Hispanic/Latino Professional Educators Summit Speakers and Panelists
The following individuals will participate in the 2023 Hispanic/Latino Professional Educators Summit on Feb. 11 as a speaker or panelist. Click on their names to view their bios.
Rocío Anderson holds degrees in Physics, Mathematics, and Business Administration. Rocio is the current President of the NC Society of Hispanic Professionals where she leads and oversees the strategic planning and transformation of the society to meet the educational needs of our Hispanic students and professional educators in North Carolina. Rocio’s education programs and systems, public safety and emergency management, and clinical and public health programs and initiatives strategic development and quality improvement track back almost 20 years. Rocio has been part of many county and state needs assessments and strategy sessions conducted by the UNC Institute for Public Health across North Carolina and she also had the opportunity to work with the NC Department of Education, NC Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management, the Cary Police Department, as well as many in private social and clinical setting.
Rocio’s experience, passion for community service, and the vision that ALL should be able to access equitable education and health care options that will enable them, especially Hispanic youth to accomplish their dreams and contribute to the future of NC and of the US, keep her working alongside partners at all levels across North Carolina and the United States.
Additionally, Rocio serves as Secretary and Health Committee Chair for Governor Roy Cooper’s NC Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs and is a recipient of the Diamante’s Award on Health and Science.
Dr. Will Chavis serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Equity Affairs for the Wake County Public School System. He began his educational career as a high school mathematics teacher in the Alamance-Burlington School System. In 2010, he was appointed Assistant Principal of Fuquay-Varina High School, then became Principal of Fuquay-Varina Middle School in 2013. Three years later, he became Principal of Enloe Magnet High School, where he was named WCPSS Principal of the Year for 2018-19. In 2021 he was appointed Senior Director for Executive Leadership Coaching and was named to his current position in 2022. Dr. Chavis holds a Master of School Administration degree from UNC-Greensboro and a Doctor of Education degree in educational administration from N.C. State University.
Dr. Maria Coady is the Goodnight Distinguished Professor in Educational Equity and a Professor of Multilingual Education at North Carolina State University. She received her Doctor of Philosophy Degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she studied bilingualism and bilingual education. Using a lens of equity and place, Dr. Coady examines multilingualism, bilingual education, rural teacher-leader education, and language policies. In addition to the United States, she has prepared educators in countries such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, China, Ireland, and South Africa. Her books include The Coral Way Bilingual Program (2020), Connecting School and the Multilingual Home: Theory and Practice for Rural Educators (2019), Why TESOL (5th ed., 2018, with E. W. Ariza), and Early Language Learning Policies in the 21st Century (Ed., with S. Zein, 2021). Her forthcoming edited book (2023) is Educating Multilingual Students in Rural Schools: Illuminating Diversity in Rural Communities in the United States (with P. Golombek and N. Marichal). Dr. Coady consults with the US Department of Justice and Office of Civil Rights on language and educational rights for multilingual learners and families.
Hilda de Leon
Ms. Hilda de Leon is the proud Principal serving The International School at Gregory a K-8 Spanish Dual Language Immersion & Participate Global Journey school’s students, staff, families. In NC she has served as a school administrator, coach, ESL Coordinator, and teacher in Pitt, Beaufort, & Wake Counties. Ms. de Leon has lived, explored, studied, and taught in Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Spain, and Malaysia. A passion for travel she has explored the school systems, architecture, nature, and foods in Mexico, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Germany, Italy, and France. Her education, experience, and background have allowed her the opportunities to teach for 18 years; regular elementary 1st and 2nd grades, K-16 Spanish, K-2 bilingual education, K-5 Spanish for elementary school (FLES), Foreign Languages Exploratory (FLEX) for middle school, and K-12 English-as-a-Second Language (ESL). She describes herself as a pioneer in education teaching FLES and FLEX when the existence of a program in Spanish & second language acquisition for elementary students in public schools was rare and she taught as a distance education teacher for TI-IN Network, the first distance public education service in the country.
