Armando Rodriguez’s values are rooted in family, education, public service — and Canutillo. As Rodriguez puts it, his story is Canutillo, a small community in El Paso County that values hard work, the opportunities offered through a good education, and close family ties. From an early age, his family instilled in him “a culture of high expectations” that led to him getting a business degree from The University of Texas at El Paso and sparked a desire to serve his community.
The heart of his town is Canutillo ISD, which Rodriguez attended and graduated from Canutillo High School, and where he now serves on the school board as vice president. This far West Texas region has had a tremendous impact on him.
“I’ve always been influenced by the convergence of cultures that make up the El Paso borderland. Here’s a place where good old American values mix with an unapologetic Mexican culture that gives this community a unique view of the world,” he said. “El Paso is what the rest of Texas will look like in a couple of decades, and because of that, I feel El Paso and Canutillo are at the forefront of what makes Texas work.”
New Role at TASB
Rodriguez is excited to bring his background and experience to his latest role in public service — TASB President for 2023-24. He succeeds Debbie Gillespie, a former Frisco ISD trustee who will serve the next year as TASB’s Immediate Past President.
“I have been given the opportunity to bring the experience I have gained as a school board member of a growing, largely Hispanic school district along the Texas-Mexico border and bring that to the state level,” he said. “I want to make sure that every single student in our state, regardless of the ZIP code in which they live or the area code in front of their telephone number, will have access to high-quality educational opportunities.”
Gillespie, who has served with Rodriguez on the TASB board for several years, said his experience will be a benefit to TASB members.
“Armando is capable and kind-hearted, and he is willing to step up to any challenge,” Gillespie said. “We have learned so much from each other about how to overcome differences and face challenges that are put before us. I have enjoyed serving with him on the TASB Board and look forward to continuing our work together as he steps up to presidential level.”
Before he was elected President, he served as President-elect for 2022-23. In addition, Rodriguez was in the Leadership TASB Class of 2012, graduating as a Master Trustee.
“TASB is a legacy organization that continues to serve elected trustees, school district officials, and students in every corner of the state. As the role of schools in our communities expands to better meet the needs of parents, teachers, and students, so will our organization,” Rodriguez said. “I look forward to meeting with leaders from throughout Texas to determine how we can reach the goals we have set for TASB and for our member school districts.”
Public Service Started Early
Rodriguez’s public service career began in 2005 at age 21, when he was elected as the youngest-ever member of the Canutillo ISD Board of Trustees, which serves a district of about 6,000 students across 10 campuses. His election was not a surprise to many in the district: Rodriguez had been a permanent fixture at school board meetings as a student, even before he was eligible to vote in any election. Now, at age 40, he is an experienced school board member serving his fifth term.
At Canutillo ISD, Rodriguez has made it his mission to improve the quality of education in his community, especially for underserved students. Through his work, he ensures that students have access to high-quality educational, fine arts, and athletic facilities. He also is one of the founding members of the Canutillo Alumni Foundation for Education, commonly known as CAFÉ, which was specifically designed to award scholarships to Canutillo graduates.
During his tenure on the Canutillo ISD board, there have been historic gains in student achievement and state-recognized progress. The district also boasts being one of the few high schools in the region to earn the National Blue Ribbon designation from the U.S. Department of Education, the most prestigious award given to a public school.
“I’m especially proud of the A-B Honor Roll distinction the district received from the Educational Results Partnership for our efforts to close achievement gaps and create high-performing schools — the only El Paso district to get such an honor,” he said.
Rodriguez also has played a key role in modernizing Canutillo schools. Some of the district’s recent accomplishments include the establishment of Northwest Early College, a National Blue Ribbon School and one of the best high schools in the country according to U.S. News & World Report; the creation of the Canutillo Connect initiative, which bridges the digital divide in the community by distributing Apple devices to all students and creating better internet connectivity throughout the district; the back-to-back-to-back A rating for the district by the Texas Education Agency, and being named the Best Small School District by the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards in 2022.
Canutillo ISD also is the first district to seek and receive permission from the state to add two nonvoting student advisors to its board of trustees, he said. These student advisors sit at the dais with the board and participate in the discussion of all agenda items to bring the student perspective into the discussion, he said.
“Mando, as everyone in Canutillo knows him, has been a transformational figure for our district. At his young age, he has given nearly half of his life to serving the children of Canutillo. He has set a culture of high expectations and created an environment where students can reach unprecedented heights regardless of their background or barriers,” said Patricia Mendoza, Canutillo ISD board president. “I am looking forward to seeing Mando serve with the same passion as TASB President.”
Other leadership positions for Rodriguez include serving on the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ board of directors. He has also served as president of the Mexican American School Boards Association and president of the Far West Texas School Boards Association.
Protecting Public Education
Canutillo ISD Superintendent Pedro Galaviz praised Rodriguez as a man of service who is “committed to the community that raised him” and to public education.
“Mr. Rodríguez is the type of passionate leader school districts need on their side. A true visionary, he works alongside other board members and administrators to continuously improve the lives of students by guaranteeing access to high-quality programs,” Galaviz said. “I am especially excited to have him serve as president of TASB as he will bring a type of sensibility and knowledge that is unique to those who were raised along the Texas-Mexico border."
Rodriguez’s board service is guided by his beliefs that a school board is responsible for being the best steward of public trust and tax dollars and that members must serve as the strongest advocates for children and for public education. But there are other important issues board members face in today’s political climate.
“Our role as trustees also has become more nuanced as we help school districts get out of the pandemic and through much of the political waters public education has been muddling through,” he added.
But whatever challenge or opportunity he takes on in public education, at Rodriguez’s core lies the deep understanding that all children deserve a good education.
“Public education is the great equalizer. It provides people of all backgrounds the opportunity to excel and reach personal and community goals,” he said. “In a community like Canutillo, with such humble beginnings, public education is transformative. From its early start as a rural school district serving the children of farm workers to its status as a premier suburban school district, we have helped end cycles of poverty and given families access to unprecedented opportunities.”
Laura Tolley is managing editor of Texas Lone Star.
This article was first published in the November 2023 issue of Texas Lone Star.
Laura Tolley is the managing editor of Texas Lone Star.