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A Stroke of Luck? by Steve Brandick Dr. Jose M. Rodriguez. The M. is important because there are a lot of Jose Rodriguez’ in LA, but this guy is unique. At a glance, you can see that there is a deep intelligence behind those clear hazel eyes. He seems to think that he is where he is today because of a lot of lucky chances, that things just went his way. It’s not that simple. Jose was born and raised in a tight-knit barrio of farm workers in Watsonville, a small town along the central coast of California between Santa Cruz and Monterey. His parents had come up from Mexico in search of a better life for their children. During the harvest season, the family followed the crops from the Salinas Valley to the Wapato and Topinich Indian Reservations in Washington State and back, living the typical life of migrant workers. There must have been something special going on in that household. Jose, alone among his childhood friends, graduated from high school. He is now an elementary school principal. He has twin sisters younger than him. Estela A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick © 2011

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is a teacher and Yadira is a nurse. His parents, Sebastian and Virginia Rodriguez had little education, but they understood its value. In their world, you either owned the land or worked it. Rich people owned all the land in sight and they did not want their children to end up working it. They did not understand the educational system, but they felt that if their children went to school every day and did their homework, something good would come of it. They trusted the schools and the people that worked there. They would send their kids every day and hope for the best. The kids understood that they had two options, school or the fields. They would never be allowed to just stay home like some of their friends. Jose was in bilingual classes until 2nd grade when he was tested for the gifted program and, lo and behold, he qualified. Now the school had a dilemma. Back then, it was considered an oxymoron to be an English learner and a gifted child. The solution was to put A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick Š 2011

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Jose through what he called a “lickety-split” immersion program that lasted the rest of that year. From 3rd grade on, he was in the gifted program. Jose thinks of this as his first stroke of luck. Maybe. But someone had seen something in him to make them want to give him the test even though he did not speak much English. He just does not know who that was. As Jose progressed through his education, he kept doing his homework and going to school every day. He did not have a plan for the future. The guidance counselors in high school had low expectations for students like him. They told him that he should focus on community college. Gifted or not, he would never make it at a university. He just did not have the skills to survive. His second stroke of luck came in the form of his high school calculus teacher, Miss Anderson. She expected all of her students to go on to a university. There was no question about it. At the beginning of the year, she put a big chart on the wall with the students’ names on it. As homework, she had them complete and submit university applications. She wrote in the campus names next to the student’s name on the chart. As the acceptances came in later that year, she marked the chart. Jose was not crazy A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick © 2011

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about applying to any university, but he always did his homework. He was rewarded with acceptances to engineering programs at the University of Southern California (USC), San Diego State, San Jose State and Cal State LA, but he still did not think he could keep up with the other university students. He decided to go to one of the two school in Los Angeles. “I wanted to give it a try and have at least a year to explore all the tourist sites before going back to Watsonville and community college.” If he went to USC, he would have been left with a big debt at the end of the year so he chose Cal State LA. Then came one of the biggest surprises of his life. He was prepared to succeed at the university. “College was not as hard as the guidance counselors portrayed it. It was like anything else. It’s not easy, but if you work hard at it, you’ll get good grades.” The problem was that although he was good at math and science, he did not enjoy it. The summer after his sophomore year, he was chosen for an engineering internship with Lockheed and the US Department of Energy in Idaho Springs, Idaho. “I made a ton of money but it wasn’t satisfying. It was boring.” When he returned, he spent his savings and then went looking for a job to keep A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick © 2011

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him going while he finished his degree. A friend told him about part-time work as a teacher assistant with the LA public schools. He found a job at Heliotrope Elementary. “From the first day, I was hooked,” he said. “What do you mean you get paid for this?” He joined the Career Ladder shortly afterwards, changed his major to child development and he was on his way to a career in education. He taught elementary school for six years, worked as the coordinator of a bilingual program, a new teacher coach and an assistant principal. He received his doctorate from USC in 2008 and became a principal in 2009. “Even though I wasn’t born and raised in East LA, I see myself in the children I serve. Similar challenges, different neighborhood. I feel like, for a good part of my life, I was lucky, at the right place at the right time. I’m clear now what my goal and mission are, but it wasn’t always that way. I knew there was something after high school but I didn’t know how it worked. I don’t want my kids to have that experience.” He wants his students to understand why they come to school, to know where they are going and how to get there and above all, he wants them to be prepared academically for the challenges ahead. “I want them A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick © 2011

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to leave my school ready to be placed in the best classes in middle school cause that is getting them ready for college. I want them to have a sense of purpose.” Jose loves his work because it is important and extremely fulfilling. He said, “What we do with children — caring, listening to them — has a big impact on them.” Even though he did not plan on becoming an educator, he feels that if he had not, he would have regrets. How did he get to where he is today? Maybe it was chance and good fortune or maybe it was hard work and perseverance. Probably it was a combination of all of that. In any case, had things turned out differently, the community would be poorer for it because there are a lot of children whose lives have been changed for the better by Jose M. Rodriguez, Ed.D., Principal, Park Avenue Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District.

The summer after his sophomore year, he was chosen for an engineering internship with Lockheed and the US Department of Energy in Idaho Springs, Idaho. A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick © 2011

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He taught elementary school for six years, then worked as the coordinator of a bilingual program, a new teacher coach and an assistant principal. He received his doctorate from USC in 2008 and became a principal in 2009.

A Stroke of Luck?

Steve Brandick Š 2011

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A Stroke of Luck?