A native of Texas and very proud of her Mexican American heritage, Ms. de Leon is a Texas A&M Aggie (Gig ’em) earning a Master’s in Educational Administration and attending the Principal Institute, she also earned a Bachelor’s in Educational Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in second language acquisition from Texas A&M University. She is the proud mom of two daughters and “grandmabuela” to a grandson. She spends her time outside of school with her family, exploring NC, traveling, & on the water in her kayak with her dachshund, Heidi.
Ms. Mirtha Edwards grew up in a family of teachers which inspired her to be a teacher. Her first-year teaching in the US was in Johnston County School where She taught in a Title I School with an Elementary Migrant Program. In 2006, She started teaching ESL in Wake County Public School System at Zebulon Elementary School where she had the opportunity to form “Orgullo y Alma Latina,” a folkloric dance group that has been performing and sharing its culture for over 16 years.
In 2011, she accepted a position as a Coordinating Teacher in the Center for International Enrollment. After six years at the CIE, she went back to her true passion, working with Elementary students. Since working at Beaverdam, she has mentored beginning teachers, worked as an ESL Teacher, Testing Coordinator, Lead Teacher for Summer School, as well as served on different committees that includes, Leadership Team, Diversity Committee, Intervention Committee, School Based Committee for Gifted Education and Title I Family Engagement among others.
Ms. Edwards has a bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master of school administration from Gardner Webb University. She had the honor of being the teacher of the year at Zebulon Elementary School in 2008 and Beaverdam Elementary School in 2017. In 2016 she received the North Carolina Education Diamante Latino Award. In 2022, during the Annual Hispanic Heritage month celebration she received a recognition award for her outstanding contribution to our WCPSS Latinx families. She is currently in her 24th year as an educator and an advocate for Hispanic Students and Families.
Cristina España, a Guatemalan born in Costa Rica, is the Deputy Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Office of NC Governor Roy Cooper, supporting DEI Leads of cabinet agencies, part of local and nationwide integration networks, boards, and commissions, and advancing on the integration of New Americans – Immigrant and Refugees- in North Carolina (1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations). Cristina was a career diplomat for Guatemala for 12 years and served in Raleigh, Atlanta, and Madrid. Cristina holds a master’s degree in Neuromarketing and a Bachelor’s in Advertising from the University Latina of Costa Rica, and formal studies in Fine and Contemporary Arts in Costa Rica, Guatemala, California, and the European University in Madrid. One of her art pieces was displayed at the North Carolina Museum of Art and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts. Music, dance, writing, and art are part of her family’s daily life, with her husband Nathanael Sperger, and their children.
Dr. Lauren Fox is the Senior Director of Policy and Research at the Public School Forum of North Carolina. Lauren has more than fifteen years of education research and policy experience at the local, state, and national levels. Her work at the Forum involves guiding research, policy analysis, and advocacy efforts to support an equitable system of public education in North Carolina, with a particular focus on school funding; racial equity; teacher recruitment, retention, and support; and fair and effective accountability systems.
Prior to joining the Forum, Lauren lived for ten years in New York City, where she worked as a researcher and consultant for a number of organizations including The Public Good, the Center for Understand Race and Education, the Ford Foundation, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Lauren earned her Ph.D. in Sociology and Education with a concentration in Education Policy from Columbia University’s Teachers College and her undergraduate degree from UNC Asheville. She grew up in Charlotte, NC, and is a proud graduate of the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System.
Landy Hilger is a high school Spanish teacher in Stanly County Schools. She has 12 years of teaching experience in rural schools in North Carolina. She graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and earned a master’s degree in Instructional Technology from Appalachian State University. She was selected as the 2018 Piedmond-Triad Charter Schools teacher of the year.
Mrs. Hilger is originally from Villahermosa, Mexico. She finished her high school years in North Carolina and has two beautiful sons ages 21 and 14. She is passionate about equity, inclusion, and social-emotional learning in the classroom. In her free time, she enjoys social dancing, playing soccer, and cheering for Mexico (Mi Selección) and Charlotte FC (For the Crown).
Sonia Márquez is the principal at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point. First generation Mexican American and first-generation college student, Ms. Márquez attended Barton College in Wilson for undergrad and taught English as a Second Language for 11 years. She then earned a masters degree in Reading Education from Fayetteville State University and worked as a reading teacher. In 2015, Ms. Márquez received the NC Principal Fellows Award to pursue a masters in school administration from NC State University.
