On the Record with Minerva Garcia-Sanchez

DeKALB – Minerva Garcia-Sanchez is looking forward to the start of a new school year.

As she prepares for summer vacation to come to an end, she also is preparing to meet new students and teachers at DeKalb School District 428.

Garcia-Sanchez is not a new student; she is the school district’s new superintendent. She began the three-year role on July 1.

Garcia-Sanchez graduated from Loyola University of Chicago in 1991 with a Bachelor of Science majoring in communication and media studies and psychology. She earned a Master of Education from Chicago State University in 2003 and a Doctorate of Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2021.

She worked for Chicago Public Schools for 27 years and most recently served as the chief of schools for the Pilsen and Little Village network.

In January, the DeKalb School Board voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve Garcia-Sanchez as the new superintendent.

She is believed to be the first woman, district officials said, to be superintendent of the district and is at least the second minority superintendent after Brian Ali in the early 2000s.

Garcia-Sanchez spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about the start of the new school year and her goals as superintendent.

Milton: Are you looking forward to the first day of school?

Garcia-Sanchez: I’m ready for school, and I want to ring the bell for school to start. On the first day of school, everyone has something new, whether it’s a new backpack, shirt, shoes or hair barrette. It has the same feeling of taking your favorite shirt out of the laundry, with Downy and fabric softener, when it’s warm and smells good. For me, that’s what the first day of school is like.

Milton: Have you always wanted to be in education?

Garcia-Sanchez: No, I didn’t want to be a teacher growing up. I wanted to be a child advocacy lawyer. I wanted to change the world through policy, making a difference in children’s lives. In high school, I worked at Quaker Oats. I learned about belonging, human relations and development.

Milton: How did you become a teacher?

Garcia-Sanchez: I was working in instructional technology, bringing local area networks into schools. That was how I was introduced to Eli Whitney Elementary School, where I had my first teaching job. It was there that I met a young boy named Daniel. He was so smart, reading at a 12th-grade reading level. But he was bored and ran in the wrong crowds. He taught me how important it was to be a teacher and a leader. That’s why I became an assistant principal and later a principal.

Milton: What does being a good leader mean to you?

Garcia-Sanchez: Being a leader in education means that you have to be a team player, you have to collaborate and believe in supporting the child as a whole and their best interest at heart. For me, it’s about helping a child become their authentic self. … When I was younger, the principals of my elementary school were not the kind to sit in offices. They knew our names and made it a point to get to know our families. I want people to know that I am here, they can ask me questions and I will be very responsive.

Milton: Are involved parents important when it comes to education?

Garcia-Sanchez: School is a formal education, but your first teachers are at home: your parents and family. At home, you learn your native language and values. Parents have high expectations of us, we’ve been entrusted with their children’s education. We’re all excited to see our kids succeed. We want to see them learn and grow. As a school district, we’re all about education. We have to put children at the center of all we do.

Milton: How would you define education?

Garcia-Sanchez: Education is finding the gaps and the growth areas, and bridging that gap and continuing to grow. School is more than reading and writing. The experiences are really important for development.

Milton: How can we improve learning?

Garcia-Sanchez: I learn something new every day. We can learn by reading, talking to others, traveling, trying something new and taking risks. Learning isn’t just about sitting in a classroom with a teacher. It’s about growing and progressing as a person.

Milton: Is that why you held ice cream socials to get to know parents and students?

Garcia-Sanchez: Definitely. The ice cream socials are not just about free ice cream or popsicles. It’s an opportunity to meet parents, students and the community. … I want students to come back to school and feel like they belong. By building a relationship with them before school starts, by seeing them in the school hallways and at events, I want them to feel comfortable, like they belong and are excited for school.

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.