Miami-Dade County

José Martí principal learned a lot from his dad, the first principal

Jose Enriquez Jr., left, and his father, Jose Enriquez Sr., right, stand outside the auditorium that bares his father's name. Jose Enriquez Sr. was the founding principal of Jose Marti Junior High; his son is now the principal of the same school, which is now called José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy.
Jose Enriquez Jr., left, and his father, Jose Enriquez Sr., right, stand outside the auditorium that bares his father's name. Jose Enriquez Sr. was the founding principal of Jose Marti Junior High; his son is now the principal of the same school, which is now called José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Five years ago, Jose Enriquez Jr. named his school’s auditorium after his father.

The principal at José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy was recognizing not only his father, but the school’s founding principal when he called the space the Jose Enriquez Sr. Auditorium.

“I was very excited. . . . It leaves a message of who I was and what I was,” said Enriquez Sr., 80.

A few years after his father retired, Enriquez Jr. took the helm as principal of the Hialeah school.

“My dad did a great service to this area,” said Stephen Enriquez, one of Enriquez Jr.’s younger brothers. “He started a legacy, and it’s prideful to have it as part of our family’s legacy. And it’s great my brother is passing it on.”

FAMILY OF TEACHERS

The Enriquez boys were always surrounded by education.

They grew up following their parents, both teachers, to conferences, sports games, and most of all, school.

“School and me were like synonymous,” said Enriquez Jr. “I just kind of grew up in school.”

Enriquez Sr., who moved to Miami from Cuba as a child in 1948, fell in love with school at Jackson Senior High (Class of 1956) and the University of Miami (Class of 1961). He would work his way up from a Spanish teacher to a counselor at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High, while still making time to coach the soccer team to a state championship. Eventually, he would become an assistant principal.

“In life you want to be the best you can be, and by becoming an assistant principal I could lead more people, work with teachers, more students, and be more productive,” he said.

He eventually applied to be the first principal at José Martí Junior High in 1987, excited for the challenge of leading a school named for a fellow Cuban countryman. He would lead the school, which at that time was for seventh- to ninth-graders, until 2001, when he retired.

It was Enriquez Sr. who would give current Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho his first administrative position as assistant principal in 1993.

“I remember those years as fantastic years,” Carvalho said. “I learned a lot — how to do a serious job but have an innocent, gregarious approach to it."

Years later, Carvalho would appoint Enriquez’s son to the same principal position his father held.

“I do see quite a bit of Jose in Jose, “ describing both men as intelligent and passionate.

As the father’s educational career came to a close, his sons’ careers began to flourish. Both Enriquez Jr. and his youngest brother, Michael, became teachers and coaches while Stephen became an accountant — who married a teacher.

“It’s a family business,” said Michael, who teaches science at American High School in Hialeah.

While he hoped his sons would go on to become doctors or lawyers, Enriquez Sr. said he was happy when they chose their careers because it was what they wanted to do.

“They did it on their own,” Enriquez Sr. said. “I never pressured them to do anything.”

After working as a social studies teacher, a coach and an administrator, his oldest son eventually applied to be principal at his father’s school.

“It’s in my heart,” Enriquez Jr. said. “It’s in my genes.”

FOLLOWING HIS FATHER

“All right, good luck.”

That’s what Enriquez Jr. remembers his father saying when he learned his son was applying for his old principal position.

“I was excited for him to go there and carry on my traditions,” he said. “The tradition is to make the school the best place for children to be in, to create a safe people for children and enrich their learning.”

Many on staff, especially those who knew Enriquez Jr., were excited that the son of the man who hired them would be running the school.

“I was ecstatic,” said Anthony Machaso, a technology education teacher who helped supervise construction at the school. He remembers first meeting Enriquez Jr. as a high school student.

“He had a good mentor, not just as a father, but as a principal.”

Enriquez Jr. said while he was initially nervous about taking over for his father, his father’s legacy and guidance made the transition easier.

“The most important thing I learned was not to be the boss,” he said. “You don’t have to be the boss to get them to follow you. Treat people with respect, with dignity.”

In the 10 years that Enriquez Jr. has been at José Martí, the school has expanded to include high school students and has become a nationally recognized magnet school. He also replaced all the aging furniture in his dad’s old office — except for the picture of José Martí that still hangs behind the principal’s desk.

“The family company is education, and I took over the family company in a way,” he said.

THE FAMILY BUSINESS

Enriquez Sr. said he never intended for education to become the family business.

“You give them tools, you tell them what life is about, and they make the decision about where they want to go,” he said.

More than anything, he said, he wants them to be the best they can be.

As of now, Michael doesn’t think he’ll follow his older brother and father into administration, as he’s content in the classroom. But he’s thought about it. And Stephen still hasn’t ruled out teaching accounting at a college after he retires from his firm.

“It’s in your blood; you can’t let it go,” he said.

Enriquez Jr. plans on sitting in his father’s old office for as long as he can, leaving his door open and pushing students to achieve their best.

“I’m very grateful for him paving the way for me,” he said. “I love my job. I’m super happy he did what he did.”

And maybe, he joked, his youngest daughter, 3-year-old Charlie, will be the one to carry on the family business.

“She’s my only hope now,” he said, laughing. “She’s gonna have to bring it home.”

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