Raquel Reedy is the acting superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools. This is reprinted with APS’ permission.
During my four decades as an educator, I’ve treasured time in the classroom where the magic happens.
Letters turn into words, then sentences, then stories.
Numbers develop into problems, then equations then solutions.
Children metamorphose into artists and mathematicians and writers and scientists and truth seekers and so much more.
Too often, though, I’ve seen children – and adults for that matter – fail to reach their potential because they resist change; they avoid challenges; they fear failure.
I’ve faced my share of challenges, and admittedly on occasion have proceeded with apprehension and self-doubt. But as I reflect back on my life, I recognize the value of stepping out of my comfort zone and facing the unknown.
My first challenges came early on as the only child of a single mom in a Spanish-speaking household in the poorest city in the country. I’m not exaggerating. When I was a child growing up in Laredo, Texas, the city earned that dubious honor.
My mother, an educational assistant for special needs students, wasn’t going to let our circumstances dictate my outcome. When she read me fairy tales, rather than ending with “They lived happily ever after,” she concluded, “They went off to college and got careers.”
I was very successful in the small pond of Laredo, but the outside world intimidated me, and when I went to the University of Texas at Austin I felt like a fish out of water. Once again, I began to doubt myself. I remember taking my first college exam. I studied and studied and studied, and when it was time to check the posted scores, I saw that I had the third highest grade in the class. I did better than 347 of my classmates! I stood there, staring bewildered at that score and thought, “Maybe I can do this.”
My next challenge came when I was offered a scholarship to Harvard University for graduate school. I looked at a map and saw just how far Cambridge, Mass., was from my comfortable hometown, and that old familiar apprehension crept in. But then I pictured myself as an 80-year-old woman sitting on the front porch in Laredo wondering what would have happened if I had gone to Harvard, and so I set off for my next adventure. It was among the best experiences of my life. My professors were interested in what I had to say, in my experiences, in my point of view as a young Hispanic woman.
I continued to face challenges throughout my career in the classroom, the principal’s office, the administrative building. And now, I’m facing one of my greatest challenges as acting superintendent of the 34th largest school district in the nation.
One of my top priorities is to help this community see all of the good that’s happening in Albuquerque Public Schools, where letters become words, problems get solved, children reach for their dreams. This is a district made up of passionate and dedicated teachers and educational assistants like my mom; of custodians and principals and cafeteria and maintenance workers and payroll clerks and secretaries; of coaches and directors and advisers and so many more, all with the same mission of serving and caring for students.
Our lives evolve around these children, and we do – we must – make a difference. I hope during my tenure to bring that image into focus and to help others see what a beautiful picture it really is.