Norma Leza has come a long way from picking strawberries and sweeping floors.
In July, the Aldine Independent School District board named Leza the principal of Bill Worsham Elementary School in Houston as her co-workers cheered and applauded for the woman whose first school job involved wielding a broom and mop. The first day of school is today.
Leza, 52, couldn't provide a better example for one of the things that teachers tell their kids in grade school: follow your dreams. She was born into a family of migrant workers who worked in fields across the country.
Growing up, she and her four school-age siblings helped their parents pick crops as harvests popped up across America: garlic in California, cherries in Michigan, potatoes in Alabama and cotton in Texas.
Realizing Her Father’s Dream
The new principal actually dropped out of school in the 10th grade, because two years before, a teacher had written childrens' names on the board, and included Leza and the other children of migrant workers on the vocational list, rather than the college-bound list.
"So then I kept thinking that teacher thinks that I'm going to go vocational, that must mean I would never go to college," Leza told Good Morning America.
So she got married and worked full-time in the fields, much to the disappointment of her father, who wanted his eldest to become an educator. Leza didn't forget her dad's dream, and when she was 23, she realized it was her own, too.
However, lacking a high school diploma, the only job she managed to get was as a custodian at an elementary school. She earned her GED within a year and was hired as a teaching assistant. While working that job, Leza attended Sam Houston State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in bilingual education from Sam Houston State University in 1981.
She taught at Worsham between 1982 and 1995, but still felt like she should do more for the children in the largely low-income area, a Hispanic community that was a lot like the place where she grew up. So Leza went back to school for a master's degree in elementary education in 1997, and then in 2000, she earned another master's in education administration. In 1995, she was appointed Worsham's assistant principal.
And now that she is principal, Leza continues to keep teen-agers in her school district in school. She made it, and so can they, Leza tells them. And she knows her father, now deceased, would be proud.
"I know he would be so happy that I became the teacher that he always dreamed I would be," Leza said.