Executive Perspective

Welcoming Latino Leadership Into the Fold


I was president of AASA when we held our national conference in New Orleans in 1999. Stan Paz was working for AASA at the time, in between superintendencies in El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Ariz. Stan and I had discussed the need to bring Latino superintendents together, perhaps as a group within AASA. He assembled a group of our Latino colleagues attending the conference in my suite at the conference hotel, and we began discussions on the professional development needs of aspiring Latino administrators.

Dan Domenech Official PhotoDaniel A. Domenech

It was four years later, in spring 2003, that the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, or ALAS, was created. AASA was involved, as was the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators and the Association of California School Administrators.

Forming a national organization is no easy task, as all those involved with the initial development of ALAS can attest. The usual pattern is for the interested parties to come together, form the organization and then immediately realize that, beyond being the founding members, they are also the association’s staff. The major responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the president, who has to organize all future meetings, develop an agenda and, if a conference is being planned, enlist volunteers to help with the myriad logistics involved in running a major event.

A Mounting Segment
Seven years later, ALAS is poised to become a national player as an advocate for quality educational services for the nation’s Latino youth, a group that will make up 25 percent of the country’s school-age population by 2025. ALAS also wants to focus on providing professional development for Latino school administrators as well as for administrators who work with Latino children.

AASA is committed to supporting ALAS in its development. Carlos Garcia, San Francisco’s superintendent, is the association’s new president, and Alberto Carvalho, superintendent in Miami-Dade, is the president-elect. Augie Orci has come on board as the association’s new executive director. Augie retired recently from his position as deputy superintendent in Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas).

Carlos is excited about the future of ALAS and firmly believes it soon will become a prominent national organization.

The statistics that describe the performance of our Latino youth in our schools provide a sad commentary on how badly Hispanic students have fared over a 40-year period. According to the Census Bureau, in the 1960s only 3.6 percent of the U.S. population was Hispanic. In the 1970s, that segment grew to 6 percent, and the high school graduation rate of Hispanic youth was 32 percent, with only 5 percent going on to graduate from college. By 2007, Hispanic students had become the largest minority population in our schools with a 19 percent share (compared to 15 percent for black students).

Today, by age 25 only 60 percent of Hispanics graduate from high school and a mere 12 percent earn a college degree.

Although it might seem that a 28 percent growth in high school graduation is significant, the growth for white students and black students during the same time frame was 34 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Similarly, the college graduation rate for whites and blacks increased by 19 percent and 13 percent, respectively, but only 7 percent for Hispanics. The bottom line is this: Over a 40-year period, the achievement gap has widened the most for Hispanic students.

Dual Membership
ALAS has defined its goal as “to provide leadership at the national level that assures that every school in America will effectively serve the educational needs of all students, with an emphasis on Latino youth, by building capacity, promoting best practices and transforming educational institutions.”

Ricardo Medina, superintendent in Coachella Valley, Calif., is immediate past president of ALAS. He believes ALAS can help develop capacity for the next cadre of Latino leaders and for those non-Latino leaders serving Hispanic children. The most recent AASA survey on the state of the superintendency shows only 1.9 percent of the respondents listing themselves as Latino. That is one-tenth of the Hispanic student population in our schools. Clearly, there is a need to provide aspiring Latino educators with the experiences and skills that would allow them to be chosen for superintendent positions.

ALAS will host a national Summit on Hispanic Education in Reston, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C., Oct. 14-16. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the High Court, has agreed to offer the opening remarks.

The Obama administration has issued a Blueprint for Reform as its proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The document focuses on the need to turn around the lowest-performing schools in the country. Among those schools are the so-called “dropout factories.” They are the high schools responsible for 51 percent of the nation’s dropouts. Thirty-three percent of the students in these schools are Hispanics.

The blueprint also focuses on strategies to best meet the needs of English language learners and refers to the establishment of new criteria “to ensure consistent statewide identification of students as English learners” and the implementation of a system “to evaluate the effectiveness of language instruction educational programs and to provide information on … achievement.”

These are critical policy issues that ALAS will want to influence. AASA and ALAS offer a dual membership, allowing individuals to join both organizations at a reduced rate. You can find out more about the dual membership at www.aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Join/AASAALAS90209.pdf.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org