Ms. Márquez has served in the following North Carolina LEAs: Johnston County (ESL), Wake County (Reading), Durham County (Assistant Principal), and Guilford County (Principal). She has presented at the North Carolina School Counselor’s conference, NC Reading Association conference, and the Carolina TESOL conference. Her passions include supporting immigrants and newcomers, recruiting/retaining a diverse workforce, and creating/sustaining community partners in schools.
Ms. Catty Moore became the Wake County Public School System’s 10th superintendent in May 2018. Ms. Moore leads the 15th largest school system in the nation, with more than 160,000 students and 19,000 employees. Ms. Moore, who was appointed in 2011 as the school system’s Deputy Superintendent for Academic Advancement, has dedicated her career to public education.
In her role as Deputy Superintendent for Academic Advancement, she was responsible for school administration, academics, special education, student support services and student assignment. Prior to that role, she was an area superintendent, a high school principal, a high school assistant principal and high school teacher. She began her career as a high school French teacher in the Nash-Rocky Mount Public School System.
Ms. Moore has a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature from North Carolina State University and a master of school administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at East Carolina University.
Ricardo Nazario-Colon has served as Western Carolina University’s Chief Diversity Officer since June 2016. Prior to his appointment at WCU, Nazario-Colon served as director of student activities, inclusion and leadership at Morehead State University from 2011-2016. While at the university, he also served as the director of the University Center and conference serves from 2012-2014.
From 2007-2011, Nazario-Colon was the director of the Office of Diversity Programs at Western Kentucky University and held several positions related to diversity at Western Kentucky University including executive director of the Multicultural Affairs Division, co-chair of the President’s Commission in Diversity, multicultural programs director and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center.
Nazario-Colon served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984-1992. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and Spanish Literature from the University of Kentucky in 1992 and his master’s of science for teachers degree in secondary education with an emphasis in Spanish from Pace University in 1996.
Dayson Pasión is an educator and advocate dedicated to creating inclusive and equitable learning environments, where all students feel heard and seen and are equipped with the necessary tools and skills to define success for themselves.
Pasión graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in biology. During his undergraduate tenure, Pasión also enrolled in the UNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching program. During his professional time with the Alamance-Burlington School System, Pasión served the community as a science teacher, STEM educator and coordinator, instructional technology facilitator and academic coach. During his time as a STEM educator in the district, Dayson was recognized as Teacher of the Year at his school and was a finalist for the district’s Teacher of the Year. He later served as an equity specialist in the Office of Equity and Inclusion for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Dayson currently serves as the Teacher Advisor in the Office of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
Dayson also serves on the board of Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition (ISLA NC), is a member of Elon University’s School of Education Advisory Board for Middle Grades and is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Alamance Teacher Leadership Academy. Dayson also remains an active alumnus of the Kenan Fellows Program for Educational Leadership. He is currently a graduate student in the Education Policy and Leadership program at the American University School of Education.
Dayson resides in North Carolina with his wife, Jessica.
Dr. Carlos Ramirez has served as a public school educator and community advocate for more than 30 years. His educational career includes time as an elementary teacher, elementary, middle, and high school principal, assistant superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, and Superintendent and has taken him from California, to Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina. Additionally, Dr. Ramirez served as an adjunct professor in Saint Thomas University’s Doctoral program. He is currently an appointed member of Governor Cooper’s DRIVE TASK force (Developing a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education) and currently serves as a Teaching Assistant Professor for East Carolina University. Dr. Ramirez is known for his strong instructional leadership, unparalleled work ethic, and advocacy for equity, access, and inclusion for all. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of California Davis, a master’s degree from Chapman University, and a doctoral degree from the University of North Texas. Finally, he is a first generation Mexican-American and has been married to a former middle school teacher and national bestselling author, Melissa, for 32 years. They are the proud parents of 5 children.
