Over the past 15 years, the educational landscape of the Rio Grande Valley has undergone a transformative change. As the Executive Director of Teach For America, a non-profit organization that focuses on educational leadership at the national level, Ana D. González has been dedicated to improving the educational landscape of the Rio Grande Valley community. With her collaborative approach and unwavering commitment, she has worked alongside community stakeholders to bring about a structural and systemic shift in education, making a positive impact on countless students’ lives.
González was inspired to pursue education by her parents from a young age. Her academic achievements during her K-12 years motivated her to aspire for higher education and diverse experiences beyond the Valley. However, she also became aware of how young people in her community are often discouraged from pursuing educational goals.
“A lot of the things that happen to many young Latina girls happened to me,” González said. “I had someone who I admired very much within the educational system tell me very directly, ‘Why do you want to go away to college? You can stay here. You are pretty enough to find someone who will take care of you.’ I believed that.”
González married at a young age and became a mother, but her passion for education never faded. Even though she considered herself a late bloomer, she pursued a college degree while substitute teaching. In 1997, she graduated and began teaching at her alma mater, Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School, where she taught for eight years. Driven by her passion for learning, she furthered her education by earning a graduate degree in educational leadership.
“I knew I wanted to lead outside of my classroom; I wanted to lead a school. I recognized that a lot of inequities still existed even though I had experienced a successful journey and some of my students were very successful, there were still some things happening to kids that needed to be different.”
In 2008, González became the founding principal of T-STEM Early College High School, a pioneering institution in the statewide early college high school initiative that offers first-generation college students the opportunity to earn an associate degree tuition-free while still in high school. With the collaboration of her district and the wider community, González’s inaugural graduating class achieved a minimum of 12 college credit hours, and nearly 70% of the graduates received an associate degree.
“What kept me going for those three years,” González said during her time as the founding principal at T-STEM, “was knowing that we were helping families who really needed to save money, motivating kids to see their fullest potential, and putting them on a generational, life-changing trajectory.”
Following her principalship, González became a part of the leadership team in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. Working closely with Teach For America and other educational partners, González introduced the New Teacher Institute and a coaching model that yielded an instructional coach for every campus in the district.
“I knew the challenges that principals face and the systemic hurdles that principals have to overcome. This role gave me the opportunity to support the next layer of folks that I love within the educational system, and that’s teachers and principals.”
In 2014, González joined Teach For America RGV staff supporting instructional coaches. After three years, she was promoted to the position of executive director. She has been serving in this role for over six years and continues to ask herself, “What is next for students and for our families in the Rio Grande Valley?”
While working in the RGV education system, González has seen and contributed to dramatic positive changes in student outcomes. Graduation rates in the RGV now surpass the state average, with all school districts earning A or B ratings in 2022. González attributes this success to “relational change.”
“Critical stakeholders in the RGV decided that we were going to come together to solve our high dropout rates because nobody is going to come to save us. We have to do it. We came up with a shared vision that every learner in the RGV was going to graduate and was going to get some sort of dual credit.”
González spearheaded a data-driven model for structural and systemic change implemented in the RGV over the last decade. As Executive Director, González continues to use this model.
Teach For America RGV is bringing in the next generation of leaders. Finding, supporting, and developing a high-quality teacher pipeline continues to be a lever that has a positive academic impact for students in the RGV.
“How we support teachers or not support teachers determines whether they stay or we lose them,” González said.
In response to the pandemic and broader societal trends, Teach For America RGV reimagined its teacher support model, emphasizing the development of educators who implement digital and innovative practices to support students, with a strong focus on adaptability to address students’ academic and social-emotional needs. Under González’s leadership, Teach For America RGV runs its own teacher development and retention programs, convenes key stakeholders across institutions and participates in critical regional collaborations supporting schools and students.
For González, success does not encompass what she has done individually; rather, success is all about what has been done collectively.
“To have been even a small part of the transformation in the Rio Grande Valley and the various capacities I’ve had the opportunity to serve in that, to me, is success.”