July 2015 Member Spotlight - Dr. Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana

Dr. Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana,
ALAS Board Member & Immediate Past President,

Chief Executive Officer
Los Angeles Unified School District
Los Angeles, CA

Career Highlights & Education:I served in many positions from a Teacher’s Aide; Bilingual Teacher; Staff Developer; Principal; Assistant Superintendent of Instruction; Deputy Superintendent; Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified and Pomona Unified in California and Chief Executive Officer, and for all roles, am honored to serve a population that included urban students who are English learners.

I was fortunate to have earned a Title 7 Fellowship and completed my Ph.D. in Language, Literacy and Learning from the University of Southern California. My “occupassion" opened up doors in places I never imagined, including the U.S. Department of Education for two years, where I served as Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education and, for almost a year, I also oversaw the Office of English Language Acquisition. For each position, including my current role as Chief Executive Officer in the Office of Educational Services at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), I have experienced moments with students, families, and staff that have touched my heart and shaped my work. They have helped me to listen, learn and lead.

What I like best about my jobFor the first time, I am working in a large mega urban school district of 650,000 students, so my job enables me to impact the lives of many students in a meaningful way. I have the honor, privilege, and opportunity to listen and learn in order to lead this amazing work with people who share the passion to serve the academic, social-emotional and physical needs of every student, so teachers can teach, and students can learn, no matter what neighborhood they come from or language they speak.

The best advice I’ve ever received is:  From one of my personal heroes, Cesar Chavez, who said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” For me, this means that we are called to be the door openers for our students not just for their sakes but also for our own.

Advice you would give a new superintendent or school system leader: As a new superintendent, be sure to create a 90-day entry plan so that you can learn about the school district, the students, and school community. I entitled my entry plan as “Listen-Learn-Lead.” Get personally connected to students and staff. Be their advocates, open their doors for opportunities, for success, for their dreams to come true. And finally, sometimes it is better to slow down and understand the culture and the successes so you can build upon them.

If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: Spending time with my husband and spending time with my mom.

People would be surprised to know that:  I love rock and roll!

One thing I wish more people knew about ALAS is:  ALAS provides an incredible opportunity to help mentor the future Latino leaders in public education.