when we see families return, whether they are coming to visit or bringing the next sibling to our school,” she said. “[Also] seeing the teachers get deep in the magic of tapping into a child’s curiosity; and seeing children [and teachers] take pride in what they do.”

And that pride runs deep within her school, as she’s worked to create a culture where her team feels happy about walking into the building each day.

“[Staff] should feel valued and feel good about being here,” Dr. Duarte said. “I tell them, ‘This is the place you spend the most time, so it is important that you walk in with your spirits up and always feel loved, cared for and valued.’”

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