Parents are the first teachers of their children. They are our Rocketeers’ strongest advocates, and the leaders in our collective movement for change. They are closing the achievement gap and bringing educational equity to communities where there are few to no options for an excellent, free, public education.
Rocketship had the honor of celebrating these courageous and powerful parent leaders at our First Annual Bay Area Parent Leadership Awards Ceremony in early May. Over 20 awards were presented, and school leaders and parents from our 12 Bay Area schools gathered together to celebrate. Here are some highlights from the award winners:
Eva Heredia: Rocketship Education Parent Leader of the Year Winner & District 3 Community Champion Winner (Rocketship Discovery Prep)
True leaders are able to find power in their humility, strength in their convictions, and lift up others through their example. Eva is one of those leaders. Eva came to Rocketship because she had a negative experience in a local district school. “My daughter wasn’t learning. Her teachers said she was doing well, and she got ok grades, but then at night I could tell she was struggling with reading. As a mother, I knew she she wasn’t getting the education she deserved, and I felt shut out. I felt helpless, until something changed, until I realized that had a voice.” Eva stumbled upon a meeting of Rocketship parent leaders at her local library. “They were involved in their children’s education. They were organizing. They looked powerful.” Eva went into the room, spoke to the parents, and realized that she didn’t have to keep her kids in the district school. She applied to Rocketship that night.
Since her daughter became a Rocketeer at Rocketship Discovery Prep, Eva has been a fervent advocate for educational equity and has gained support for multiple community organizing projects from public officials and community members alike. She was a key organizer in the 2016 Education Candidates Forum, and continues to encourage parents to share their voice and demand what they need to thrive as a community from their public officials. “As parents from this community, we have a shared concern. We need to be powerful together. We need to understand the priorities of the candidates because they will be making crucial decisions that affect us and our children.” Check out our interview with Eva where she explains the Candidates Forum she helped organize, and the importance of parent civic involvement.
Lety Gomez: Sam Liccardo Civic Leadership Award (Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep)
The Sam Liccardo Civic Leadership Award is named after Sam Liccardo, the Mayor of San Jose and a long-time advocate for our mission from the first day of our first school. Mayor Liccardo has been an important catalyst for school choice in our community.
“How many of you know someone who has been arrested, either as a youth or young adult?” parent leader Lety Gomez boldly asked to a crowd of over 1,400 community members. Lety went on to explain to the audience, which included a panel of local political candidates, how low academic achievement and expectations coupled with high dropout rates contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues many of our communities. “We must work together to close the achievement gap and ensure every child has opportunities to be prepared for college.” She then turned to the candidates and stated, “Our communities cannot undertake this responsibility alone. This effort requires the dedication and political courage of our public officials, including those serving on our county school board and those who will be making decisions impacting the entire state of California.”
From her first days with us as a founding parent of Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep to this recent parent-organized Education Candidates Forum, Lety has developed into a powerful and influential leader. She has been a fervent voice in support of opening other new Rocketship schools, and has developed positive relationships with public officials in her community. “Parent voice does make a difference. As engaged parents living in the community fighting for what’s right, it’s great to know our hard work is totally worth it and that they [elected officials] do listen.”
Olivia Gonzalez: Corazon de Oro Award (Rocketship Futuro Academy)
“Rocketship teachers are doing their part in the classroom, and we as parents know what we need to do in the community,” said Olivia Gonzalez, a founding parent at Rocketship’s first school in the East Bay region, Rocketship Futuro Academy. Olivia truly exemplifies this steadfast confidence in her leadership. “The opportunity to see parents like Olivia grow from a school volunteer into a strong community leader is one of my favorite things,” said Futuro’s founding principal Jason Colon at the ceremony.
