a conversation with…
Susan Heredia
Dr. Susan Heredia has been a lifelong educator and advocate of underserved and underrepresented children and has served on the Natomas USD Board of Education since 2000. The Sacramento native earned a doctorate in socio-cultural studies from the University of California, Davis, and a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from California State University, Sacramento. She began her career as a bilingual teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District, taught in the credential program at UC Davis and was chair of the Bilingual Multicultural Education Department and later the Graduate and Professional Studies in Education Division at CSU Sacramento. Dr. Heredia currently serves as the board member representative on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
Susan Heredia Headshot

Can you tell us a little about your background, including your own K-12 education and professional experience?

I was enamored with my first grade teacher. She was patient, kind, fair to all the students, taught in a manner that made new concepts easy to understand and inspired us to be the best possible students. I wanted to be a teacher like her. The experience of having this extraordinary teacher set me on my path, and I went on to get a multiple subject teaching credential. I chose specifically to work with inner city school children and chose a teacher preparation program specifically designed to train credential candidates to work in that kind of setting. For five years, I worked at a school in inner-city Sacramento and had the most memorable time being a second grade teacher.

I knew I wanted to expand my opportunities and be more of an advocate for students, and to do so in a larger arena. I applied for positions in the district that specifically focused on advocacy efforts and gained five more years of experience working with schools that were underperforming, helping them to raise their test scores. I was also a professional development specialist, where I would help teachers develop new skills in math and English and teaching English learners.

I decided to pursue a doctorate because people were asking me questions where anecdotal examples no longer sufficed. And I found myself in that place more often than I felt comfortable with. I wanted to support my responses with a knowledge base that included an intimate understanding of research. After I finished my doctorate, I was hired by the very department at Sac State from which I received my credential.

Through my mentor and by attending CSBA’s annual conference, I gained a broader sense of CSBA’s mission and vision and professional development opportunities.

Why did you become active in CSBA and why would you encourage board members to get more involved with the organization?

I became involved because I had a really great mentor when I was elected to the school board — you can’t go wrong with having an experienced and involved board member as your mentor. Through my mentor and by attending CSBA’s annual conference, I gained a broader sense of CSBA’s mission and vision and professional development opportunities. I appreciated the chance to network with trustees across the state — I think that is one of the things I enjoy the most, getting to know people from across the state. I also appreciate getting first-hand information about legislation, new policies and CSBA’s advocacy efforts.

During the last year of my first term, I ran for CSBA’s Director-at-Large (DAL), Hispanic. I was elected and that experience on the Board of Directors opened up other doors for me. I had an opportunity to reach out to board members across the state and talk about the issues that affect all students, but specifically Latino students, and teachers who served this population.

When I was a second grade teacher at Washington Elementary School in Sacramento in the heart of the Latino community, advocacy efforts on behalf of students and families was a theme in and outside the school gates.
When I stepped down from the DAL position, I immediately became a Delegate. After eight years as a Delegate, I ran for Vice President, was elected, and was excited about serving as an executive board member.
You have been involved in bilingual education and teacher credentialing throughout your career — how do your interests in these fields influence your perspective as a trustee?
When I was a second grade teacher at Washington Elementary School in Sacramento in the heart of the Latino community, advocacy efforts on behalf of students and families was a theme in and outside the school gates. It was also a prevalent theme when I transitioned from the classroom to the district office to becoming a professor.

I learned how to advocate for students during a time when there was opposition to bilingual education in California and the United States. I deeply appreciate programs that foster the love of learning languages, ensuring that students are not only bilingual, but biliterate upon graduation from high school.

What I learned is that there are so many students and families that do not understand educational systems. They’re intimidated by educational systems. And they are the very people who need the strongest advocates because of this lack of information or lack of experience in dealing with schools. It is important to note that the lack of experience with school systems is not limited to Spanish-speaking parents. I also understood from my grandparents’ experiences, from friends’ experiences, from that of my father-in-law, from immigrant communities where their primary language was a language other than Spanish — the challenges of working with school systems when you don’t speak English.

My experiences served me well as a professor and as chair of the Bilingual Multicultural Education Department credential program at Sac State. The program’s focus is to prepare teacher candidates to teach in familiar and less familiar diverse student settings. For example, following my second year of teaching second grade, I volunteered to teach summer school in a predominately Southeast Asian community. I relied on my understanding of second language acquisition theory to prepare lesson plans and help student develop their English language oral and written skills and was dependent on more experienced teachers to help me navigate cultural norms.

The above experiences shape my perspective as a trustee, for example, when I observe classroom instruction, especially those where English learners are present, I consider proposed district curriculum and policies and engage in conversations about recruiting and diversifying the teacher workforce in our district. I am also sensitive to the idea that parents be provided informational materials in their primary language and that there are procedures in place that help all parents understand the intricacies of school systems.

