Teach For America Taps RGV Native to Expand Scope in New Role

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Many of those who have grown up in the Rio Grande Valley have been impacted by the incredible organization that is Teach For America. Whether it was an amazing teacher who radiated true passion for their students every day in the classroom, or for some adults, a wonderful new friend from across the country, Teach For America has made an indelible mark for Valley residents. The organization, which was founded in 1990, partners with communities to increase educational opportunity for children in low-income areas, and since 1991, Teach For America has played a pivotal role in the educational landscape here in the RGV, boasting about 80 corps members who impacted the lives of over 6,800 public school students last year alone. Furthermore, members make real connections during their service, with over 180 alumni who fell in love with the Valley’s charm and never left. For the past three years, Paula Garcia, Ed. D., Valley native, and Teach For America’s executive director of the Rio Grande Valley region, has played a major role in the program’s continued success in local communities. Recognizing her accomplishments, Teach For America recently promoted Garcia to senior vice president-regional field executive, one of only four in the nation, where she will work closely with executive directors in Texas as well as those in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Appalachia, and Tennessee. Here in the Valley, we are proud to have Garcia call the RGV her home.
Garcia holds a bachelor’s of arts and double master’s in Spanish literature and education from the University of Texas-Pan American, as well as a doctorate in educational leadership from Texas A&M University-Kingsville. With nearly 20 years of advocating for education and opportunity for children of the RGV, Garcia brings an impressive resume to her new position. Thanks to exceptional teachers during her own childhood, she was inspired to join the Teach For America corps in 1998, teaching bilingual elementary students in Mercedes ISD in hopes of ensuring that other children would have access to the opportunities that she had as well as the education they deserve. Like so many TFA corps members, after her two years of teaching, Garcia was motivated to impact students system-wide. In 2000, Garcia served as founding principal of IDEA Academy, Donna, the flagship of IDEA Public Schools, known for their focus on college-readiness with a 100 percent college acceptance rate for students. After this, Garcia took on a role at Educate Texas, where she was responsible for establishing and developing early college structures and increasing the number of students who were college-ready, connected, and complete for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD and Brownsville ISD — two of the largest school districts in the Rio Grande Valley.
Garcia, who has two sons of her own, continued her vision and passion for the education of Valley children, working as an education specialist for RGV Lead, contributing to three Teach For America summer teacher training institutes, and going on to serve as director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Raymondville Independent School District before taking on the role in 2014 as Teach For America’s executive director of the Rio Grande Valley region, where she was responsible for the organization’s daily management, building community partnerships, and cultivating private and public support.
Throughout her career trajectory, Garcia seems to consistently return to where her career began, working for Teach For America.
“I always found myself going back to the system,” she said. “It is a great organization to work for, and not only for the tangible benefits, but for the intangible ones as well.” Working for an organization that develops strong leaders, Garcia saw the opportunity to model that leadership as a Latina woman right in her own community. She pointed out that the Valley has grown drastically in the last 25 years with so much educational opportunity.
“If you work hard, you can show everyone what is possible,” she said. “I’m excited to show some of the places I visit what can happen when you decide to invest in people that otherwise would be marginalized — I’m excited to show what a difference we can make.”
As such a great example of leadership for the Valley and for the nation, Garcia shared a few words of advice and encouragement for those just getting started.
“Are you listening with your ears or with your heart?” she asked. “People are not always clear in their vision. Be very clear in your vision, and always make sure that what you say is aligned with that vision.” In her case, this vision includes improving outcomes for kids, a mission she doggedly pursues.
“I’m honored and humbled by this opportunity,” she said. “I’m driven by the goal of ensuring that children of all backgrounds have access to a quality education so they can serve and be the leaders our community needs.”