October 2017 Member Spotlight - Dr. Altagracia “Gracie” Guerrero
Assistant Superintendent for Multilingual Programs, Houston ISD, Houston, Texas; SLA Cohort IV Alum
Career Highlights and Education:
I am blessed to have started my 24th year as an educator, all in the Houston area! My career began by happenstance as a third-grade bilingual teacher shortly after graduating from the University of Houston. I loved every minute of it! After teaching for five years and completing a Masters in Education degree from Sam Houston State University, I was given an opportunity to serve as an elementary school administrator. Nine short years later, I became the lead of the Multilingual Services department in a mid-size district. A little more than five years ago, I obtained a Doctorate in Professional Leadership from the University of Houston and moved to the Houston Independent School District to take on the newly created role of Assistant Superintendent for Multilingual Programs, where I oversee the language programming of more than 70,000 English Learners, 13,000 immigrant, 2,500 refugee, and 400 migrant students.
I am the proud product of the Bilingual Education program, grateful to have kept and enhanced my native language while mastering English. My team and I strive daily to advocate for equity and educational excellence for students who are learning English so that they benefit from the same opportunities as all students to attain their learning potential.
What I like best about my job:
My career has come full circle because I now can impact students who are facing the same situations I faced when I first enrolled in US schools. I can relate to their culture shock with the American educational system, initial need for translation, frustration due to inability to express thoughts, and longing for the family they left behind. My team and I daily have the opportunity not only to bring their needs to the forefront with teachers and educational leaders, but we are also fortunate to have a platform for the establishment of processes and systems conducive to structured progress monitoring of students’ academic and linguistic attainment. I have the privilege to work with people with a servant heart who, in addition to being extremely intelligent and hard-working, are also passionate about supporting our students and educators.
The best advice I have ever received:
My uncle once told me, Nunca se olvide de donde viene. Never forget where you come from. I was born in Rioverde, San Luis Potosí and had a very humble upbringing. Some of the families we serve share my background and have come to the United States also seeking the American Dream. In this sense, our origins and our family’s aspirations are the same. Additionally, my mom always emphasized: Siempre que puedas brindar ayuda, bríndala. Help others every chance you can. This advice resonates daily as we support our students and staff. People do what they know to do. My team helps them maximize their potential and resources so that continual growth is the standard.
Advice you would give a new central office/school leader:
Always be able to look at yourself in the mirror . . . and like what you see! No matter where we are in our career ladder, who our supervisor is, or what our goals are, our integrity, humanity, and ethics can never be compromised. Everything else is temporary. Our character is our constant companion. There will be times when we may need to change our working environment and find another professional home. I pray that we are all granted the courage to do so.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I would probably be found:
At either the dentist or doctor’s office or the hair salon since these are the three appointments I seem to cancel regularly! However, I would most likely be spotted driving north on Interstate 45 in route to either Norman, Oklahoma to visit my daughter at the University of Oklahoma or to surprise my son in Lubbock, Texas at Texas Tech. If the weather is too hazardous for driving, I would probably be most comfortable watching Law and Order reruns or binge watching all seasons of Game of Thrones at my recently remodeled home thanks to Hurricane Harvey.
People would be surprised to know:
My goal was to become an immigration attorney! The current events during my formative high school years included President Reagan’s Immigration Amnesty. During that period, there was a need for ethical counsel to guide desperate and hopeful people through the process of becoming American citizens. However, what I personally witnessed was a high occurrence of fraud. Families were willing to pay a large amount of their hard-earned savings for fees to get their paperwork in order. What they found, instead, were notarios—notaries—who made empty promises and never delivered. I majored in Political Science, took the LSAT, and was accepted to law school. Everything seemed promising until I realized that my family could never afford the cost. My friend told me about a summer program to become a certified bilingual teacher . . . and the rest is history! I embarked on my destined path.
One thing I wish more people knew about ALAS:
It is an amazing venue to connect with people! The members of the ALAS Superintendents Leadership Academy Cohort 4 will always be my family. We face similar challenges, share aspirations, and are passionate about improving the quality of our public-school systems. ALAS is an active national advocate for students of color and equity in educational access. The Board ensures that the mission of serving as a voice for Latino students in the United States is on-going.