When Marisa Perez-Diaz was sworn in to office as the Texas State Board of Education’s District 3 member in 2013, she knew the goal for her new role was to build an equitable education for all students.
And it’s something she’s been working toward ever since taking her seat on the board, which she won against the incumbent with 67% of the vote.
Perez-Diaz’s passion for child advocacy began when she worked as a social worker for the state Department of Family and Protective Services.
“I had some interesting experiences when I was with CPS and working in schools,” Perez-Diaz says. “I remember one time I was moved to anger at an experience that I had in a school, and it made me realize that I needed a bigger platform.”
After working in and out of several public schools Perez-Diaz realized there was an existing gap between child welfare and public education, particularly for kids who had experienced trauma.
“Without the ability or a network to cope through that, somebody needs to be an advocate for these students on the education side,” she says. “I was tired of seeing students that were always marginalized. There are disproportionate numbers of children of color that are in the child welfare system.”
After taking office Perez-Diaz felt if she was going to serve to her fullest, she needed to embrace what it means to be in education and to understand what teachers and administrators go through. Perez-Diaz started in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies graduate program at UTSA under Encarnacion Garza.
“After going through my grad program my mindset shifted about how to approach the work,” Perez-Diaz says. “We need to humanize education. It can’t be about the numbers and the scores on a test. Before we efficiently and effectively educate a student we have to know our kids. We have to know what their experiences are and what they’re dealing with. That was the real driver for me.”
In her eight years on the State Board of Education Perez-Diaz has had the opportunity to play a role in making a positive impact on the field of education.
In 2018 she helped spearhead the passing of a Mexican American studies course with District 2 board member Ruben Cortez. They worked with their districts and many scholars, historians and activists to bring the course to fruition.
Perez-Diaz, who is currently working toward her doctorate in educational leadership at UTSA, strives to continue making a difference.
“I feel like I’m just at a point in my life where I recognize that I’m in a unique position, right? I can directly impact policy,” she says. “I want to use all that I’m learning to make policy decisions that challenge the status quo and put our people in spaces where we have opportunity and access for a very long time.”