What do you see as the most significant challenges schools are facing in regard to providing an equitable education to all students?
There is a need for everyone to have a common understanding about the meaning of equity, what is meant by educational equity, viewing one’s work through an equity lens, how this understanding should be reflected in the work of trustees and district employees, and what measures of accountability best illustrate, correct, and advance equity initiatives. It’s so important for board members to not only receive training on this topic, but to come together and create a unified base and ask, “What does that mean for us as trustees? What does it mean to be an equity-focused leader? What does that look like in our district? What does that sound (messaging) like in our district?”

I would encourage trustees to take advantage of CSBA’s Equity Network training, which includes reflection on how one’s own biases and prejudices influence their decisions, how to identify longstanding structural educational inequities and an exploration of topics on implicit bias, stereotyping and structural racism. The training also aims to help trustees to find ways to better serve all students and how to incorporate this understanding through governance.

It’s unfortunate that the sentiment I often hear in discussions around equity is that, if we view our work through an equity lens, then we are favoring only certain groups of students. This is why it’s critical to define equity so that misperceptions don’t divide communities, don’t divide teachers at school sites or schools within a district.

Can you tell us about your board’s experience reopening schools this year? What challenges have you faced?
When we decided to reopen, a great deal of time and effort was spent preparing for the safety of students and district employees. Not only purchasing all the equipment that was needed to keep everyone safe, but also looking at, for example, where students were allowed to play, proposed student foot-traffic patterns, where students would eat lunch, and cleaning and disinfecting procedures. It was common to see colored tape on the ground and inside buildings that alerted students and employees in which direction to walk.

Our district, like other districts, looked to the county public health department for guidance on reopening schools. One challenge was assuring parents and community members that all decisions related to reopening were based on such guidance. In other words, we weren’t making up the rules. For some this didn’t relieve their concerns. Consequently, regular communication outlining every step of the process for reopening schools was sent to parents and community members.

Reopening schools also brought about the issue of learning loss. Prior to opening schools, there was summer school for high school students, primarily credit recovery. For the younger kids, we tried to focus on enrichment activities and opportunities to learn things that they might have missed. Summer school was a great way to extend the shortened on-campus academic year and an opportunity to prepare them for what it would be like in the fall.

As a veteran board member, what advice would you give to new or aspiring board members?
First, for aspiring board members, I would say attend board meetings and become as familiar as possible with the work of board members. It’s important to understand the role and responsibilities of school board member. Second, become very familiar with the educational priorities of the district in which you’re seeking a seat. Look at district websites and past board meeting agendas and minutes to see what kinds of issues the board has had to address. Third, attend community meetings so you can hear the voices of stakeholders and parents because they will be the ones who will be emailing you when they’re unhappy with board decisions.

For new board members, I strongly suggest attending the Masters in Governance workshops — those will give you an overview of the job and all the information that you may not immediately need, but you will need over time. I recommend that the whole governance team, with the superintendent, take that training. That way, you all have a common language to use when discussing issues in your district.

For new board members, I strongly suggest attending the Masters in Governance workshops — those will give you an overview of the job and all the information that you may not immediately need, but you will need over time.
I highly recommend attending CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show — it’s one of my favorite CSBA events of the year. You get to attend workshops with people from all over the state. I cannot express how valuable that is. To me, that’s one of the most valuable experiences at CSBA because that networking with board members from local educational agencies both similar to yours and unlike yours helps you to grow. Your depth of understanding and knowledge is expanded by that opportunity. Plus, we have really great speakers every year. Finally, you can also take advantage of CSBA webinars and read other highly important information on the CSBA website and through their publications.
What are some of the more rewarding experiences you have had as a board member?
There have been many rewarding experiences during my tenure on the board, but what comes immediately to mind is that six years ago we opened a health clinic on a high school campus. Later, on that same site, we opened Joey’s Food Locker, which helps families experiencing food insecurities and is staffed by students from the Adult Transition Program. The transition program helps men and women 18-22 years old overcome mental or physical challenges by teaching job and independent-living skills.

I am excited that Natomas USD sees itself as a community school district and we recognize that families have so many needs outside the classroom. We acknowledge that if we don’t address those needs, then the students we serve will not be able to focus on their schoolwork. By having a health clinic and food locker — the kind of very basics critical to families — we hope parents and guardians are better able to focus on their children.

As a long-time supporter of bilingual education, a recent highlight was board approval last April of a name for our new dual immersion school. The school will be named after my family, for which I am honored. I am so excited that the students in this community will have the option to attend a dual immersion school.