Notable Women of Austin: For the love of seeing other people succeed

Published 7:26 am Monday, March 12, 2018

By Carolyn Bogott

American Association of University Women

Valentina Gallegos glows as she tells how much she loves her job as interpreter and success coach at Southgate Elementary School.  And she has been there for 17 years, all of which have been a blessing to her, she says.  It is clear that she is also a blessing to the children and colleagues with whom she works.

Valentina Gallegos

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She credits her third grade teacher in Mexico with inspiring her to want to work with children.  “That teacher loved and pushed us and we knew she really cared about us. I knew then that I wanted to be like her.”

Valentina’s family moved to Wells, Minnesota, after she had finished fifth grade in Mexico. There were a number of Mexican migrant families in that area in the summer, but Valentina’s family stayed year round and so she had difficult times as the only Mexican girl in her class. She graduated from high and moved on to college at Mankato. She fell in love and got married and  started her family.

Driving through Austin in 2000, Valentina and her husband saw the Hormel Plant and stopped to ask about working there. Soon they both had jobs with the company.  Just a few weeks after she started that job, she heard a fellow worker saying that her daughter was having problems at Southgate School. This mother wanted to help her daughter but felt she didn’t know enough English to make herself understood. Valentina offered to go with the mother to talk to the principal and teacher.

It turned out the daughter was having problems with the other Latina students.  Valentina asked the principal’s permission to talk to the group of girls. She shared about her own trials in school and encouraged them to support each other, as well as their other classmates.  The principal was so impressed with Valentina’s approach with the girls that she asked Valentina if she would like to work for the school district.  Valentina applied and had a job as a school district interpreter a week later.  Her list of mentors in this new endeavor includes all the principals that have served at Southgate in the past 17 years, and Nancy Clark, English Language Learners teacher.

Valentina explains that the main role of a success coach is to serve as a bridge between parents and the school.  The coaches interpret at parent-teacher conferences and special education conferences so that language is not a barrier between school personnel and parents.

Other responsibilities include supporting the school social worker in monitoring attendance, and administering the “backpack program,”  which sends home nutritious food  on weekends with those students who depend on the free and reduced price lunch program during the week. Success coaches also hold monthly parent meetings to inform parents about curriculum expectations, computer skills, and activities in sponsored by these coaches.

Having been at her job for 17 years means that Valentina is in a good position to see the changes that have occurred over time. She reports that graduation rates and college admissions have increased for the students whom she and other success coaches have supported.  Also problem situations have become less common.

Katie Baskin, principal at Southgate, says of Valentina, “She is AMAZING!! Valentina embodies what a true Success Coach is all about in the Austin Public Schools. She supports our students academically, socially, and emotionally. She works with all families to support what their students are doing in school, as well as how to challenge them to continue learning at home. We could not do what we do for kids without her!”

Thanks for all you do for Austin’s children, Valentina Gallegos!!!

For more information about the Austin Branch of AAUW, contact program co-chair, Sue Grove  or Carolyn Bogott