Leavenworth Elementary School principal Erica Piedra is grateful for her immigrant status, but boasts that teachers are there to help all students.
Piedra, who was recognized in this year’s banquet by the Association of Mexican American Educators, was raised by Mexican parents Ventura González and Luisa González. The González family hail from a “small ranchito,’ said Piedra, in Hidalgo near Monterrey, Nuevo León, México.
Piedra is a former farmworker, who also worked in the teacher credentialing office at Fresno State University. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in 1998 from Fresno State, her first teaching job was at Birney School in Fresno. Working alongside her parents in the fields, Piedra witnessed the hard work and sacrifice made as migrant farmworkers.
Piedra, an Orosi High School alumni, maintains the same work ethic in her role as principal for Fresno Unified.
1. How did you get your start in education?
“I entered school as an English language learner. As a result, I had many struggles in my early years. Ultimately, I learned how to speak English, but over the years, I found that I had lost some of my Spanish. I became a Bilingual Teacher because I felt it was important for students to have the opportunity to retain their native language while learning a new language. As a bilingual teacher, I was able to provide my students with the gift of bilingualism. I am fortunate to be able to continue to do this as the Principal at Ann Leavenworth, a school with a Spanish Dual Immersion Program.”
2. Who influenced your attendance toward higher education?
“Our family worked in the fields until I was 13 years old. I grew up watching my parents work hard as migrant farm workers. I also observed them transition from migrant farm workers to business owners, as they opened up a Mexican restaurant and small grocery store. I recall being so excited when they purchased the restaurant because I knew it meant we would no longer have to work in the fields. This inspired me and I knew I wanted to attend college. I also knew my parents never had the opportunity to attend school, so I wanted to make them proud. I received my bachelor of arts degree in Liberal Studies from Fresno State in 1998 and the following year received my Teaching Credential with a BCLAD authorization. In 2009, I was selected to participate in the Fresno Unified Leadership Cohort and received my Master’s Degree in Leadership and Administration.”
3. You attended Cutler-Orosi schools?
“I attended Cutler Elementary in grades K-8 and then I graduated in 1991 from Orosi High School.”
4. Cutler is a dominant-Latino community, what is special about this community?
“Cutler is small community surrounded by agriculture and beautiful mountains. Growing up in a small community was special because everyone knew everyone. I was also related to many people that lived in that town so I felt very connected to my family.”
5. Were you born in the U.S.?
“I was born in Dinuba, California. My father was born in a small ranchito in México. He came to the United States when he was 11 years old. My mother was born in Brownsville, Texas but lived in Mexico until she was 12 years old. My parents still live in Cutler in the same house we were raised in as children.”
6. What educational advice do you give to your children?
“Both my husband and I are principals, so we tend to give our advice about education. My greatest wish is that they value the importance of being educated and realize it is equally important to work hard with great passion and a meaningful purpose.”
7. What was your first job in education?
“My first job was at Birney Elementary in Fresno Unified. I was a second-grade bilingual teacher for ten years. After receiving my master’s degree in Administration, I served as vice principal at Susan B. Anthony for two years. I am currently the principal at Ann Leavenworth Elementary and have served in this position for six years. Being a school principal has brought me the greatest professional satisfaction and I consider myself lucky to be able to do this work.”
8. What improvements would you like to see in the educational system?
“As a principal, it is my job to improve outcomes for all students. However, I know I can’t do this on my own. I would like to see our entire community unite and collectively work in support of increasing success outcomes for our African American and Latino students and our students living in poverty. Our schools and the education of our youth should be our nation’s top priority.”
9. What advice do you have for new teachers?
“My advice to all teachers is that they develop positive connections with every student by learning who they are and where they come from. Our students need adults that truly care for them and believe that they can achieve great things. As educators we must have high expectations for all students and be ready to support them to reach those expectations.”
10. Is there one misconception that people have about education?
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that teaching is easy. I have often heard people say, “those that can do, and those who can’t teach.” Teaching is a challenging and rewarding profession that requires dedication and commitment, and we are constantly looking to improve. We take a scientific approach as we look at data to develop a hypothesis. We then test our hypothesis and analyze our results in an effort to improve student achievement. We also have to account for all of our children as we get to know them to best meet the vast needs that they come to us with. This is complex work that is necessary.”