Equity & Diversity

Latino Advocates Help New Members Prepare for School Board Roles

By John Gehring — November 30, 2004 3 min read

Pat Campos reported for “boot camp” here recently with more than two dozen other newly elected Latino school board members from across the country. They were treated to crash courses on school finance, conflicts with superintendents, and savvy media relations.

Organized by the Washington-based National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the three-day training session at Gallaudet University was aimed at state representatives, municipal officials, and 22 school board members. They took notes, sat in on mock TV interviews, and asked veteran mentors tough questions about what to expect in their new positions.

Ms. Campos, who was elected to the school board in the 23,000-student United Independent School District in the border town of Laredo, Texas, said she was motivated to run for office because of her experiences as a case management director in the juvenile-justice system.

“Ninety-eight percent of the kids I see can’t read or write,” she said. “They’re not functioning at grade level. The education system is failing these children.”

Problems to Tackle

Latinos are the nation’s fastest-growing minority group, and officials here said increasing their representation on school boards is a critical step in better addressing the high dropout rates and poor academic performance among many Hispanic students.

Just last month, a federal report showed that Hispanic students continue to drop out of high school at a much higher rate than that of non-Hispanic whites. (“Report: Higher Hispanic Dropout Rate Persists,” Nov. 17, 2004.)

The United States has more than 6,000 Latino elected officials at all levels of government, 1,500 of whom are school board members, according to Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ Educational Fund.

“Education is so important for Latinos,” Mr. Vargas said in an interview. “It’s our No. 1 issue, and for many folks it’s the first rung on the political ladder.”

The association’s educational fund conducts training workshops around the country for Latino officials on a host of issues, ranging from public health to encouraging parental involvement in schools.

While the group doesn’t actively recruit Latinos to run for school boards, it does seek to raise awareness about the importance of increasing the visibility of Latinos in positions of educational leadership.

‘Welcome Aboard’

Essau Ruiz Herrera, the school board president in the 14,400-student Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in San Jose, Calif., had a straightforward message for the new school board members assembled for an afternoon workshop on understanding the dynamics of board governance.

“Welcome aboard; now buy yourself a helmet,” the board veteran of 19 years said.

“You’re in charge now. You got elected,” he continued. “You can make a difference by opening your mouth. You’re going to have some terrible times, and you will ask yourself why you got involved. You got involved because you can make a difference.”

For years, Mr. Herrera said, Latinos were not represented in leadership positions in school districts, but those days have changed.

“It’s our turn now,” he said. “Now it’s our fault if our kids don’t succeed. No more excuses, folks. We’re at the table now.”

Panfilo Contreras, the executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, who led the workshop with Mr. Herrera, told the group’s members they would have to work extra hard to be respected as leaders.

“Nobody is going to ask you to get involved,” he said. “You have to ask the questions, and you have to be better to be equal.”

Mr. Contreras, who introduced himself as a “recovering school board member,” became the first Latino elected to the board of the Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson in the 1980s. He faced overt hostility as a candidate because of his ethnicity, he said.

Today, when Latinos are elected, they too are seen as the “Latino” candidate, he said. But it’s essential to persuade other board members that Latino issues are issues all students and families care about, he advised.

“You don’t want to be labeled as the ‘Latino representative,’ ’’ Mr. Contreras said. “School board members, no matter what they look like, are there to help kids.”

But Art Murillo, who was elected to the board of the 55,000-student Aldine Independent School District in Aldine, Texas, in May, said that while he doesn’t want to be labeled as one of two Latino school board members on the seven-member board, he sees his background as an advantage.

“I feel like we need to be sitting at the table as Hispanics,” he said. “I understand the issues of the Hispanic community.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Latino Advocates Help New Members Prepare For School Board Roles


Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity A $5 Million Fine for Classroom Discussions on Race? In Tennessee, This Is the New Reality
A Tennessee mother has already filed a complaint that a lesson on Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King Jr. made white students uncomfortable.
5 min read
080321 Tennessee Education Commissioner CRT AP BS
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn sits with students at Fairmount Elementary in Bristol, Tenn. on June 14, 2021.
David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP
Equity & Diversity Fight Over Transgender Student Policies Moves to Virginia's School Boards
A judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to challenge a set of state guidelines meant to protect Virginia’s transgender students.
Matt Jones, Daily Press
3 min read
The entrance to the boy's and girl's restrooms at Gloucester High School in on Nov. 15, 2016.
The entrance to the boy's and girl's restrooms at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Va., is seen on Nov. 15, 2016. A Virginia circuit court dismissed a lawsuit that challenged state guidelines meant to protect transgender students.
Joe Fudge/Daily Press via TNS
Equity & Diversity Opinion Q&A Collections: Challenging Normative Gender Culture in Education
Ten years of posts on supporting LGBTQ students and on questions around gender roles in education.
1 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Equity & Diversity Video These Schools Served Black Students During Segregation. There's a Fight to Preserve Them
A look at how Black people managed to grow a solid middle class without access to so many of America’s public schools.
According to The Campaign to Create a Julius Rosenwald & Rosenwald Schools National Historical Park, the two-teacher school was developed between 1926-1927 and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009. The building is now owned by Cain’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, which sits adjacent to it.
The Russell School (also known as Cain’s School), a Rosenwald school in Durham, N.C., pictured on Feb. 17, 2021.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week