SANTA ANA, Calif. — As she walks through the hallways in her first week back at James Madison Elementary School in Santa Ana, Principal Lisa Gonzales-Solomon fights back tears of joy.
"It makes me happy, I can’t even tell you," said Solomon. "I’m elated just to see them here."
It has been a long road to bring life back to the school's campus, and even when her students couldn’t be here, Solomon made sure their families knew she was there for them.
"That was our one thing, over this whole COVID, was making sure our parents and families were taken care of," she said. "We would pack bags of food at my house with all the teachers and bring them out to my neighbors."
Throughout the pandemic, Solomon organized food drives for her students, personally checked in on students at home and never lost touch.
"Some of our families had very little," she said. "I think for them, everyone else was stockpiling food, toilet paper, things like that. So for us, it was important to be able to provide to keep our families alive in ways."
That’s the way this principal has been running things for the past seven years — with compassion and love.
Loraine Perez, a deputy superintendent for the Santa Ana Unified School District, has watched as Solomon transformed this school.
“Hands down, just a servant leader, an amazing servant leader, and we’re just blessed to have Ms. Solomon as part of our district, and she exemplifies what it means to be Santa Ana Unified School District,” said Perez.
Solomon's altruism has inspired others. A couple miles away, the seniors at the neighboring Woodbridge Terrace assisted living facility in Irvine have heard about Solomon’s selflessness and thought it was time to return the favor. They loaded up their bus and went back to school, but they brought supplies and support to show the students how proud they are — and to show Soloman that she's not alone.
Solomon was overcome with gratitude for the gesture.
"Honestly, it touches my heart because so many people stepped up," she said. "I’m sorry I’m emotional, but to see our kids back and to see them so happy, and I think it just sends the message that it’s not just us who cares about them. It’s the greater community, and when we can give them that message, they’re going to learn to do the same."
Despite all the unknowns of coming back to school, the students, families and staff know that one thing is constant: the unrelenting love of their leader on this campus.