Faith in Education; Devotion to Students, Colleagues and Family
By Chuck Wilbanks
Before she fell ill with Covid19, Omara Flores predicted to her husband that soon a scientist would find a cure for the virus racing through the United States. “When that happens,” she told him, “it will be because of a teacher, a teacher who inspired that person to want to learn, to want to do better, to become a scientist.”
That belief in the transformative power of education guided Mrs. Flores throughout her career, as she influenced the lives of countless students, teachers and fellow administrators. An AP at PS 95 in the Bronx, Mrs. Flores died from Covid 19 on April 6. She was 55. In addition to Elvin Flores, her husband of 35 years, her survivors include her son Ryan and daughter Amanda, a New York City teacher who recently passed exams to become an assistant principal herself.
Mrs. Flores worked at PS 95 for the last 20 years, during which time she variously served as the bilingual coordinator, the AP supervising assessments, science education and after school programs, and the AP in charge of grades 3 through 8. Mrs. Flores was the AP who Principal Serge Davis would put in charge of the building when he was called away on meetings.
“She approached the work with great integrity and humility and most of all empathy with students, staff and parents,” said Mr. Davis the day after she died. “She was purposeful, a great colleague you could count on. She did everything she could to transform the lives of our students. It’s a tremendous loss to our whole community.”
Her husband recounted several stories of students she had inspired, such as the time they were buying a car and the dealership’s finance manager recognized her and gave her a big hug and told her she had helped him turn his life around. “I’m successful because of what you did for me,” he told her.
The day she died, one of her current students called the school, distraught and in disbelief.
“He had been very difficult with her, and now she’s gone,” Mr. Flores said. “When he called the school, he was very upset. He said, ‘Is it true? I’m so sorry I gave her a hard time. I promise I’m going to turn my life around. She was the only one who believed in me.’”
Other staff members at her school spoke of how she had made a difference in their careers and lives. “This was my first year as an AP and she took me under her wing,” said Michele Di Renzo. “She always checked up on me, always encouraged me even on my bad days. She was a tremendous support to me.”
Nick Merchant, an English teacher for grades 7 and 8, said he had known Mrs. Flores for 20 years and she had been his supervisor for 14 of them. He described her as the “heart and soul” of the school, someone who ‘lived and breathed education.” The day she died, he posted a tribute to Mrs. Flores on social media, explaining how she had been a rock for him during many challenging times.
“Early on, she took me under her wing and helped guide me as an educator,” he wrote. “Every day, I would pop into her office to say good morning, share a prayer, and discuss what I was going to teach for that day. There was no one else in that building who could hold me up when the chips were down and my back was against the wall. Omara was there for me every time. I would find solace in her office in the most tumultuous of times. I could bring her my bad news and I would leave with next steps.”
Mr. Flores said his wife was particularly proud that their daughter had followed in her footsteps and took joy in mentoring her just as she did her colleagues. “She would call and say, ‘Mom, what do you think of this?’ Or, ‘Mom, this is what I’m going to be teaching.’ She would help her decorate her classroom and even when her laptop was open and there were papers all over the place, she would take a call from our daughter about her work.”
In a statement to the public, CSA President Mark Cannizzaro paid homage to Mrs. Flores as an exemplary member. “Our sister Omara Flores was an educator completely devoted to her students, her colleagues and her broader school community,” he said. “She was known for her ferocious work ethic, her warm, caring personality and her absolute devotion to her belief in the empowerment of people through education. Throughout her long career, she helped many students and teachers achieve their potential. By living her life the way she did, she epitomized the finest traditions of our profession and our union. All of us at CSA stand in mourning with her family and the PS 95 community. Her loss profoundly affects us all.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Mrs. Flores moved to New York when she was four years old. Her husband said she spent her life in the Bronx. Like other teachers and administrators around the city, Mrs. Flores recognized the danger of the current virus but continued going to work until it was no longer possible.
“When this whole thing started, I said to her, ‘Stay home, please,’” Mr. Flores said. “She said, ‘I can’t. My students need me; my teachers need me. I have to be there.’ That was her dedication. She loved God and her family and the 95 community and everyone loved her.”