By Maria E. Garcia
Editor Note: Part I, Rosalia Salinas, the Education of an Educator traces her life and career path from Laredo Texas to Long Island New York and then to San Diego. By the 1970s she was teaching Chicano Studies and US History at Lincoln High School. Part II begins with the 1980s.
San Diego Unified had what was then called a leadership list for future administrators. Thinking she would be able to have more influence if she became an administrator, Rosalia applied. While being interviewed by an assistant superintendent, she was told she didn’t qualify for the leadership list because she did not have experience north of Interstate 8. Rosalia took the moment to explain that she had no desire to be in an assignment north of 8 and that she thought those teachers north of 8 should have south of 8 teaching experience.
The assistant superintendent also explained that the second reason she could not be considered for the leadership list was that she had participated in a one-day teacher strike. She then informed him that she had no intention of applying for the leadership list.
This is a prime example of institutionalized racism. When Rosalia got home the phone was ringing and the call from the deputy superintendent explaining that there had been a big mistake and of course she was on the leadership list. To this day Rosalia does not know why the change in attitude, but it could be because of pressure from some of her community contacts.
While studying for her Master’s Program at San Diego State University she took a class from Adel Nadeau on bilingual systems which used math and reading labs to enrich the learning of middle school students. She also learned about Spanish for Spanish speakers.
While being interviewed by an assistant superintendent, she was told she didn’t qualify for the leadership list because she did not have experience north of Interstate 8.
Rosalia’s next assignment was vice principal of what was then Roosevelt Junior High School. At Roosevelt, she found students who were in seventh to ninth grade but were reading at a second and third grade level. She was able to start a class in Spanish reading. Some of the theory she had learned in her Master’s Program was implemented at Roosevelt. While at Roosevelt she received an award as one of the Outstanding Young Citizens. When the award was presented she was informed that she had reduced the suspension and expulsion rate at Roosevelt.
While at Roosevelt a position of Language Coordinator at the County Office of Education (COE) became available. Members of the Chicano Federation Education Committee approached her about applying for that position. Eight white males applied for this position. Rosalia, the only female applicant, was selected. Even though it was not a promotion, she felt she could make some positive changes.
Rosalia was called into the district office. She was told that she was being primed to be a principal and that the COE position would not be a good move for her career. She says that neither upward mobility nor financial gain was ever a part of her decision to take that position. She went ahead and applied for the Language Coordinator position. Before her tenure in this position, the focus had been on English as a Second Language. It was Rosalia’s hope to move the focus towards bilingualism.
It was also at this point that she became knowledgeable about the work of Maria Montano Harmon. Maria Montano Harmon had done ground-breaking research work on Chicano students, whose first language was English, and their command of English. This added a new dimension to the work Rosalia was doing at the COE.
She was and probably will always be an advocate for students; however, bureaucracies such as the COE are not tolerant of advocating for students. This required her to take vacation time or use her lunch period when supporting various political issues. Many educators are fond of saying that education is not political, a statement that Rosalia strongly disagrees with.
“I could not be silenced. They could not limit what I said outside of work.”
While Rosalia was at the COE, in April of 1984 the San Diego Grand Jury came out with a report referring to bilingual education as un-American. The next morning the San Diego Union came out with a front-page story that bilingual education was un-American. Rosalia checked with her supervisors about making a statement about the news story. She was told that stories like that come and go and not to worry about it since it would soon blow over and no one would pay attention.
It was at that point that Rosalia looked to community members for support. Both Gus Chavez, former director of EOP at SDSU and Jess Haro responded with statements supporting bilingual education. She said she realized her position could be used as a voice, but there were consequences for using that voice–her immediate supervisors were not going to like that role. She says “I could not be silenced. They could not limit what I said outside of work.” Rosalia says she is sensitive to those who feel they cannot speak out. She says that by having a connection to the local Chicano community she had more support for her advocacy.
In 1998, when Alan Bersin was hired as superintendent of San Diego City Schools, Rosalia was on the picket line protesting his hiring. The other person I remember on the picket line was Gus Chavez. As it turned out, they were right to protest his hiring.
At one of the lowest periods in the state of California, Proposition 227 was passed in June of 1998. Proposition 227, sponsored by Ron Unz, required that California public schools teach English Language Learners (ELL) students almost totally in English. The ultimate effect was that it eliminated bilingual education. As a result of 227, a group called Californians Together was formed. The members of Californians Together were from all over the state of California and represented various organizations. Laurie Olsen and Rosalia co-chaired that committee. One of their major duties was to review legislation that would affect ELL students.
This year their work paid off when Proposition 58, The California Non-English Languages Allowed in Public Education Act,was overwhelming passed on June 8, 2016. Rosalia describes herself as being delighted and thrilled that ELL will have access to programs that will help them become bilingual.
Rosalia has served as president of CABE (California Association for Bilingual Education). It was under her leadership and with the help of many members that the first CABE conference was held in San Diego. She worked diligently to give parents a voice in CABE. She says parents have their biggest investment in the educational process and should be listened to. In recognition of her work with parents, the parent room found at CABE Conferences has been named in her honor. Known as the Rosalia Salinas Parent Room, it moves to the various locations where the conference is held.
Rosalia is now retired but still involved with various community organizations while continuing her advocacy for issues she considers important. She is a member of the Latino Advisory Board to the Superintendent of SDUSD, Community Housing Works Board and PIQE Board.
Rosalia says that her community work has given her lifelong friends and that she never considered her work as just a job.