Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education: Who Is Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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.

Meléndez de Santa Ana has spent her entire career in Southern California. She worked in the Montebello Unified School District as a bilingual classroom teacher, middle school assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, and elementary school principal. For the Pasadena Unified School District, she was director of instruction for elementary and middle schools. From 1997 to 1999, she was Director of the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project, a $53 million school reform project that worked to improve Los Angeles schools, but had mixed early results. Returning to school administration, she served as Deputy Superintendant and Chief Academic Officer at the Pomona Unified School District from 1999 to 2005. Lured back to the nonprofit world, she worked for a year and a half as Program Manager for the Stupski Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit focused on district-level reform, from early 2005 through June 2006. Returning to Pomona in July 2006, Meléndez de Santa Ana served as superintendant of the district, which has more than 40 schools serving more than 33,000 students in Pomona and parts of Diamond Bar, until July 2009, when her nomination to the Department of Education was confirmed by the Senate. 
Meléndez is also associated with The Broad Foundation, a Los Angeles-based venture philanthropic organization established by Eli Broad. In 2006 she was among 18 business executives, military leaders, and career educators who were selected by The Eli Broad Center for the Management of School Systems to participate in the Broad Superintendents Academy, a 10-month executive management program to train working CEOs to lead urban public school systems. 
- Matt Bewig
Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana Prepares to Raise the Bar (by Mark Petix, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin)
Opening Up the Superintendency (by Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators) (PDF)


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