Dr. MariaRosa Rangel has over twenty-five years of educational experience. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Bilingual/ Bicultural and Elementary Education from the Northeastern University of Chicago, Illinois and her Master’s Degree in School Administration and Doctoral Degree in Education from North Carolina State University. She has served as a third-grade Bilingual teacher, a GED instructor, Spanish / ESL Teacher, an Assistant Principal, a district wide LEP/ Dual Language Coordinator, and a Senior Administrator for Latino Outreach.
Currently, Dr. Rangel serves as the Director for Family and Community Engagement in the Office of Equity Affairs for the Wake County Public School District (WCPSS). She is responsible for the planning, developing, and coordinating family and community activities/events and programs to improve student’s academic achievement; oversees the District Family Academy which offers FREE workshops and educational events for WCPSS families in various schools and community sites throughout Wake County. Dr. Rangel also provides Foundations of Family and Community Engagement, Cultural Proficiency staff development to WCPSS faculty and staff.
Dr. Rangel is active and well respected within the Latino community. She serves as the Vice President for the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professional, Chair for the NC. Governor’s Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs, Vice-Chair of the Hispanic Latino Action Coalition, Chair for the Wake PTA Council DIE Subcommittee, Board of Directors Member and Secretary for the NC Education Corp, Board of Directors Member for the Marble Museum, Board of Directors Member of the Kramden Institute, Member for the N.C. Adelante Education Coalition, Member for the Consulate General of Mexico Local IME Scholarship Committee, Member of ALPES (Alianza Latina Proeducación en Salud), and Member of the Capítulo Raleigh Red Global MX (Raleigh Mexican Global Chapter).
Dr. Rangel’s work within the Latino community is to be noted since in December 2017, she was recognized as the Latino Leader for the Week by WARL- HOLA NC – FOX 50. In October 2013, she was honor with the Latino Diamante Award in the education category. In addition to the Latino Diamante honor, she received the “Orgullo de Nuestra Comunidad” (the Pride of Our Community) award given by Univision 40 to recognize the outstanding Hispanic leaders in the community. Her biggest recognition was issued on September 7, 2018, where she was awarded the Ohtli Award by the Consul General of Mexico Remedios Gómez Arnu for her longstanding contribution to the NC Latino families. Recently in July 2022, she was awarded the NC State College of Education LIFT Innovator Award for work with Equity and Inclusion.
Omar Jaimes Rodriguez
Omar Jaimes Rodriguez is a Student Success Coach at Randolph Community College. He is a two-time graduate from Delaware State University. He has a total of 5 years relevant work experience within the field of Education. Omar was born in Luvianos, Estado De Mexico, Mexico. He arrived at the United States before the age of one. He is a passionate and life-long activist for Education access and Immigrants’ rights. On his free time, he enjoys traveling, sightseeing, having fun outdoors, spending time with family, watching sports, and playing with his dog Oso.
Paola Sztajn is the dean of NC State’s College of Education. She joined NC State in 2008 as a professor in the Department of Elementary Education. In 2011, she became the College of Education’s assistant dean for diversity, leading the college’s Committee on Multicultural Initiatives and Diversity. Prior to becoming interim dean in October, she was a professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences, and served as interim associate vice provost for academic personnel and policy in 2021. Sztajn has also held several other administrative and leadership positions in the College of Education, including associate dean for research and innovation and head of the Department of Teacher Education and Learning Sciences, among others.
Prior to joining NC State, Sztajn served as a program officer in the Division of Research on Learning for the National Science Foundation, and she worked at the University of Georgia’s College of Education, and Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro’s Department of Education.
Her research focuses on practicing elementary teachers’ mathematics knowledge and professional development. She is interested in collaborative studies that allow multi-faceted, in-depth investigations of the complex question: In which ways do practicing elementary mathematics teachers acquire and continue to develop the knowledge needed to teach all students high-quality mathematics?
In her educational career, Sztajn has received over $27 million in research funding as principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on research projects. She has had research papers published in journals such as Educational Researcher, American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Teacher Education, and Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, and written two books: one published by Teachers College Press in 2019 and a practitioner book published by Corwin Press in 2021.
Sztajn received her Bachelor of Science in physics from Universidade Federal Fluminense in Brazil, her Master of Science in physics from Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Brazil, and her Ph.D. in mathematics education from Indiana University.
