Women Empower and Inspire the Next Generation in Houston School Districts
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By Tiffany Cuellar Needham
Teach For America Houston
We are all living through history this year as Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn into office, becoming the first woman and woman of color to serve as Vice President of the United States. It’s hard to overstate the impact this historic representation can have on our children. For the first time ever, young women won’t just be told they can reach the highest levels of leadership in our country – they are actually able to see that leadership in action from someone who looks just like them.
Outside of the home, one of the first places kids see leadership in action is in the classroom, where 76% of all K-12 teachers in the U.S. identify as women, according to a 2018 report from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Teachers must not only lead their students’ learning, but they demonstrate skills important to leaders across all sectors: they remain calm under pressure, interact with people of all backgrounds, and truly want to improve the lives of those they lead. As the executive director of Teach For America Houston, I work with these leaders daily. Both in and out of the classroom, our network of leaders works every day to encourage the next generation. From our national CEO, Elisa Villanueva Beard, who lives here in Houston, to our alumni leaders, to our corps members in classrooms – virtual or otherwise – strong women at every level are serving as examples for children day in and day out.
In a profession dominated by women, it’s disheartening to see that the glass ceiling is still intact when it comes to leadership roles in education. Only 31% of district superintendents are women, and only 11% are women of color, according to a 2019 report from Chiefs for Change. But here in Houston, four of the six partners TFA works with in our area are led by women of color. As a Latina, a mom, a former educator, and as Executive Director of TFA Houston, I celebrate women leading in education in Houston, and in turn, leading the next generation of Teach For America changemakers.
Dr. LaTonya M. Goffney in Aldine ISD has led her district to improve its Texas Education Agency (TEA) ranking by a full letter-grade and is focused on improving literacy in her district. While her time as Houston ISD’s interim superintendent will end this year, Dr. Grenita Lathan has led nearly 100 campuses in her district to receive high rankings on Children at Risk’s annual list of best public schools in Houston’s eight-county region. Sehba Ali, CEO of KIPP Texas Public Schools, began her career as an English teacher with Teach For America Houston and continues to support students and their families by advocating for change from Texas lawmakers after Winter Storm Uri severely impacted her school community. And Dr. Anastasia Lindo Anderson, Superintendent for Promise Community Schools at BakerRipley and another TFA Houston alumna, leads schools that are part of an organization specializing in wraparound community support that includes not only education, but wellness, immigration support, workforce readiness programs, financial security guidance, and community engagement.
Ms. Ali and Dr. Lindo Anderson are just two examples of how Teach for America’s 64,000 corps members and alumni – including nearly 2,000 living in Houston – are serving children and communities today. While COVID-19 has made this work more difficult, it has also underscored just how important it is to show up each and every day for our kids. This is undoubtedly a challenging moment, but TFA is ready to do our part. Helping students overcome systemic barriers to an excellent education has been our work for more than 30 years, and it’s crucial for the progress of our children. We are eager to continue partnering with communities, states, and the federal government to continue this success.
This Women’s History Month, join us in thanking and celebrating women in leadership. Whether school leaders, elected officials, or advocates in their communities, there is no shortage of strong women for our children to look up to, forever changing how children see their leaders and what they think they can achieve.
Tiffany Cuellar Needham is a 2003 TFA Houston Alumna and has served as Executive Director of Teach For America Houston since 2016.
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