Equity & Diversity

White House Honors Educators of Hispanic Students

By Denisa R. Superville — September 22, 2014 5 min read
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The White House on Monday will honor educators who are “Champions of Change,” as part of its ongoing celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which it is using as an opportunity to single out for praise educators who have made significant strides in improving educational opportunities and outcomes for students, especially those in low-income communities.

Among the 10 educators—who span the country from New York to California—is Daniel P. King, the superintendent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. King, who helms the 32,000-student district, which is nearly 99 percent Hispanic, was honored in Education Week’s 2013 “Leaders to Learn From” report, an annual special issue that highlights the work of innovative educators.

The White House hailed King’s focus on dropout prevention and recovery, dual enrollment, and early high school programs. Since focusing on those areas, the district’s four-year graduation rate has increased to 90.1 percent from 62.4 percent, according to a press release sent out by the White House to promote the event.

The “Champions of Change” event starts at 10:15 a.m. and will be streamed live online at www.whitehouse.gov/live. It will feature remarks from Jim Shelton, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Roberto Rodriguez, the deputy assistant to the president for education, and Alejandra Ceja, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Profiles of all the candidates can be found on www.whitehouse.gov/champions.

Here is the list of honorees, along with their profiles, as provided by the White House:

Susana Cordova is the chief schools officer of Denver Public Schools. She is a lifelong Denver resident and has worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She has also held several leadership positions in the school system’s central office. Susana believes in the power of our schools to transform our communities. She has worked with principals, content specialists, and classroom teachers to support rigorous instruction and strives for inclusionary practices to meet the needs of all learners. Among other things, Susana brought an English-language-acquisition program to Denver schools.

Patricia Cortez is a teacher at Alianza Elementary School, a charter school with a two-way bilingual immersion program in Watsonville, Calif. She has been at the school for 18 years. As a product of a bilingual education from the very same community, Cortez’s goal is to inspire the next generation to develop and take pride in their bilingualism.

Daniel King is the superintendent of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, which serves more than 32,000 students in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Dr. King has implemented a comprehensive approach to dropout prevention and recovery, as well as a systemic scale-up of dual enrollment and Early College High Schools. The results have been staggering: Over the past few years, the district’s four-year graduation rate increased from 62.4 percent to 90.1 percent. King looks forward to continuing to increase educational attainment for students in his district, the vast majority of whom are Latino.

Gonzalo La Cava is the area superintendent for Fulton County Schools’ Central Learning Community, a grouping of schools surrounding the city of Atlanta. More than 18,000 students attend 23 schools in this learning community. La Cava works with each school’s leadership to achieve unprecedented academic results for all students and to guide its leaders in day-to-day operations and management. Prior to this role, La Cava served Fulton County Schools as its assistant superintendent of student support services and its executive director of services for exceptional children.

Leonel Popol is a bilingual counselor at the Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus in Washington. Nearly 29 years ago, Popol came to the United States with $300 in his pocket, limited knowledge of English, and a determination to succeed. His career began by cleaning toilets and working in the construction industry. Today, he is a bilingual counselor at Cardozo and is also the coach of Georgetown University’s women’s soccer team.

Pedro A. Rivera is the superintendent of the Lancaster school district in Pennsylvania. His district serves a diverse student body of 11,500 students, 84 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged and about 10 percent of whom experience homelessness over the course of the school year. Rivera is a first-generation college graduate and the first Latino superintendent in the district. As superintendent, he emphasizes the importance of providing a high-quality education for all students and highlights his personal journey as an example for others to follow. Under his leadership, the school district has developed and implemented a new curriculum, an aggressive professional development plan, and innovative teacher observation tools.

Shana Runck is the assistant vice president of community relations and financial capabilities with the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union. In this role, she has worked to promote financial education and job training among students in New Mexico. As a New Mexico native and seasoned educator, she is passionate about providing at-risk Latino youth with the financial tools and life skills necessary for a successful transition into college, employment, and financial independence. Shana has played a vital role in the development of the City of Albuquerque’s “Running Start for Careers” program and also helped design the program’s first Financial Services Career Exploration course.

Pat Sánchez is the superintendent of Adams County School District 14 in Colorado. He holds more than 23 years of administrative experience and has chosen to serve disadvantaged communities by working in urban, predominantly Latino schools. In Adams 14, roughly 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price school meals, and over 85 percent of students are children of color. In 2013, the district made unprecedented academic progress, as Adams 14 schools experienced the largest single-year increase in Transitional Colorado Assessment Program scores since 2007. His mantra—"Failure is Not an Option” —guides his leadership and will continue to inspire him to work harder on behalf of the students he engages.

Anibal Soler, Jr. is the principal of East High School, the largest urban high school in Rochester, N.Y., serving a population of 1,700 students. In 2000, Soler began his career in urban education as an art teacher. Less than a decade later, he became the principal of East High School, a school that was then-labeled as persistently dangerous by the New York state education department. At East High School, Soler has instilled a focus on increasing academic outcomes for students. He continues to lead the school’s transformational efforts by developing a partnership with the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.