Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education: Who Is Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana?
The new chief federal official for K-12 education empathizes easily with students who face difficulties in school. Born in 1958 to Mexican immigrants, Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana arrived at kindergarten unable to speak or read English, and found the daunting task of learning her new language complicated by ostracism from her Anglo classmates. Although her kindergarten teacher was helpful and sympathetic, Meléndez de Santa Ana later recalled a humiliating first grade experience, when a teacher placed her in the slowest group of readers. “They called us ‘the buzzards,’ and all we did was recite the alphabet over and over and over again.” Later, Meléndez de Santa Ana was told by a high school counselor she had no chance of going to UCLA. Proving that counselor wrong, she earned a B.A. in Sociology from UCLA in 1981 and a Ph.D. in language, literacy and learning from the Rossier School of Education at USC in 1995. She was confirmed for her new position on July 24, 2009.
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