With a variety of experience under her belt, Rosa Cruz is adjusting to the principal’s post at Burleson Elementary School and to Odessa.

Having spent most of her life in Houston, Cruz is enjoying the smaller size and reduced traffic of Odessa. She started the day before school began in August 2021.

“It was a very quick transition to Odessa from Houston. I’m originally from Mexico. I was born in Mexico, and I moved to Houston at an early age and I was there for all of my life and went to college in Houston. … Making the transition to Odessa, it was a great experience. I had been dying to leave Houston because I wanted to see more of what was out there … I wanted to see what other school districts were doing and what other communities were struggling with,” Cruz said.

Her work has run the gamut from higher education to kindergarten through 12th grade.

“I started my career in higher ed in the University of Houston-Downtown as a recruiter … and then moved into public education,” Cruz said.

A native of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, her father decided to move to Houston where he opened his own business.

Cruz was 5. She didn’t know the language or the culture, but had to learn English fast. She would translate for her mother.

“I did go through … bilingual education. It was the beginning of bilingual education, so it was in its early stages. But my father pulled me from bilingual education and decided that I was to be (immersed) in English,” she recalled.

At that age, you can learn other languages quickly.

“… I fell in love with languages, so I learned a lot of different languages. I don’t speak them fluently, but I love to learn new languages and new cultures,” Cruz said.

She attended Houston Baptist University where she double majored in psychology and Spanish literature. Her master’s is in curriculum and instruction from Texas Wesleyan University and she took an administration degree from University of St. Thomas.

Cruz has been in education for 24 years.

“What drew me to Odessa was the opportunity to really learn a new community and just be part of a community that is a smaller community than Houston. And I was really searching for a small community that could really benefit from my experience and I can learn a lot from the small community,” she said.

“… Something that I’ve always wanted to do is just travel anywhere around Texas and the opportunity to move away from Houston came along and I was like, ‘Yes, I’ll take it,’” Cruz added.

Burleson Elementary School Principal Rosa Cruz speaks about growing up in Houston after her parents immigrated to America when she was 5-years-old during an interview Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in her office. Cruz has over 23 years in education with experience in K-12 as well as higher education. Cruz stated one of her major goals is to insure the school successfully meets the needs of every student. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

She added that everyone has been very nice.

“… In Houston, people are very, very nice considering that it’s a huge, huge city. But coming to West Texas, I just feel like there’s so many nice people and (I’ve) really enjoyed living here,” Cruz said.

She has two grown children, a son and daughter. Her son is a graduate of Texas A&M University and her daughter graduated from the University of Houston. Both are living in Houston.

Burleson has about 440 students in grades kindergarten through fifth and 50 staff members.

“Our numbers fluctuate constantly. We are a high mobility school, so we do get a lot of students that leave; a lot of students that come in …,” Cruz said.

Cruz was a middle school principal for six years and taught high school for 10 years.

“… I really fell in love with middle school. I thought that was a very good foundation and it really determines … if students continue in high school and graduate high school … I’ve worked in kinder through eighth grade. I love that ability to transition from elementary to middle school in the same school. But a middle school is a … very different environment,” she said.

“I also love working with parents at that level. When the elementary opportunity came along, I thought wow, this is really where we set the foundation.”

That is a responsibility Cruz takes very seriously.

“Every child is different, so it’s important for me to really get to know every child and you get to know them by interacting with them in the cafeteria, in the hallways, in the classrooms and pulling them for small interventions. …,” Cruz said.

She added that teachers are good about telling her what materials and training they need to better serve students.

One of her objectives at Burleson is to ensure that all students are successful.

“… We do that by addressing their needs and that is my goal to ensure that we meet the needs of every student on campus. We’ve implemented a student leadership team. … I pose … a question like how can we better our school culture … and they respond. They have been really good about bringing topics to the table and saying, can we address this. We have seen a dramatic change in our student culture,” Cruz said.

She started with 12 students in the student leadership group and that has increased to 18.

They have been learning about Robert’s Rules of Order, which are used at school board meetings, for example.

“We started with some fifth graders, but then we added fourth graders in order to develop the fourth grade leadership because our fifth graders are going to be leaving us soon” and the older students can serve as role models, Cruz said.

“They’re creating a recycling program and they also assist with the Food 2 Kids program organizing Food 2 Kids every Friday. They also do leadership activities …,” she added.

Chief of Schools Keeley Simpson said Cruz is an experienced principal who brings a wealth of knowledge to ECISD.

“She is a strong instructional leader who puts students at the center of all decisions,” Simpson said in an email.

Executive Director for Leadership Cynthia Retana oversees 11 campuses, including Burleson.

Retana said Cruz is a visionary leader who will do a great job at Burleson. She added that Cruz always wants to learn and do what’s best for her campus.

“… She understands the needs that the campus has. There’s a lot of needs, data wise, that the campus is showing …,” Retana said.