Story by James Byers
Photos by Mary Katherine Leslie
Cindi Moore has a talent: She knows everything about you.
Mention anybody connected to the Waco Baptist Academy, and Moore, the principal, can tell you all about that person. Point to any of the school’s more than 160 students. Go ahead, pick one.
Moore knows the student’s name, for starters. But it doesn’t stop there.
Does the student have siblings? Moore knows. She knows their names too, even if they don’t attend the Waco Baptist Academy, the school for kindergartners through eighth-graders that she oversees.
How is the student performing in school? Moore knows, but she might not tell you since that’s private.
Does she know the student’s parents? Do you really have to ask?
But how does she do it? As it turns out, Moore’s uncanny ability to remember personal details isn’t so much the product of a prodigious memory as it is the natural result of repetition and a whole lot of caring. And that didn’t begin at the Waco Baptist Academy.
Moore grew up in Richardson. After watching Baylor in the Cotton Bowl in 1975, she made up her mind about her future.
“I told my mom, ‘I’m going to Baylor or I’m not going to college,’” Moore said.
She did just that, entering Baylor in 1978 and graduating three years later with a degree in elementary education with a reading specialization.
Her first job was teaching first grade at a Catholic school in downtown Waco.
At the school she observed good teaching, but she also watched things she didn’t ever want to do as a teacher. She learned how not to treat kids.
She soon accepted a job at La Vega Elementary School, and after teaching for seven years, during which she earned her master’s in educational administration at Baylor, she became the school’s principal.
As principal she was discouraged by how much time she had to spend disciplining unruly children.
“I felt like I was spending so much time on discipline that it was very hard for me to be the instructional leader of that campus,” Moore said.
In 1999 Moore received an opportune call from a friend on the board of trustees at the Waco Baptist Academy asking her if she would be interested in the school’s vacant principal position.
“After my day of visiting with this school, I went home and told my husband that night. … If they don’t want me to be their principal, I want to teach there,” Moore said. “In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have imagined that there was a school like this.”
Moore said she was blown away by the school’s Christian atmosphere and emphasis on academics. It was the kind of atmosphere she wanted to cultivate.
She was offered the position, and she hasn’t looked back.
In the 12 years since, Moore has been nothing less than the catalyst of change and growth at the Waco Baptist Academy. Enrollment has increased by more than 66 percent under Moore. The school also added a middle school in 2004, and a year later moved to its current location at 6125 Bosque Blvd., a campus upgrade from 1.3 to 5.5 acres.
Three years ago Moore instituted the University Interscholastic League academic competition, a spring event in which the Waco Baptist Academy competes against other local private schools in such areas as reading, writing, speaking, spelling, mathematics and science. The students from the Waco Baptist Academy are always among the top finishers.
As principal, Moore must specialize in a myriad of areas, whether it’s managing the school’s finances, reviewing curriculum or interacting with parents, teachers and students. She still finds time to teach Latin to seventh- and eighth-grade students.
Despite her lofty position as head of the school, Moore stands at the front door and welcomes children — by name, of course — into the school. She follows this routine not just on the first day of school, when all the kids clamor to take a picture with her, but every day.
“She’s usually the first person I see at WBA when I drop the kids off in the morning,” said Brian Serr, a professor at the Baylor Law School who served as president of the Waco Baptist Academy’s board of trustees in 2009-2010 and has three daughters at the school. “She’s usually holding the door open, greeting every family, every child, as they arrive. And it’s not mechanical … she engages the children in conversation, gives them a hug. She’s up to date on certain details about their life, or what their class is doing in school.”
Donna Beth Norman, kindergarten teacher, taught with Moore at La Vega and came to Waco Baptist Academy in 2001, two years after Moore.
Norman marveled at Moore’s knowledge and affection for students.
“She would do anything for the kids; she loves the kids,” Norman said. “She knows every kid’s name at the school. She knows every parent’s name. She knows every car the parents drive in the carpool. She can call the kid’s name when she sees the car turn the corner.”
Norman also recalled Moore’s ability to remember phone numbers.
“I wouldn’t say she knows every phone number in the school, but she knows a lot,” Norman said. “It’s a God-given ability that she has. But I think she really puts great effort in trying to get to know the parents and trying to get to know the kids. She wants to know.”
