Monroe County Student Services Director Lesley Messier-Salinero on her role as a modern mom
Story by Rebecca Anderson, photos courtesy of Dr. Messier-Salinero and Monroe County Schools
Articulate, poised, confident and easy-going, Dr. Messier-Salinero is an exceptional woman, but could be any modern mom. As a mother to two teenagers, stepmother, career professional and community leader, like many other women, Dr. Lesley Messier-Salinero knows what it’s like to juggle multiple roles while struggling to maintain her own identity and personal well-being.
In her role as Director of Student Services for Monroe County Schools, Dr. Messier-Salinero serves as the county’s liaison to the state and the federal government. She also oversees the district’s special education, psychiatric, therapeutic and evaluative services.
Prior to taking on her current role as Student Services, Dr. Messier-Salinero was principal of Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon. She graduated from St. Leo College and earned her master’s degree at Troy State University (with some of her coursework matriculated at Harvard) before completing her Ph.D. in Child and Youth Studies at Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Messier-Salinero also danced with the Tampa Ballet.
Dr. Messier-Salinero has lived in the Florida Keys for 25 years, but has been an island lady most of her life. “It’s ironic, I grew up on the coast of Tampa on a little island and I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t stand it!’ and then I moved and ended up on another island. I guess there’s no escaping it,” she laughed.
Both of Dr. Dr. Messier-Salinero’s children were raised in the Florida Keys. Niki, 15, and Dakota, 17 currently attend Key West High School. She also has a stepson, Jarrod, age 11, who lives in Tallahassee with his mother, but plans to spend the summer in the Keys with Dr. Messier-Salinero and her husband.
“For kids, [the Florida Keys are] great,” says Messier-Salinero. “They can go out and look for land crabs, snorkel, and fish. It’s always funny when we go to the mainland and they go into a mall.”
Dr. Messier-Salinero appreciates the small-town atmosphere of the Keys, but acknowledges that parenting in such a unique community provides a distinct set of challenges. “I know a lot of people have opinions that the Keys lifestyle has divergent opinions on how to be a good parent, but I see a lot of really good parents down here. I think it’s just if you care more about your kids than yourself, you’re a good parent,” Messier-Salinero stated.
As with many other working moms, balance is the key to Dr. Messier-Salinero’s success as a parent and a professional. “You have to make a little bit of time for yourself, but make time to spend with your kids and have genuine conversations, not just ‘so how was school,’ because the kid’s going to say ‘it stunk, I didn’t want to be there.’ But you really have to be, like, ‘so how’s that working out?’ Really speak with them on an individual level and have an interest in what they’re doing outside of school.”
To maintain this balance, Dr. Messier-Salinero spends her lunch hours doing yoga. “It’s just a really nice way to balance your body,” she states. As moms, we often neglect ourselves. We give to our jobs, we give to our spouse, we give to our kids, and at the end of the day, it’s just ‘Oh dear God, can I just hide in the bathroom for 10 minutes and have some space?’ But to go and do yoga, or running, or something like that it, just kind of peaces you out. It gives you a little bit of time to meditate and it feels good when you’re done. It’s kind of a spiritual connection.”
Dr. Messier-Salinero’s children also play a role in her positive attitude and success as a mother and professional. “I love that they’re a fresh way to look at life,” she explains. “You pass college, you pass high school and all that and then you begin to get into a grind of working and bills and drudgery of keeping your house and the kids… [They] are so open to new ideas. They’re not afraid to do things. You’ realize that it’s so much more fun to live life with more of an open atmosphere, with an open attitude toward things.”
In the Messier-Salinero household, parenting and conflict resolution is also a matter of balance, along with strong communication skills. Dr. Messier-Salinero and her husband rely on family meetings to keep their family running smoothly. “I just think communication and a balance between discipline and compassion helps prepare them for life, you know dealing with other adults, you can’t just bottle things up. They can do the same thing to me. If I can dish it out, I have to be willing to take it.”
Dr. Messier-Salinero advises other moms to find balance in their own lives. “One of the best things you can do is to spend, even if it’s just 30-45 minutes time, for yourself.” She further advises mothers to find something other than parenthood to fill their time. “I think that it’s really important for every mom to find something. Whether it’s a hobby, education, or something to keep yourself alive, because you can get into such a grind between diapers, dishes and dogs—it’s like the trifecta of a mom’s life.”
Psychologist and author Dr. Karen Sherman has a similar assessment of the modern working mother. “Of course, there is still the controversy over whether a woman can be both a mom and a career woman. The answer is ‘yes,’ but it’s not easy.”
“Women often can suffer burnout as a result of the demands of two difficult roles. If a woman is going to work, she will need support services and the ability to learn how to balance life for her children and herself,” stated Dr. Sherman.
As a mother and educational professional, Dr. Messier-Salinero advises mothers and fathers to focus on their roles as parents. “Don’t forget about your kids,” she advises. “Really connect with them on a human level so they’ll be able to connect with you because after a while they’re not going to be very interested in us. If you haven’t connected with them by the time they’re 18, they’re just going to fly away.”[PIC A] Dr. Messier-Salinero receiving the Points of Light Award from Governor Crist.
[PIC 1] Dr. Messier-Salinero and her son Dakota at her recent wedding.
[PIC 2] Daughter Niki, who was a member of the KWHS swim team.
[PIC 3] Son Dakota, stepson Jarrod, and husband Chad after lobster mini-season.