Flor Diaz Smith’s passion for education and supporting children and communities clearly shines through from the first minute you talk with her. She is an interior designer, a parent of two, and a school board member serving the Montpelier area for the past 14 years.
Diaz Smith wears a lot of hats: She serves as chair of Washington Central Unified Union School District, clerk of Central Vermont Career Center School District, private co-chair of BBF’s State Advisory Council, and vice president of the Vermont School Boards Association. She runs her own design studio, diazsmithSTUDIO, and partners with other architects on interior, residential, school, and retail design. And this spring, Diaz Smith was appointed to serve on the National School Board Association, a nonprofit that represents state school boards across the United States while advocating for equity and excellence in public education.
“I’m a passionate supporter of public education as a pillar for our democracy, and I’m committed to educational equity for all,” she said. “I just absolutely love kids and absolutely want to have thriving communities, so we have to invest in the next generation to have thriving communities.”
Diaz Smith grew up in Guatemala City and landed in Vermont thanks to a series of fortuitous events, which also speak to her professional skills and her ability to make meaningful connections with the people she meets. She studied architecture in Guatemala and is a licensed architect there. When she traveled to Chicago to see her professor speak at an architecture conference, she met someone in the audience who encouraged her to apply for the Prince of Wales Urban Task Force. She won a scholarship and a spot on the task force that took her to Potsdam, Germany, to work on an urban design project and meet now-King Charles.
While she was in Germany, she met several task force members from Vermont. Their architecture firm invited her to come to the Green Mountain State for an internship. This firm valued her skills so much they offered to sponsor a visa, and she came back and eventually met her husband and made Vermont home.
Her education work started with a small seed when her young daughter’s preschool asked for her advice in choosing new flooring. From there, her involvement and dedication grew. Diaz Smith joined the school’s facilities committee, then was elected to the school board and helped pass an $8.1 million bond to invest in the elementary school. She emphasizes that the built environment is an important part of good outcomes for students. “The furniture and buildings should be to the scale of the child,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be for them–to their scale, to their needs, and at the same time making it accessible for all students.”
Diaz Smith believes in integrity, collaboration, always keeping students at the heart of the work, and public education as a human right. “It really empowers people to be critical thinkers,” she says. “It’s so fundamental…And we’re so lucky in Vermont, which is part of my drive to become part of the National School Board Association. We have a lot to share with the other states, in the work that we can do together for all the kids.” She mentions pressing issues affecting students such as politicizing schools with efforts to create division and move away from a commitment to educational equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging for all students. All of this won’t be resolved overnight, but she remains hopeful that with time and collaboration, communities can do what’s truly best for kids.
“Being on the NSBA has been a goal of mine for some time,” Diaz Smith said, “and I’m honored to have been offered a seat at the table. But I didn’t get here alone. I’m fortunate to have had family,friends,mentors and colleagues who believed in me, who supported me, and who helped me find and develop my voice. I am grateful to all of them, and I will continue to collaborate with them and seek their counsel and support as we work to leverage public education for every student in this country.”
“I have loved working with Morgan and Building Bright Futures because we are focused on improving the well-being of families and children by using data and bringing all voices to the table,” she added. “Most importantly, we’ve been bold and created a really brave space where we can talk about the issues and stay true to what’s best for kids.”
Photos: Top, Flor Diaz Smith at the U.S. Capitol. Middle, Flor Diaz Smith (left) with Vermont contingent at the National School Board Association 2023. Bottom: One of Flor Diaz Smith’s design projects.