Former School Board Chair Still Tied to Education

Former School Board Chair Still Tied to Education

Isis Castro appointed to State Board, teaching classes.

Isis Castro no longer serves as the chair of the Fairfax County School Board; she is, however, not sitting idle. Castro continues to serve as executive director of the non-profit immigrant support group, Progreso Hispano. Last year, she was appointed to serve on The Council for Virginia's Future.

In an interview last year, she said, "I'm very enthusiastic; if this is where we want to see Virginia moving, I'm happy to share what I know," said Castro, whose fellow board members include Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Nigel Morris, Joan Wein and John Leiman. Castro said that the board will meet five times a year to talk about what direction they want Virginia to go in.

While she is excited about both these opportunities, her first love is still in education.

"I'm happy to be at Progreso Hispano, but my heart is still the schools," said Castro.

She doesn't have to look hard to keep her connection to the schools, as she continues to get many invitations to speak, chair and teach. When Walt Whitman Principal Otha Davis asked her to teach two early morning Spanish classes, she agreed. When the coordinators of the 2nd Annual Future Professional Middle Schools Girls Conference asked her to be the keynote speaker, she agreed. And when Governor Mark Warner appointed Castro to the Virginia Board of Education, she readily agreed.

In this latter capacity, Castro becomes the first Hispanic member of the Virginia Board of Education, replacing Ruby W. Rogers, whose four-year term expired in January. She joins Gary L. Jones, also a former Fairfax School Board chairman, in representing Northern Virginia on the state board.

Warner commented on the appointment by saying, "Isis Castro has been involved in the front lines of education as a teacher and as the first Latino elected chair of a local school board in the commonwealth. I am committed to making sure our policymaking boards reflect the diversity of the Commonwealth."

"When he [Governor Warner] called me, I was not expecting it. People have been saying for a long time that I would be appointed, but I wasn't sure. I am honored and very happy to serve," said Castro, who will have her first meeting with the board this week. She said that she has a lot to learn, and will work on having more of a relationship with the county school boards than the state board has had in the past.

CASTRO SHOULD FEEL right at home at Walt Whitman. Before she was elected to the Fairfax County School Board, she was a teacher for 14 years. Her last teaching position was as a Spanish teacher and chairwoman of the foreign language department at Whitman Middle School from 1996 to 1999.

Principal Otha Davis said, "Mrs. Castro taught Spanish and served as department chair prior to becoming a member of the school board. We are certainly delighted and fortunate to have her return as a part-time foreign language teacher at Whitman Middle School. What a wonderful asset to have an experienced teacher and former school board member as part of our staff. Welcome home."

Also connected to Whitman is Susan Stentz. The LEAD Fairfax Administrative Intern at Whitman Middle School, she was on the planning committee for the girlsí conference and introduced Isis.

After the conference, Stentz said, "Isis' speech was incredibly inspiring, motivating and energizing. She set the tone for the day so that by the time the girls left the auditorium, they were cheering and ready to go learn more about the careers theyíd chosen to explore. Isis told about her own middle school experience, of not speaking English and having to learn quickly how to adapt and take care of herself as a student and as a person.

"She and her sister came to New York City from Cuba without their parents. They were 14 [Isis] and 17, living alone in the city. Her sister worked to pay the bills while Isis went to school. Isis went to a Catholic school where the standards were held very high for dress, communication, studies, and so she did her best despite of all the handicaps and she let nothing stop her along the way. Isis talked more about the kinds of things that happened to her, how she eventually became a teacher, and then took on more and more responsibility as people kept seeing the good things she was doing. She talked about the "firsts" she has been — first Latina on the school board, first Latina to serve as chairperson, and first, now, to be on the Board of Education for the Commonwealth.

"What got the girls most excited and animated was when she had everyone stand up, face a partner, and repeat some affirmations. I can't remember the exact words, but the final phrase was 'and I'm going to be what I want to be'.

"Isis told me in advance that she felt many girls did not have this permission given to them — to be what they wanted to be, particularly Hispanic girls, so she wanted to do something to help them remember the words. Isis also told the girls to say this phrase to themselves at least once daily, looking in the mirror. She had lunch with a small group of Hispanic girls (12 had been selected) and gave each a hand mirror to remember the experience.

"It was Isis' attitude and conviction, that the girls should not let anything stop them; that they could do it, and that they could be anything they wanted to be that had the girls believing and cheering."

Castro enjoyed speaking at the girls' conference, and said, "I wish that when I was their age, I had somebody to talk to me. They know they can be successful, but that doesn't mean anything unless they want to be [successful]. I always knew that I wanted to go to college and that I wanted to be a teacher. Even though I came to this country and couldn't speak English and faced a lot of hardships, I knew I wanted to go to college, that was clear in my mind. When you have a goal, you step over obstacles. I told the girls, 'When I look at each of you, you remind me of when I first came to the United States.'"