Blogger’s Note: The following post is about my wife Sandra García. I was initially reluctant to post it because Sandra is uncomfortable with the spotlight. I post it at my own risk.
Sandra García was always a good student. She was 6th grade class president and student body president in high school. Her mom once told me that she has always known what she wanted. She wanted to be a teacher, then a principal; and she accomplished both. Throughout her life, this east side girl has quietly exemplified what it is to be a leader. On December 5th, she will be honored by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce as the Outstanding Principal of the Year in the Silicon Valley
Sandra comes from a family with strong Latina role models. Her maternal grandmother was a young widow who raised nine children teaching them the values of hard work and perseverance. Sandra’s mom taught her daughters the value of education by participating in their school life during an era when the place for a Latina mother was in the home. These two resilient women forged the foundation of Sandra’s leadership journey that complements her skill, talent, and experience.
I’ve written about how Bob Williams built a team of east side kids into a shoe selling machine at Kinney Shoes during the late 70s and early 80s. I’ve shared with you how Chris Boyd provides the tools his team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center needs to save lives. Raised in a hard-working family with strong Latina role models, Sandra is a genuine leader who brings her own brand of compassion and determination to the leadership table.
A little more than a decade ago, Sandra, several colleagues, and a group of parents dreamed of building a Spanish-English dual language school on the east side. After putting together a design team and getting approval from the school board, Adelante Dual Language Academy opened a year later with three teachers, and 60 kindergarten and first grade students. Sandra has served as principal for all but the first year. Her leadership style comes from the fortitude and nurturing handed down by her grandmother and mother.
Sandra is a stickler for high standards (how she ended up with me begs that question and is fodder for another post). From the smallest household project to gigantic dreams like creating and building a school, she expects the best from herself and those around her. Anything less is just unacceptable. Her passion for Adelante and its success is displayed on a daily basis whether she is coaching a teacher to reach higher, encouraging a student to achieve, or picking up an errant wad of paper littered on the ground.
For her, getting the job done is simply a function of good old-fashioned hard work. I joke with friends that I didn’t realize how much Sandra worked until I stopped working. If the girls and I really need her, we know where to find her. On any given night, Adelante is teeming with students and parents on campus for a book fair, “Reading Under the Stars,” a sporting event, or a Dia de los Muertos student exhibit. The Directora, as her students and parents affectionately call her, is on campus as well supporting her school community.
Like all leaders of a complex organization with many stakeholders, Sandra has had her share of problems and challenges at Adelante. To overcome these challenges, business guru Patrick Lencioni says that leaders must have a “rallying cry” that keeps organizations focused on what really matters. Adelante’s rallying cry is centered on student success, parent participation, and community cohesion. With dignity and grace, Sandra ensures that all involved stay on course on a daily basis.
She’ll be the first to say that the honor bestowed by the chamber of commerce belongs to the students, parents, and faculty at Adelante. And, she would be right. Just walking around campus, you can see that students come to school every day ready to learn. The level of parent support is unequaled for a public school and the teachers are passionate about their students. Under her leadership, Adelante has become a bona fide east side institution.
All of this is reflected in the school’s academic performance. Adelante is among the highest performing schools in the district as its standardized test scores have increased phenomenally during the past several years. Its students have reached the finals in the state Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievement competition and the National Spanish Spelling Bee. What started as a school of 60 students housed on another campus, now serves nearly 600 students on a campus of its own.
With the rise of charter schools and the launch of a new national curriculum for public schools called Common Core, education policymakers are once again grappling with the Latino academic achievement gap. They could look at the Adelante formula of high standards, good teachers, and engaged parents. At the helm is a genuine Latina leader who, like her grandmother and mother before her, expects excellence, isn’t afraid to toil tirelessly, and maintains her laser-focused eye on the prize.