Andy Canales and Sandra Rodriguez
Last month, Latinos for Education convened nearly 200 educators, state legislators, and community members from across Texas at our State of Latino Education Summit. With an increase of over 800,000 Latino students since 2005 in the Lone Star state, we came together with the belief that Latino students will shape the future of Texas, and the collective goal to work together to reclaim educational equity for Latino students and their families.
While the growth in the number of Latino students in Texas is significant, we know there’s significant variation in performance, access, and equity in the schools that are majority Latino and majority low-income. On average, only 56% of schools in Texas that are majority Latino and low-income earned an “A” or “B” in the last set of school ratings in 2019. Some major regions in Texas had as few as only 28% of their Latino low-income schools earn a high rating.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated both the academic and non-academic challenges Latino students faced before the pandemic, especially those growing up in low-income households. Many students had to drop out of school to help support their families, and those who were able to stay in school may lack access to technology and essential resources. Additionally, our COVID-19 report from last year highlighted that nearly half of Latino parents in Houston are concerned about their children’s mental health.
While these challenges are devastating for many in our community, they present opportunities to reimagine the type of education that our students are accessing. During our summit, Superintendents Millard House II of Houston ISD, Dr. Michael Hinojosa of Dallas ISD, and Dr. Sylvia Rios of Laredo ISD presented their strategies to support students during this difficult time.
Dr. Hinojosa directed Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to focus on learning acceleration, not simply learning loss, and providing “fragile schools” more resources and extracurricular activities that integrate learning, including in the summer months. Additionally, Dr. Hinojosa emphasized that talent matters, and that we must continue to focus on sending the best teachers to struggling schools. Lastly, DISD eliminated suspensions that disproportionately punish African American male students and hired almost 60 mental health professionals to help the schools with the greatest need.
Dr. Sylvia Rios underscored how Laredo ISD provides parents and families with classes to help them support their children, including GED and ESL support classes. Laredo ISD emphasizes the importance of a bilingual education, with the understanding that the Latino community is diverse, and school systems need to use different strategies to engage Latino families with different backgrounds.
In Houston, Houston Independent School District (HISD) Superintendent Millard House II, highlighted the importance of creating systems and processes that provide a voice to families, students, and the broader community. House also emphasized that programs such as “Grow Your Own” are critical in offering the kind of biliteracy that HISD needs and providing nonacademic resources and wrap-around specialists to students and families that are in-need.
In addition to hearing from Superintendents leading majority-Latino school districts, the summit featured a Spanish-language panel that explored the importance of family engagement in a child’s education. Panelists, which included HISD Trustee Judith Cuz, Executive Officer for Student Support Services Candice Castillo, and former HISD principal, encouraged families to stay engaged in their child’s education and provided attendees with best practices on how families can get and stay involved. We know that families are a child’s best advocate, and if they are not empowered to speak up and take action, nothing will change for Latino students.
At the State of Latino Education Summit, we were able to come together to reimagine an education system that is truly equitable for all students in the Lone Star state. Educators, state leaders, and attendees showed up to voice their commitment to supporting Latino students and their families in Texas because together we can make a real difference in their lives both inside and outside of the classroom.
Andy Canales is the Executive Director, Texas at Latinos for Education. Previously, Andy worked in education as a teacher and nonprofit director. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, TEACH, UHD College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Latino Texas PAC. He’s a Senior American Leadership Forum Fellow, a Leadership ISD Fellow, and a Houston Business Journal 40 under 40 honoree. As the son of Salvadoran immigrants and first-generation college graduate, Andy is passionate about expanding educational equity.
Sandra Rodríguez is 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 obtained her bachelor’s from Springfield College School of Human Services as a single mother and currently serves as the President of the Gulfton Super Neighborhood Council, is a Fellow of the American Leadership Forum Class XLVIII, and is a member of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.