A Trailblazer in Education Advocacy: Introducing Velma Villegas

As we celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Championing Equity: Women Leading the Way,” KIPP Texas is proud to shine a light on Board Member Dr. Velma Villegas, who is completing her second year on the KIPP Texas Board of Directors after previously serving on the KIPP  San Antonio Regional Board for seven years. In this blog, we delve into Velma’s journey, inspirations, and tireless efforts to champion educational opportunities for all students.

What inspired you to become involved with KIPP Texas and join its board of directors?

“Growing up, I attended a Texas segregated school system. During this time, some outstanding teachers inspired me to pursue my goals. But they didn’t just do this for me; 67% of students in this poor school system pursued higher education. My K-12 teachers and administrators were former students and community members who returned to my hometown to advocate for underserved students. 

I served this same population as a teacher, administrator, director, and superintendent. I saw and experienced what a well-prepared teacher can do to motivate students to reach their full potential. Once I retired, I was determined to continue my advocacy work by joining the KIPP Texas Board. KIPP Texas serves unique students who can achieve anything they put their minds to. However, representation matters. Students need to see role models who have experienced similar things, look like them, speak like them, and dedicate themselves to fostering relationships.”

To what extent does KIPP Texas actively promote gender diversity and support individuals, regardless of gender, in leadership roles within the communities it serves?

“If you look at the leadership we have in our schools, it is diverse. This kind of diversity begins with KIPP Texas CEO Sehba Ali. Sehba is a strong woman doing a fantastic job representing our students. Our Regional Superintendents also represent the students we serve. I see that in the board, and I see that in the directors we hire. We are working to have that kind of diversity in KIPP Texas.”

What challenges have you encountered as a leader in the education sector, and how have you addressed or navigated them?

“My biggest challenge was that there weren’t many women in administration roles. I was the first Hispanic principal and assistant superintendent in the school system I served in California. I was also the first female Hispanic superintendent in the Texas school system I served. However, I had some great mentors who guided me along the way. Men and women alike. The other challenge was pursuing these roles while being a wife and mother. As women, we can’t just focus on the job. We have to make sure we’re also serving the roles we play in our families.”

Can you share a memorable success story or moment from serving on the KIPP Texas board that highlights your work’s impact on our KIPPsters?

“The ceremony we have each year when our graduating seniors announce their next steps. This event is highly memorable—their excitement and preparedness to take on the next step in their lives are priceless. I’ve also had an opportunity to participate in the KIPP Texas-San Antonio gala. This event is a time for me to hear from our students personally. I enjoy hearing their stories and seeing our KIPPsters involved.”

In celebration of Women’s History Month, are there any female leaders, past or present, who have inspired or influenced your journey in education and advocacy?

“Three women come to mind—first, Mrs. Irene Cardwell, the first principal I served under as a teacher. Caldwell was a Hispanic woman who had a big heart. She invested in our students and the greater community. I always remember Caldwell telling us teachers she would find the right resources if we couldn’t do it together. She was a no-nonsense woman who positively impacted everyone she met and worked with. 

Second, Dr. Yvonne Katz who served as the Superintendent of Spring Branch ISD. Dr. Katz selected me to serve under her as Assistant Superintendent. She has since retired but was always committed to the students we served, primarily students of color. Dr. Katz was not only a strong school leader; she made it her business to impact our community positively. 

The final woman that comes to mind is Dr. Maria Ferrier, who served as President for Texas A&M – San Antonio before retiring.  Dr. Ferrier is the woman who introduced me to KIPP Texas and encouraged me to become a member of the board. Dr. Ferrier is someone I consider to be an influential mentor and leader to this day.”

We extend our deepest gratitude to Dr. Velma Villegas for her invaluable contributions and unwavering dedication to the mission of KIPP Texas. Dr. Villegas is an inspiration to all KIPPsters. Thank you, Dr. Velma Villegas, for helping drive our collective journey toward a brighter, more equitable future for all.

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