Answering the Call


Statistics show that Latino students continue to lag behind their white counterparts in literacy, graduation and college preparedness rates. In 2000, the dropout rate for Hispanics was 28 percent compared to seven percent for Whites and 13 percent for African Americans. Also in that same year, only 64 percent of Hispanic youth had completed high school. By 2009, the high school graduation rate for Latinos grew to 61 percent compared with 90 percent for Asians, 81 percent for Whites and 59 percent for African Americans. These statistics should concern all of us considering that Hispanics are expected to comprise 25 percent of the total U.S. population by 2050 and will number 98 million.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census there are now 50.5 million people of Latino descent living in the U.S. and it is expected that by the year 2020 one in five school children will be of Latino origin. Yet despite the changing demographics, school district leadership has not changed much in the last decade. Of the more than 14,000 school districts in the United States, only approximately 250 are led by Latino superintendents, and of those 250 Latino superintendents, even fewer are led by Latinas. It’s time that school leadership reflects the population.

While there are many outstanding non-Latino superintendents serving schools with large Latino student populations, there is no denying that a Latino or Latina at the helm has some advantages. Latino superintendents bring with them a cultural awareness of that student segment, as well as an understanding of socio-economic issues and the challenge of language barriers. Additionally, it’s important for Latino students to have role models that look like them.

The Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) is doing its part to change this. Established in 2003, ALAS is an educational professional association advocating for Latino youth through professional development, interaction and networking among administrators in school districts nationwide that serve Latino students. The national nonprofit was formed in response to the lack of national advocacy and representation of Latino administrators and students by the existing, mainstream professional associations.

In 2011, ALAS established the Superintendents Leadership Academy (SLA) to groom and assist aspiring Latino superintendents with the knowledge, skills and contacts necessary to lead a school district with an emerging Latino student population or a Hispanic-serving school district having a Latino student population of 20 percent or more. The leadership program is the first of its kind in the United States to focus on preparing the next generation of school system leaders with the skills necessary to close achievement gaps and specifically address the needs of English Language Learners and other disenfranchised groups. During the year-long program participants are exposed to a comprehensive curriculum and mentoring by volunteer Latino superintendents. The SLA program includes study in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, curriculum alignment, instruction and student assessment, management systems and structures, and preparation to become a superintendent.

Participants from across the nation go through a rigorous selection process and must be committed to attending every session by providing a letter of recommendation from their immediate supervisor. They are selected for the program based on their proven record of leadership and commitment to raising the level of achievement for students of color and for English Language Learners for the school districts they serve. Their level of dedication to serving the needs of children and their families was also considered essential for selection. Current SLA participants represent 11 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin. They are presently working as principals, assistant superintendents or program directors.

The SLA, which is in its second year, is already showing results. From the first cohort, there are now five participants that hold superintendent positions throughout the nation and others within that class have been promoted. In the second cohort, one participant has been selected as a superintendent and other participants are already interviewing for superintendent positions.

The application process for the third cohort of the SLA is about to begin. Applications for the program will be available on the ALAS website at by the middle of March and has a May 15, 2013 deadline. To create a true pipeline in increasing Latino leaders in our school districts, ALAS is also exploring partnerships to establish a principal leadership institute and a leadership program for administrators in school district offices.

In addition to the SLA, ALAS holds an annual education summit to share best practices with education leaders and school administrators in our nation’s school districts, with an emphasis on school districts with an emerging Latino student population. This year the ALAS Education Summit will be held in Denver, Colorado from October 16-19.

The Latino population is increasing and does not show any signs of stopping. The Latino segment of our workforce is the youngest, with 50 percent of Latinos under the age of 35, and it is imperative that they be educated. At ALAS, we are working to ensure that we have the leaders in place to teach our students the skills necessary to be prepared and succeed in the 21st century and beyond.

Veronica Rivera is the executive director of ALAS. ALAS will be celebrating its 10th anniversary at its annual education summit. Registration information may be found at