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For the Sake of a Child
ESL Educator Devotes Life to Student Success

Rita Rosales with students
Longview ISD Administrator Rita Rosales enjoys interacting with students during visits to the classroom.

As Rita Rosales works toward her school district’s goal of “excellence for all, one child at a time,’’ flashes of her own childhood and journey to success often cross her mind.

The Longview Independent School District administrator looks back on her early years in Mexico. Her family lived in poverty to the extent of being homeless for a period of time. The second oldest of 13 children remembers how her father encouraged her to strive for excellence and insisted that she would someday go to college.

His vision for her future put her on a path that led to The University of Texas at Tyler, where she overcame language barriers to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1996 and 2001. Rosales remembers drawing knowledge and guidance from the UT Tyler professors she considers the “two strongest pillars of my education’’ -- Drs. Ross Sherman and Donald Oglesby.

Rosales also reflects on her progression from bilingual teacher to assistant principal in Tyler Independent School District to her current position as LISD’s director of bilingual and English as second language education. She was hired at Longview in 2002, making history as the school district’s first Hispanic administrator.

She is convinced that if she was able to succeed, any child can.

“There is hope for every child,’’ said Rosales, who was honored as an outstanding alumna by both the UT Tyler Alumni Association and UT Tyler Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies during 2007 homecoming events.

“As a child I lived under a tree, at the mercy of the natural elements in the fields of a small border town in Mexico. No one would have thought I would become a teacher or a bilingual education director. And that’s what I tell teachers. They don’t know who they have sitting in their classrooms, perhaps the future governor of Texas or the future president of the United States. Every child is important.’’

The Extra Mile
The LISD administrator gives her all to ensuring that linguistically diverse children receive a consistent, well-balanced education that promotes academic and social success. She even sacrifices part of her free time to volunteer as a tutor.

Rosales has taken bilingual and English as a second language education to a new level in the school district, said Beth Bassett, LISD director of instruction and former interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“Rita Rosales is one of the hardest workers in LISD; her work ethic is unmatched,’’ Bassett said. “Because of her dedication to the bilingual program, our students have made great strides in mastering the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests. In many cases, our bilingual students have outscored our other populations on state assessments.’’

In addition to attending every meeting of the Language Proficiency Assessment Committee to see that each student is properly placed in the program, Rosales volunteers to tutor students who need additional instruction to support LPAC decisions, Bassett said.

Rosales also is instrumental in bringing highly qualified bilingual teachers to LISD.

with students“She travels around the state and out of the country to recruit good teachers,’’ said Bassett. “For those teachers who still have tests to pass in order to be highly qualified, Mrs. Rosales tutors and encourages them as they seek to become qualified in Texas.’’

Dr. Sherman, chair of the UT Tyler Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, taught Rosales in the master of education with principal certification program. He presented his department’s outstanding alumni award to her in October.

“Rita is an inspiration to those who know her story,’’ Dr. Sherman said. “Her ability to overcome childhood abject poverty; her commitment to mastering English and her dedication to receiving a college education is remarkable. But perhaps Rita’s most remarkable aspect is dedicating her life to helping the less fortunate.

“She is a testament to the saying, ‘Success isn’t how far you get, but the distance traveled from where you started.’ Rita’s success is truly a remarkable feat.’’

Early Years
Rosales was born in 1956 to Jose R. and Leonarda Gonzalez in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, Mexico, near the border town of McAllen, Texas. Her father leased land on the outskirt of Ciudad Mier to grow corn, cotton and beans. “My mother was always helping my father in the fields. They were my models. They were so hard-working,’’ she said.

At one point during her early childhood, her family could not afford housing. They lived in the open fields and slept in an uncovered wagon under a white oak tree.

“I still have memories of those times when my mother was cooking rice outside on an open fire. We used to go down to the river, the Rio Grande, and draw water for her. I was young but I remember helping,’’ said Rosales, estimating that she was under age 3.

“And I remember rain. My father used to put us children inside a big tractor tire and cover us with canvas. That’s where we went when it was very cold and raining. And I remember not having shoes and walking on the hot soil.’’

She also remembers her family having happy times in spite of their circumstances.

“To us, our way of life was normal. And that’s what I tell people – children often do not realize they are poor. If they do not know what others have, they do not long for those things.’’

The family eventually was able to purchase machinery to repair shoes. They moved into town and opened a shoe repair shop.

“It was hard work but that’s when our conditions began to improve a little,’’ said Rosales, who enjoyed assisting her father. “I used to help him put the glue on the soles, and my parents showed me how to take the paint off of shoes and change the color. I loved working and being there with the customers. I never talked to them but I was always listening. I just loved that.’’

Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez’s dream was for each of their children to attend college.

“My father would tell us, ‘You were born to go to college.’ He instilled that in us when we were so little,’’ said Rosales, noting that all 13 children have some type of higher education and/or own businesses. “My parents wanted a better life for their children and taught us that only hard work and education would get us there.’’

