It could be said that Rene Gutierrez’s path in education was set in stone at an early age. Coming from a hard-working migrant family, he knew dedication and perseverance would lead him to a position of leadership. That could be said with the new position he holds now — Superintendent of the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District.
As the school district enters its 100th year of public education, Gutierrez prepares himself to move forward in its journey with the start of the 2009-2010 school year. Looking ahead, the school district is working to have four new elementary schools, two new middle schools and convert an existing school building into the district’s fourth high school. Construction is underway for three multi-purpose fine arts centers for each high school and facility additions and renovations for Brewster School.
Gutierrez, who is an Edinburg resident, was born in Bakersfield, Calif. to migrant workers. His parents worked in the fields and picked a variety of produce. By the age of eight, his parents moved to Reynosa, Mexico, where he attended school. By 1971, his family settled in McAllen.
Gutierrez was enrolled in the McAllen Independent School District at nine years of age. Only speaking Spanish, Gutierrez had to learn how to speak English and was enrolled in the limited English proficient program that was part of the migrant program.
“Coming from a migrant family and having to work hard with my dad in the construction business as well as academically having to learn a second language, it really motivated me to work hard and get an education and do well, so that I could break that cycle of being a migrant. That motivated me to enter college after high school,” he said.
Gutierrez also spent many summers working in the fields picking tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. He also worked at his father’s construction company, which he started when they moved from Mexico. He spent time unloading trucks of bricks, cement and a combination of odd jobs his father would ask of him.
“I did anything from cleaning up debris to insulation and carpentry. We did pretty much everything my dad had in mind for us to do,” he said.
After high school, Gutierrez enrolled at Texas Southmost College at Brownsville and earned an Associate Degree in Applied Science to become an X-Ray technician. Gutierrez worked part-time as an X-Ray technician at McAllen Medical Center and later enrolled full-time at The University of Texas at Brownsville and majored in business administration and finance.
“After college I became a high school math teacher,” he said.
He went on to teach four years with the La Joya Independent School District and between 1991 and 1996, Gutierrez worked with the Edinburg CISD as a high school counselor, a school facilitator and as Migrant District Coordinator.
“I was able to relate to the students when I was a Migrant District Coordinator,” he said. “I wanted to motivate them in school and provide them with opportunities to stay in school, break the migrant cycle and stay in school.”
With a Masters degree in education from The University of Texas-Pan American under his belt, Gutierrez was able to further his career in the education field by becoming an elementary principal at Patricio Perez Elementary in La Joya.
“It was a brand new school and we started out with about 900 students,” he said. Gutierrez faced many challenges — limited English proficiency population, the migrants, “at risk” students. “Those were the factors that we had to work with during my time as a principal there,” he said.
A year after he became Director of Federal and State Programs at La Joya ISD, he enrolled in the Doctoral Educational Leadership program at UTPA and then later became Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Finance.
Graduating with a doctorate in December 2008 and seeing his whole family attend brought joy and honor.
“The struggles that we had growing up, coming from a very poor background in Mexico and when you reflect back where I started to what I have accomplished now, was very humbling and honoring experience,” he said.
His next step came soon after graduation, applying to become the next Superintendent for ECISD. “The quality of the schools, the staff, the programs, the children and community is what attracted me to this position,” he said. “I wanted to have the opportunity and be the leader of this great district.”
Looking ahead, one of his first initiatives is to visit 100 homes or businesses during his first 100 days as superintendent. His goal is to visit with the community and the parents of students from the district and introduce himself. “I want to connect and I want the parents and the community to connect with the district and superintendent,” he said.
Gutierrez also plans to get a parent’s round table started this coming school year. “The plan is to have a parent representative for every campus. The goal is to stay connected and open in communicating with the parents,” he said. “And listen to their concerns and help improve having better schools for our kids.”
Gutierrez sometimes wonders how he was able to balance school, work and family and says he sacrificed family time. “My wife and my kids understand why I did this,” he said. “I’ve always had the motivation to continue going to school. I felt I wanted to be a role model to the kids and the community.”