Ms. Florez Perseveres, Earns Doctorate


After two years of attending classes at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, countless hours of intensive research, and defending her 152-page dissertation, Ms. Felicia Florez has now added “doctor” to her name. In her 24 years in education, this Louisiana native has taught all subjects K-9, as well as resource, and earned her master’s degree in Educational Technology (MEd). From Arkansas State University in Searcy, Dr. Florez also earned an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership (EDS).

Multitasking as teacher, Special Education department chair, and college student presented a major challenge, but Dr. Florez gave it her all and succeeded in achieving her long-term goal of doctorate in Educational Leadership (EDD).

“I decided before I began the program that I was not going to give up and would press on until the finish line,” Dr. Florez said. “I am also great at tuning out other things while I work.”

Dr. Florez’s topic for dissertation was “Principals’ Perceptions of Manifestation Determination Implementation and Disciplining Secondary Students with Disabilities.”

“I wanted to understand the perceptions of what principals think about disciplining students with disabilities,” Dr. Florez said. “Students with disabilities are protected by other laws that administrators may need to know. By completing qualitative interviews with various principals through my research, I then came to the conclusion that more training was needed for this area.”

Dr. Florez gives credit to her dissertation chair for encouraging her and provoking thought for her writing.

“She gave me awesome feedback, and by feedback, I mean 25-30 pages at a time with writing all down the side of the paper, questions and corrections,” Dr. Florez said. “I never took it in a negative way as I always knew it would help me improve my writing.”

Being head of a Special Education department is a challenge anyway due to the fact teachers have so much paperwork and are responsible for so many students.

“I often used my experience in my daily work to use in theory and practice,” Dr. Florez said. “Since I was always thinking about my dissertation 24 hours a day/7 days a week, there were often times that I would have a thought about something I could use and write it down, and it often came into fruition in my writing.”

Dr. Florez’s biggest challenge was learning to prioritize what was most important in her life.

“I had to learn to say the word ‘no’ to a lot of people and focus on what I needed to do to complete my degree, and it was hard to do that,” Dr. Florez said. “I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I would work an eight-hour day and then go home, write until 10 p.m., then go to bed. Seldomly did I have a night off. You eat, breathe, and live your research.”

Dr. Florez also had great family support, which was especially important since she wrote for 6-10 hours a day on the weekends.

“I didn’t have to cook very much because my partner would make sure I was fed, and he took care of most of the housework,” Dr. Florez said. “He made sure that I didn’t give up and told me he would always support my dreams. My mom encouraged me, and my sons would call and tell me how proud they are of me.”

The best moment for Dr. Florez came at the end of her virtual meeting to defend her dissertation when people officially called her “Doctor Florez.”

“It was a surreal experience, and I ugly cried for about three minutes!” Dr. Florez said. “Due to COVID restrictions, my family was allowed to see it online, and I was thankful for that. Earning the degree was well worth the wait because it was a culmination of extremely hard work and lack of having a social life at all for two years.”

Dr. Florez aspires to advance to either a building principal or a special education administrator position.

“It’s a highly competitive field, but I have had a few interviews already,” Dr. Florez said. “It is good practice to interview, even if you do not get a position, and a learning experience which prepares you for the next one.”