Over the next four weeks, the National Alliance will feature a compilation of blogs and stories to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and the 30 percent of students attending public charter schools of Hispanic descent.
In January 1995, my family established the non-profit organization Espiritu Community Development Corporation in South Phoenix, where nearly 65 percent of the community is of Hispanic descent. Espiritu Community Development Corporation was a response to what was happening in the community at the time-gang activity, violence, and untimely deaths of our youth. During this same time, my father Armando Ruiz, having served in the legislature for 10 years, helped broker bipartisanship support for charter legislation. Espiritu became the third organization to receive a charter in Arizona.
The charter school was built to provide unique educational experience based on servant leadership and community development and to develop leaders who would then build spirit in their families and their communities. We opened with a will to survive and to serve families in need.
In addition, Espiritu was selected by the National Football League to operate the Youth Education Town (NFL YET). The accompanying legacy grant from the NFL was vital in getting us established in those initial years and for that we will always be grateful.
My journey, as you can probably imagine, began as a student at Espiritu. I graduated from our NFL-YET College Prep Academy 15 years ago. I spent my junior high and high school summers working outside in cleaning and maintenance to build a foundation of character and hard work—my family would accept nothing less. I gained a firm understanding that nothing would be handed to me and anything received had to be earned—values I carry with me to this very day.
As I began to show more consistency in my work as I got older, more responsibility was given. During college, I was allowed to work in the finance department learning the school finance system. After college, I took a year off to go on mission trips to Europe, Africa, and Asia. This experience gave me a greater appreciation for other cultures and taught me to not take for granted the privileges we are afforded in the United States. It provided me with a greater clarity that my family’s ability to serve our own community through education was a privilege in itself.
Upon my return to the States, our charter was undergoing the charter renewal process. Help was needed as we were part of the first cohort of schools to undergo the renewal process. My targeted career trajectory was never to become Executive Director of Espiritu. My thought process was to assist with the renewal process and help plan out the next phase of Espiritu so that others could implement the plan while I did something else.
That plan did not play out like I had envisioned. I became enamored with the work and felt a strong calling to the legacy of service my family had established so many years prior. I was named the VP of Operations and charged with developing and institutionalizing a vision for operational excellence within and across our schools, codifying operational systems and processes, and systematizing operational improvement.
For the last 5 years I have had the privilege of serving as the Executive Director for Espiritu. I have the ability to work with a great team who is equally dedicated to serving the families of South Phoenix. My colleagues have helped take Espiritu from a single-site, 125 student school to a three charter, two campus network serving more than 1,000 students – 95 percent of which are Hispanic –with plans for future expansion.
I continue to find the work very rewarding, albeit challenging at times, but I enjoy helping people. During my tenure, I will continue to strive to live up to my family’s legacy of providing families with the opportunities with which I myself have been blessed.