The consensus of those who know Moore best is that her impressive memory is the result of her intentional, repeated interactions with students and parents – and caring enough to remember the conversations.
“To me it’s less the memory than the willingness to make the commitment of time and energy and contact and conversation that makes her an intimate part in the lives of our students and their families,” Serr said.
Carl Gulley, college pastor of Antioch Community Church and current president of the Waco Baptist Academy board of trustees, said he’s always impressed by Moore’s memory and friendliness.
“It’s like, ‘What database are you referring to get all that out of?” said Gulley, who has three children at the school. “But it goes beyond that. That just shows you how much she cares for people.”
Athletic director and physical education teacher Holly Page arrived at Waco Baptist Academy the same year as Moore, in 1999. She said she was impressed by how Moore is able to administer discipline without alienating children.
“She’s a good disciplinarian, but she always does it in a loving and gracious way,” Page said. “She’s able to do that. I don’t like being the bad cop but she’s able to do it, and she never comes across as mean or unkind. She’s always loving.”
Page said she was also touched by how Moore has grown to love athletics as principal, whether by attending the Waco Baptist Academy Eagles volleyball games or Baylor Lady Bears basketball.
Moore even traveled to Indianapolis in 2005 to watch the Lady Bears in the Final Four. While in the stands she held a poster board that read “WBA loves the Baylor Bears,” hoping TV cameras would catch the sign, giving the school a little bit of free publicity.
“She’s always thinking about what’s best for the school, and she’s definitely loyal to her Baylor Bears,” Gulley said.
One of Moore’s favorite parts of the job, she said, is spending time with the kids.
“They’re just funny,” she said. “They’re funny and inquisitive, and they’ll just tell you what they think.”
She also loves the school’s teachers, and how she enjoys when everyone comes together once a week to worship in chapel.
As much as she loves her job, Moore will step down after this school year, a decision prompted by a struggle that few have fully understood.
In 2003 Moore was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain in her neck, shoulders and back.
Those closest to Moore, including the teachers, know about the pain she deals with daily. But many don’t. She’s never tried to hide the pain, but she doesn’t like to talk about it. In fact, when her retirement was announced in January, plenty of people came up to Moore and expressed their surprise that anything was wrong.
“I’m glad they had no idea,” Moore said. “I’ve tried to keep this struggle to myself.”
Gulley, for example, who has been on the board of trustees for three years, only found out about Moore’s struggle a year and half ago when a board meeting ran late.
“I think that’s a testament to her strength. She doesn’t want you to know,” Gulley said. “I meet with her almost every Monday morning. If I ask her, she’ll tell me. She’s not going to hide it. But she’s not going to walk in the door and be like, ‘Well, I’ve got a headache and I feel bad.’ Usually, most people don’t know that she functions every day with migraine headaches and terrible body pain. And she just smiles her way through it.”
Moore credits the support of her husband, Brett, and two sons, Jordan and Collin, as critical to her ability to cope with the pain. She said she kept going “by the grace of God.”
This summer, after quietly persevering for eight years, Moore will retire.
“I feel like being an administrator, you don’t ever have an extended amount of downtime,” Moore said. “You know, you kind of just keep going all the time. A job like this is really just all-encompassing. I’ve really just lived and breathed this job for 12 years.”
This year marks her 30th as an educator. She’s spent 15 years as a teacher and 15 as a principal, making this the perfect time to retire.
“I’ve had nothing but peace about this decision ever since my husband and I made this decision back in October,” Moore said. “What will be hard is to walk out of here and basically say goodbye to a lot of people who have been important to me for many years.”
She plans to spend her time at home, but she’ll be available to the next principal of Waco Baptist Academy, whoever that may be, should he or she need to consult Moore.
“This is the way I’ve explained it to everyone I’ve talked to: I need to focus on my health, my home and my husband. So it’s the three ‘H’s,” Moore said with a laugh.
Now, Waco Baptist Academy faces the monumental task of finding someone to replace Moore.
“There are people that have a job and there are people who live their job,” Serr said. “She’s one of those people who live their job, so much so that it’s hard to think of WBA without Cindi at the helm.”