A native of Colombia, Diana Urieta immigrated to High Point, North Carolina at the age of seven with her parents and brother. Diana received her BA in Sociology and Master of Social Work from NC State University. Her work with the Latino community started in her youth when her dad would ask her to join him at the local medical clinic where she was an interpreter for families from her family’s local church. She has extensive experience working with underserved populations in the areas of public health, 0-16 education, and parenting education.
She is one of the co-developers of the Juntos 4-H Program where she has managed program development, implementation, evaluation, training and coaching, and sustainability efforts in North Carolina and nationally. Her approach to working in Juntos has focused on building bridges within communities, resourcing the family unit, and bringing light to the assets that bicultural and bilingual identity brings to the US.
My name is Johnny Vargas. I was born in Colombia, South America, and I have lived and taught Spanish in the United States for the past 20 years. I graduated from Universidad Libre in Colombia with a bachelor’s degree in Philology and languages. I also taught in Colombia with experience in English and Spanish language education, translation, and language program coordination. I am a National Board Certified Teacher in World Languages and licensed to teach Spanish and English as a Second Language (ESL) for K 12 in North Carolina.
I enjoy working with the Hispanic community. I currently serve as a presenter and parent trainer for the family Academy, an initiative of the office of equity affair of the Wake county public school system. I come from a family of teachers with strong values and respect for education, and teaching is my number one passion. I am proud of being afro Colombian, and thanks to my heritage, I have had the opportunity to bring my culture to the class by teaching my students about Hispanic history, art, and culture in my heritage and AP classes.
Having a dual cultural identity allows me to approach my job with compassion for those who look or have different perspectives than mine. Being fluent in English and Spanish makes me enjoy teaching even more. My classroom is more accessible and approachable as I can communicate with and relate to many staff members, teachers, and students and contribute to creating more inclusive classroom communities.
Christian Walter was recently appointed interim principal at Doris Henderson Newcomers School in Greensboro. He will become the principal at Sylvia Mendez Newcomers School in High Point when that school opens in August 2023. Christian is also an active presenter and coach for the North Carolina Department of Instruction EL Support Team. He was recognized as Guilford County School’s Assistant Principal of the Year Finalist in October 2020. Furthermore, he is a 2021 Latinxed Fellow and participated in the New Leaders’ Assistant Principal Leadership Academy (APLA) in 2019-2020.
Born and raised in South America, he is a native speaker of Spanish. Christian earned his Bachelor’s in English and Broadcasting from the National University of La Plata in Argentina and holds a MA in TESOL from Greensboro College and a post-Master’s Certificate of School Administration and Executive Leadership from Gardner-Webb University. He also holds a post-master’s certificate for school administrators in Dual Language Immersion Programs from East Carolina University and an Ed.S from East Carolina University. Currently, he is pursuing an Ed.D at East Carolina University. His philosophy is tied to the belief that all students can learn regardless of their ethnicity or socio-economic status provided they are exposed to high academic expectations. During his free time, Christian enjoys traveling, grilling with his family, and running.
Mrs. Monica Yllanes began her career in education in Queens, NY as a middle school science teacher in the New York City Public School System. She worked there for seven years before moving to Wake County in the summer of 1996. Mrs. Yllanes was fortunate to be a part of the inaugural staff of Davis Drive Middle School. During her tenure at DDMS, Mrs. Yllanes taught science, social studies, and language arts. She also had the opportunity to take on leadership positions during this time, serving as team leader, school improvement team chair, mentor, and member of the PLT implementation team.
In addition to these responsibilities, during the thirteen years, as the only Hispanic staff member in the school she often served as the primary translator for their Spanish-speaking families. Toward the end of her time at DDMS, , Mrs. Yllanes was encouraged by her assistant principal and principal to pursue school administration. THat pursuit led tio earning her Masters Degree in Administration. She began her administrative career as a member of the inaugural staff of Holly Grove Middle school. After two and a half years there, Mrs. Yllanes went on to serve as assistant principal at Sanderson High School. She returned to middle school as an Assistant Principal at West Lake Middle. In July of 2017, Mrs. Yllanes was named principal of Apex Middle School, where she continues to serve her community with Cougar PRIDE.