She graduated from high school at age 16 and spent the next three years working to help support her older sister through medical school. At age 19, Rosales enrolled in night classes at the Escuela Normal Superior de Nuevo Leon in Monterrey.

During the day she taught English as a second language classes at two private schools. In preparation for those jobs, she received training in ESL at a private college. Rosales also had learned some English during a visit to her grandparents in California.

Relocating to Tyler
She married Modesto Rosales and gave birth to their first of three children before graduating from college. She completed her degree in secondary education in 1981 and taught in Monterrey public schools until 1990, when her husband obtained a work permit and moved the family to Tyler. An industrial engineer, he was working as a production manager at the Carrier Corp. air conditioning plant in Monterrey when he decided to relocate to Tyler.

“When he approached me with the idea, he said he already researched Tyler and found that Tyler not only had a Carrier plant but also a university,’’ Rosales said. “Our oldest child was only 8 at the time but he wanted our children to be able to attend UT Tyler someday.’’

Her husband gained employment at Carrier in Tyler but not in his chosen profession. His credentials as an engineer were not recognized in the United States.

She also went to work for a Tyler furniture store, where she became more proficient in the English language.

“The furniture store needed someone to interpret for the Hispanic customers, so I started working there three days a week and then they gave me full-time work,’’ Rosales said. “I was afraid to answer the phone at first because, although I was able to understand everything I read in English, I could not produce my words fast enough for conversation. The staff was so patient with me and coached me. Before long I was waiting on everybody, not just Spanish speaking customers.’’

Back to School
She began taking undergraduate classes in elementary education at UT Tyler after receiving her documentation as a U.S. resident. Still working on her proficiency in English, she had difficulty understanding some class assignments “so I made B’s in some of my undergraduate classes,’’ said Rosales, who strove to make A’s. She completed her graduate studies with a 4.0 grade point average.

The university played a crucial role in her professional development, she said. “The preparation I received at UT Tyler, through its rigorous curriculum and superb professors, has enabled me to serve the Tyler and Longview communities as a bilingual teacher, assistant principal and director of bilingual and ESL education. Everything I am professionally, beyond my education in Mexico, I owe to UT Tyler.’’

Drs. Sherman and Oglesby, who taught her in graduate school, are her professional role models, Rosales added. “The high expectations they had for us as students as well as their strong work ethic and moral character are the principles by which I live in the performance of my professional duties and personal life. They are the epitome of excellence and professionalism.’’

Dr. Oglesby, lecturer in educational leadership and policy studies, said Rosales’ appointment as director of bilingual and ESL education came as no surprise to him.

“Rita was an excellent student, conscientious in her work, always on time, and many times after class she would stay and ask questions,’’ the professor said. “She was a very serious student and also a very pleasant person to have in class. She also has a very positive attitude about life and what she is doing. I knew that she would achieve her professional goals without any difficulty.’’

Creating Solutions
with studentsRosales advanced at TISD’s Douglas Elementary School from bilingual teacher to bilingual instructional specialist. Her duties included providing guidance for teachers and analyzing Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and Benchmark test scores to determine the greatest needs of students in reading, writing and math.

“When the principal asked me to become an instructional specialist, I initially did not want to accept because I didn’t want to leave the classroom. I’ve loved teaching. But she convinced me that I could help more children in the new position, so I accepted,’’ said Rosales, who considers herself an advocate for students and their parents. “When you’re in the classroom you’re working with a set of students but when you’re an administrator you’re affecting more students, more lives.’’ After completing her master’s degree, she became assistant principal at Rice Elementary School and helped the school attain an exemplary status.

“In order to become exemplary, at least 90 percent of all children taking the TAKS at our school needed to pass the test. So I needed to look at every child and see that we focused on those children who might have trouble succeeding,’’ she said. “That was the key to becoming exemplary – we had to look at every child. And that is the beauty of accountability now. The ‘No Child Left Behind’ initiative says every child counts.’’

She worked at Rice for a year before joining the LISD administration.

Bassett said Rosales’ many accomplishments include establishing a Newcomer Academy designed exclusively for high school students who are recent immigrants to LISD. “The students learn the language of instruction before they are faced with courses where only English is spoken.This is an effort to assist the students as they learn English while preventing them from facing failure or possibly dropping out.’’

Rosales considers her current position her dream job.

“In our graduate coursework at UT Tyler, Dr. Sherman always asked us what we wanted to do after graduation. All the other students wanted to become principals. I wanted to be a director of bilingual and ESL education. I wanted to work with the Hispanic population,’’ she said. “I love all children of all ethnicities but I had that calling, that goal of becoming a bilingual/ESL director.’’

She commutes to Longview from Tyler, where she resides with her husband. Their dream of a higher education for their children, Rita Catalina, Juan David and Modesto Jr., came true. All three are college graduates. The couple’s daughter earned her master of business administration degree at UT Tyler.

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