Last week at the California Charter Schools Conference in Sacramento, CA, Rocketship parents Enrique Esparza and Maritza Leal were honored with the 2015 Hart Vision Volunteer of the Year Award.
Enrique and Maritza have redefined the category, as their volunteerism far surpassed the status quo. Beyond spending time in the classroom, attending community meetings and conferences, they fought and advocated for three long years to bring two high-performing school options to their Redwood City community.
“A friend told me about these Rocketship schools in San Jose four years ago,” Maritza explained to me at a recent Redwood City family BBQ. “After I enrolled my daughter at Rocketship Discovery Prep, I immediately saw a huge difference in her learning. I didn’t understand how far behind she was until her teachers at Rocketship explained it to me. I was heartbroken. How could this happen?”
Enrique drives their two kids — along with three other kids in Redwood City — down to San Jose for school every day, traveling a total of one hundred miles back and fourth in the mornings and afternoons.
“When I realized what was possible, and how it felt to be a parent really invited to be a part of my child’s learning, I wanted these schools in my own community,” Maritza explained. “We shouldn’t have to drive to San Jose for a good school. We deserve this in our neighborhood.”
The couple began canvasing their community, connecting with hundreds of parents. In addition to urging Rocketship and KIPP to open schools in Redwood City, they also got the attention of public officials. Two years after they began organizing, Rocketship and KIPP submitted charter petitions to the Redwood City School Board.
“When we consider opening a school in a community, the combination of a need for high-quality seats and parent demand ground our decisions,” explains Preston Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Rocketship.
“But you know something special is happening in a community when parents are starting the conversation and leading the charge. Maritza and Enrique, along side a passionate group of Redwood City parents, were the catalyst for a movement in their community. We wouldn’t be opening a school in Redwood City this fall if it weren’t for them.”
Enrique and Maritza, along with their community peers, passionately spoke in public and private sessions with the school board, eventually leading to a unanimous vote in favor of both Rocketship and KIPP opening new schools in Redwood City. Thanks to their grassroots organizing, more than 500 new high-quality seats will be available to families in Redwood City this fall.
“I can’t believe this,” she said to me looking around the BBQ with families clad in Rocketship purple. “I never knew this was possible, but now my community will have great schools. Our kids will have great educations.”
“This is just the beginning,” I said.
Enrique and Martiza have proven parents truly have the power to transform their communities.
Kevin works on the Rocketship Network Support Team as the resident Rocketship story-teller. He is the Editor of Beyond. He is a former Special Education teacher in San Jose, with experience teaching in both traditional public and Rocketship schools. He earned a BA in Journalism and Digital Arts from the University of Oregon. A current Bay Area resident, Kevin is passionate about education, story-telling and creative exploration.