There are many components to public education, from the classroom to the county office. But without the work that goes on behind the scenes, teachers would have a hard time teaching and students would have a hard time learning.
One such role is that of the pupil personnel administrator, who ensures students have the support and resources they need to succeed. One of the best is Maria Hwang de Bravo, project director, child welfare and attendance at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Bravo has been named ACSA’s 2012 Pupil Personnel Administrator of the Year.
Bravo said she is humbled to have received the award, because she primarily works in the background. In her job at the county office, she supports the pupil personnel administrators who are in the front lines working directly with the students and their families at the district level.
“I am, of course, deeply honored to receive the award, but it’s been made more special because I’m being recognized for my work in an area in education that I feel very passionate about and love,” she said.
Bravo supports the 80 school districts within her county by sharing the latest information on emerging issues, such as attendance requirements, cyber misconduct, discipline and parent rights. She hosts workshops and presentations, prepares publications, and even testifies at the state Capitol on pending legislation.
“My favorite part about the job is that every day there’s a puzzle to solve,” she said. “Most of the time, the answer is clearly stated in the law. But there’s always a twist to each scenario, so it’s trying to make the gray as close to black and white as possible. It’s the twist and the story behind each scenario that make each day different and exciting, and ensures that I’m using my skills and knowledge to their full capacity.”
Bravo, who has held her current position since last year, said one of the biggest challenges facing education results from the elimination of the pupil personnel administrator positions at the district level. She said laws and policies are constantly changing, and schools and districts must be well informed on the latest updates. Many districts cannot maintain their pupil personnel administrators, leaving it up to those who don’t always have the specialized knowledge or expertise needed in this area, putting more pressure on those at the county office.
“Not many people understand the critical role that we play…until we are gone,” Bravo said.
In fact, one of the greatest challenges of the job revolves around existing laws. While some have been passed with the best intent, they have created problems at the operational level because the language is vague and full impacts unknown, Bravo said.
“It is in these instances that we all have to work creatively and make compromises,” she said.
Prior to her current position, Bravo was a consultant in LACOE’s Child Welfare and Attendance Department, director of pupil services at Centinela Valley Union HSD from 2004-08, associate principal in Centinela from 2001-04 and bilingual resource specialist at Centinela from 1998-01.
Because both of her parents were educators, it was not a big surprise that Bravo ended up in education. However, she never had any intention of moving into administration. But one year, at a colleague’s request, she attended a principal’s leadership training, and the rest was history.
“In terms of becoming an administrator, I really never even considered it while I was teaching. I was happy with what I was doing and thought that I was where I should be in life,” she said. “One thing led to another, and I ended up with an administrative credential. Looking back at it all, I think I was just in the right place at the right time, but I certainly would never have envisioned being where I am today and loving it.”
Being trilingual – speaking English, Spanish and Mandarin – Bravo always thought that she would be teaching English language development for the rest of her life. Having moved from Taiwan to Bolivia to the United States by the age of 10, she struggled having to learn Spanish while going to an American school; spoke English with a Spanish accent while living in Oklahoma; and was teased by people in the Chinese community for speaking Mandarin with an English accent.
“I wanted to help struggling students from foreign countries become proficient in the English language quickly because of my own experiences in trying to do well in school in a new country,” she said. “It was through that experience that I thought I could make a real difference for students. But with the administrative credential, I realized that I could expand my reach and be able to help more students through different issues.”
Bravo said ACSA has been an important partner throughout her career. She served as president of the Los Angeles County charter and representative on the state Student Services and Special Education Council, and said she understands the important role ACSA plays in voicing and supporting legislation, policy and practice that are in the best interest of all students.
“I have been a member of ACSA since I first became an administrator,” she said. “If I had known what I know now about the organization, I would have become more actively involved a long time ago.”
Bravo is known as an educational leader who will go the extra mile for those in need to share her expertise. In addition, she has the unique ability to glean and digest complex information and present it in a succinct format that is easily understood.
“She always conducts herself professionally, and is highly respected by all of her colleagues, including school personnel, parents, students and her co-workers,” said Victor Thompson, director of the Division of Student Support Services at LACOE. “She is a constant support to me as division director and her input and insight is truly valued.”
Bravo will be formally honored along with all of ACSA’s 2012 Administrators of the Year at this year’s Leadership Summit, Nov. 8-10 in San Diego. To register, visit www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit.
Access photos of award recipients at www.flickr.com/photos/acsaevents.