Being a woman leading a successful athletics department for a large school district that has earned several state titles is not the norm. But Silvia Salinas, the first female executive director for the Dallas ISD Department of Athletics, stands out not just for these accomplishments, but also for creating a positive culture that uplifts future leaders.
Salinas believes in making sure the 1,200 coaches and over 150 events team members who work directly with students are the department’s focus. This year, that focus has led to South Oak Cliff High School’s football team and Justin F. Kimball High School’s basketball team winning state titles.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure our coaches are feeling respected, valued and have everything they need to be successful,” Salinas said. “When you have people who are thriving, and feel loved and respected, you are going to have better, healthier people in front of kids.”
Salinas has worked for 29 years in education, and 25 of those years have been at Dallas ISD. She first came to the district in 1996 and worked at Skyline High School where she taught math and coached cross-country/track and field. She left the district for two years to coach and earn a master’s degree at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La. She then returned to the district in 2000 and became the assistant director of athletics in 2004. She’s served in her current role as executive director of athletics since 2019.
As the leader of the athletic department of a large district, do you see more women taking on leadership roles in sports administration?
Nationally, the percentage of women being in our roles is not high, but in the DFW area, there are quite a few women who are in leadership roles. What I encourage our female coaches to do is to be leaders wherever they are. They don’t have to have titles to lead. When granted the opportunity and being in this chair as the first female executive director of athletics for Dallas ISD, I have the responsibility to do things right and set a good example, so doors are open for women who come after me.
What accomplishment are you proudest of?
I am most proud of earning my doctorate degree. I started the program in 2009, while working as the assistant director in athletics. I defended my dissertation and graduated in December of 2013 from the University of North Texas with a degree in higher education.
What advice or words of encouragement would you give your younger self or someone following in your footsteps?
In track and field, I wish I knew what I know now as a coach because I think I would have been a better athlete. But my journey is my journey and I don’t have any regrets. I’m just proud of the journey. I would encourage myself to make connections along the way, meet more people, learn their names, because you never know when you’re going to cross paths with them again. I did a little bit of that, and that’s how I ended up coaching at the college level. I made connections as an undergraduate student and an athlete. I would encourage myself and others to continue making those connections and not be afraid to take chances.
What helps you persevere during hard moments?
My faith. I must keep centering myself with that. I must remind myself not to take things personally, which is hard, because I’m very personally invested in my work, otherwise I wouldn’t be here for this long. But I think when it comes to challenges, I must step away from it, recenter myself, and just lean on my faith. It’s always good to have a friend or colleague to help you stay grounded and work to make the right decisions for our students and our department.
What drew you to the field of education?
My mom and my grandparents really pushed education. I was lucky. I grew up in the Hispanic community, and I was very blessed that my grandparents pushed education. It didn’t matter what happened, but I was going to finish my degree. I already knew I was going to do that. And seeing my mom work in her passion, inspired me to do the same. No matter what I chose to do, I was going to do it with full effort and passion. I always loved learning and I kept my focus on that. My family gave me the foundation, and that kept pushing me to keep achieving things that I wanted to do.
What is your favorite memory at Dallas ISD?
We have a lot of great memories. Most people would say it’s about the wins and the championships, and all those are very special and very memorable for me. For me it’s more when a coach or a student thanks me for inspiring them or helping them or giving them advice. It’s more of an intrinsic feeling that I get from a thank you or a note when someone comes back after a few years and says ‘you really helped me with certain things.’ Just the one-on-one conversations are what’s memorable for me.
I remember those things. I want to help coaches, and I want to help our students, and it’s not going to be an easy journey each time, as hurdles are going to come our way. COVID – you can’t forget that. And having to lead in a year like that, that was so unprecedented, was challenging. I was leaning into my faith because I was thinking, “How do I lead coaches and kids through this?” I had to step in front of people to lead them through the unknown. We may not have all the answers but we’re going to get through this together, and just encourage people to keep going and to hopefully see the other side of it.