Parent engagement is a powerful force in the East Bay. Over a thousand parents organized to bring a school of excellence to Concord, a place where the school district has failed to provide a quality education to their students, grossly marginalizing both English Language Learners and families from low-income communities. When Rocketship filed three civil rights complaints against the local school district for discrimination, Olivia was there advocating for her school, her daughter, and her community. And she did so with a strong and compassionate spirit. In the below video about their struggles with the district, Olivia reminds us that we can achieve anything when we do it together. “We are very happy because as a community, as parents, we are very united. And they can’t take that away from us.”
Maria del Carmen Davalos: San Jose District 5 Community Champion Award (Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep)
Community champions strengthen Rocketship schools, and are critical partners who are invested in the success of our students and communities. “Your children see what you do,” Carmen told us as she gave her eldest daughter a squeeze at a recent community event. “My kids understand the importance of standing up for the rights of others.” Carmen has been an education advocate and community voice in leadership for over a decade.
Most recently, Carmen overcame the obstacle of the San Jose floods that devastated over a dozen Rocketship families and displaced thousands across the city. Despite losing her home and nearly all her belongings, Carmen fought her own grief and courageously sought out opportunities to help others and advocate for the immediate relief of women and children in emergency shelters. Carmen has forged deep relationships within her community and takes pride in being both a Rocketeer and a KIPPster mom. Carmen works every day for the future of all children in her community as a long-time member of the Rocketship Family Recruitment team.
Bang Ngo: Community Champion Award for District 7 (Rocketship Mosaic Elementary)
Bang Ngo has been an inspiration in the Rocketship Mosaic community and also fought to increase safety and cultural awareness in the Lucretia and Story neighborhoods of San Jose. Bang is described by his peers as “a radiant leader with artistic tranquility and a strong confidence.” When he is not volunteering in the community or serving on the Parent Organizing Committee, Bang is supporting his young Rocketeer in achieving success on her college-bound journey. Bang has led community engagement opportunities with Council Member Tam Nguyen to launch community safety campaigns and has brought a culture of celebration and diversity to Rocketship families with the popular Annual Lunar New Year event. As an elected representative on the Mosaic School Site Council, Bang was a critical force in bringing a new pedestrian safety crosswalk near the school this year. Bang’s fostering of key relationships throughout the community has leveraged valuable support to advance the collective interests of Rocketship families across the Bay Area network of schools.
These are just a few stories of our incredible parent partners. Below is the complete list of the award recipients from the evening.
Emerging Leader Award Recipients:
- Ana Ortega, Rocketship Brilliant Minds
- Debesay Teklemariam, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary
- Veronica Gonzalez, Rocketship Alma Academy
- Trucphuong Nguyen, Rocketship Spark Academy
- Neltsy Sepulveda, Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy
- Azucena Carranza, Rocketship Redwood City Prep
- Miguel Soza, Rocketship Futuro Academy
Parent Partnership Award Recipients:
- Cynthia Hernandez and “Lily” Ngoc Xuan Nguyen, Rocketship Brilliant Minds
- Susana Duarte and Victoria Hatch, Rocketship Rising Stars Academy
Charter Community Catalyst Award Recipients:
- Heriberto Soto, Rocketship Los Sueños Academy/KIPP Bay Area Schools
- Nelly Gutierrez, Rocketship Los Sueños Academy/Alpha Public Schools
- Sol Uribe, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary/Alpha Public Schools
Corazon de Oro Award Recipients:
- Patricia Lamas, Rocketship Alma Academy
- Olivia Gonzalez, Rocketship Futuro Academy
Building Community Bridges Award Recipients:
- Alexandrea Martinez, Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep
- Qui Huynh, Rocketship Mosaic Elementary
Rocketship Education Community Champion Award Recipients:
- Eva Heredia, Rocketship Discovery Prep (District 3)
- Maria del Carmen Davalos, Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep (District 5)
- Bang Ngo, Rocketship Mosaic Elementary (District 7)
Sam Liccardo Civic Leadership Award Recipient:
- Lety Gomez, Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep
Parent Leader of the Year Recipient:
- Eva Heredia, Rocketship Discovery Prep