Profiles in Education Equity: Sandra Rodriguez, Advocacy Director at Latinos for Education
Sandra Rodríguez is a native Houstonian, daughter of immigrant parents, and the advocacy director at Latinos for Education, where she leads the organization’s efforts to elevate Latino voices in decision-making to increase educational outcomes. She previously served in the Houston Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and Houston Health Department overseeing program planning. She also serves as the president of the Gulfton Super Neighborhood Council, a civic organization focused on identifying, prioritizing, and addressing the needs and concerns of the broader community.
Her experience connecting community members to key resources drives her work. She also serves as the co-chair for the City of Houston Food Insecurity Board Public Policy Committee, co-chair of the Houston Independent School District Capital Planning Steering Committee, is a fellow of the American Leadership Forum Class XLVIII, a member of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, and a proud mother of two young men.
Define how you advance education equity in the Houston area.
I believe in addressing issues at the core of the problem. As I work to advance education equity in Houston, engaging communities is at the heart of my work. Oftentimes, the voices of our Latino communities are left out of the conversation and decision-making that affects their daily lives. As the daughter of immigrants, navigating the education system was a challenge for my parents, but now I get to challenge the status quo and create opportunities for parents to meaningfully engage in their local school systems. As the advocacy director, I prepare Latino families to push for policies that best serve the needs of their kids, advocate for better educational outcomes, and advance policies that create more equity for Latino students.
Share one big success from your work to date and how you measured success.
One of my biggest accomplishments is the families I’ve worked with through our Familias Latinas por la Educación Fellowship. When I’m in this space with our families, my mother comes to mind. How would my family’s life have transformed if this fellowship was available when I was growing up?
As an organization, our mission is to develop, place, and connect Latino leaders in the education sector. We launched a pilot program in the summer of 2021 in the Gulfton neighborhood with 17 Spanish-speaking families. Parents are the key to creating equitable education, especially since they serve as a child’s first teacher. In a city with 45% Latinos and in a school district (Houston Independent School District) with 62% Latino students, it was evident that the voices of our Latino families were missing in the decision-making process. We set out to change that by preparing and equipping families in education advocacy.
Today, our families stand with courage and confidence. At the culmination of the fellowship, families sat down with Superintendent Millard House II, Trustee Sue Diegaard, and Trustee Anne Sung to share their top concerns affecting their children’s access to a quality and equitable education. They continue to hold district decision-makers accountable by speaking at school board meetings, organizing families at their schools, and engaging in their communities to address external factors affecting their quality of life.
What (or who) motivates you to advocate for education equity?
When I think about the people in my life who motivate me to advocate for education equity, my sons and family come to mind first, and my community. Raising two boys as a single parent has its struggles and accessing a quality education for them was not within reach. How do we effect change without the necessary investment in education, without investing in our greatest assets, our children, and our communities? I think about all the families I’ve worked with throughout my career and the dreams they have for their children, who inspire me to stay in the fight for equity because we all deserve access and opportunity to live our fullest potential.
What’s your favorite quote? Why?
“You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.” —Cesar Chavez, Mexican American labor leader and civil rights activist
His words speak to the life I live and the work I lead. It reminds how valuable life is and the potential people have to lead and the pride they have for their own communities. It encourages me to not sit on the sidelines, to get in the ring and fight for social justice while uplifting the voices of our disenfranchised communities.
What’s next regarding your work?
I’m proud to say that Latinos for Education will host a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, October 12, called “Rise as a Collective,” where we will address the crucial need to increase and diversify the educator workforce in the US. Ed Trust’s assistant director of P-12 policy, Eric Duncan, along with other members of the education policy community will join us to share policy recommendations about the best ways to attract, prepare, and retain more educators of color in public school classrooms across the country.