Principal Chooses Students Over a Career in Law

Principal Chooses Students Over a Career in Law
Posted on 10/10/2019
Esther Rivera

Esther Rivera is the new principal at Forest Hill Community High School, rising to the position in August 2019. Rivera was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and moved with her family to Connecticut at the age of three. At the time, she only spoke Spanish, but she quickly learned English and adapted to the culture of her new home.

Rivera’s father was a special education teacher, and her mother worked as a microbiologist. They impressed upon her the importance of education and made it a priority in their family. When she turned 16, her family moved to Florida where she attended Wellington Community High School, eventually graduating with a Bright Futures scholarship. She went on to enroll at Florida Atlantic University, receiving a Criminal Justice degree in just three years.

With the goal of becoming a juvenile criminal defense lawyer, Rivera gained admission to Florida International University’s College of Law. However, during one of her classes, she came to the realization that practicing law was not her dream after all.

A discussion about young people who get caught up in the criminal justice system, and her awareness of how the system impacts minorities in particular, prompted Rivera to change her mind about her career.

“I decided that in order to impact our youth, I had to become proactive rather than reactive,” Rivera said. “I decided to pursue a teaching certificate. Since I had excelled in English and had a love for writing and reading, I became an English teacher.”

Rivera began her teaching career at Boynton Beach Community High School, where many of her students were considered “at-risk”. Encouraged by the positive impact she was having on her students in the classroom, Rivera felt that she could have a greater impact by becoming an administrator. As such, she decided to pursue a master's degree in Educational Leadership.

Her administrative career began as the assistant principal at Indian Ridge School which serves K-12 students classified as Emotionally/Behaviorally Disabled. From there, Rivera moved to John I. Leonard High School and worked to make a difference among the school’s Hispanic students. She created various initiatives highlighting Latin culture and promoting the students’ cultural pride.

“I truly believe that our Latino student population learned the importance of having a ‘voice’ in their education,” Rivera said. “I established a group called ‘Latin Fire’ to showcase our students’ talents and also implemented an educational course called ‘Latinos in Action’ that exposes students to rigorous coursework to encourage college attendance.”

Her work at John I. Leonard High earned Rivera the Wings of Inspiration Administrator of the Year award from the Association of Latin Administrators and Superintendents. In 2017, she became the principal of Palm Springs Elementary School. Then in August 2019, she assumed her current role as principal at Forest Hill Community High.

“My education provided me an opportunity to help others and this has become my belief and mission,” Rivera said. “All students can learn and all students should be afforded the opportunity to learn. I hope that I can make a difference in the lives of others to accomplish their dreams and excel in their educational journey.”

The School District of Palm Beach County