It’s hard not to get into a long conversation with Maritza Rosado. The self-described chatter, who now leads Selma Elementary, loves getting to know others in candid and honest conversations.
Sitting in her office in the historic Selma Elementary School building, it’s easy to hear when she talks how Rosado is making a little history herself. Rosado is the first latina principal to lead a school in the area. Rosado, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, still carries the accent of her childhood.
“I came to the United States when I was 16. So I was older, that’s why the accent never went away,” she said. “And I don’t want it to go away because it’s a part of me.”
When Rosado made the move to the mainland she landed in the Bronx to live with her mother and stepfather.
“It was a very nice part of the Bronx. It has changed a lot, but it was a beautiful building in the center of a park,” Rosado said. “My stepdad had two jobs. He worked hard to give us a good living.”
At 18, she was taking a few general education classes at a community college when an opportunity to become a dental assistant presented itself.
“There was no training required, so the dentist trained me. I could walk to work,” Rosado said.
Rosado continued to take classes while working as a dental assistant. When she was 28, Rosado and her then husband decided it was time to return home. The family moved back to Puerto Rico where Rosado continued to work as a dental assistant before becoming a stay-at-home mom dedicated to raising her two boys.
After a while, Rosado went back to school. This time she left with both a teaching degree and a master’s.
“When I was younger I wanted to be a social worker. But I wanted to be a social worker because the social worker at my school was awesome,” she said. “She came to the homes. She found resources. I wanted to be a social worker because I said I want to help little girls like me when I grew up.”
Rosado said she couldn’t pinpoint when she made the switch from wanting to be a social worker to a teacher, but only that she had an innate need to serve and give back.
“I guess what got me into education, the short answer, is my own experiences with the public school system. How caring the teachers were. How many chances you got,” she said.
Rosado believes becoming a teacher later in life helped her be better prepared to take on a classroom.
“It better prepared me because I have been a parent. I have dealt with my own children. I have dealt with or interacted with my sons’ friends. So I think that when I was older I was more assertive,” she said. “I was older so I think I was able to manage things better. Still very scary.”
Unfortunately, teaching in Puerto Rico soon became too difficult financially and Rosado began searching for teaching positions back in the continental United States. She applied for a job in North Carolina after visiting the state and falling in love with the area.
“We’re all connected, so similar. I see the food in the south, ‘oh we have something similar to that in Puerto Rico.’ I thought it was a great place to raise your children. I just loved it,” she said.
She sent a resume to Wake County Schools and within 15 minutes had two emails responding to her application. By the end of the night she had accepted the job and began packing. Within 10 days from that first email, Rosado was at work in North Carolina.
After several years, Rosado made the move to Johnston County where she found more opportunities for advancement. In 2012 she joined the first JOCO cohort for school administrators the county held in coordination with NC State University. At NC State she received her second master’s in school administration.
“I’d been teaching for maybe 13 years, and I’m going to be really honest, I felt as a latina, I saw the high volume of population, and I felt maybe there’s a need for someone like me,” Rosado said of her reasoning to become an administrator.
“I just felt maybe I could help bring a different perspective into what decisions were being made or reach out to these communities that felt distant to what was happening at the school. So that was one of the motivations to do it,” she said.
Rosado’s background fits Selma Elementary perfectly. One of the more diverse schools in the district, Selma is also a full dual-immersion school in both English and Spanish.
“Our dual-immersion program is about having students become bi-literate in both languages. Bi-literate, meaning students will be able to read, speak, and hold academic conversation in both languages,” Rosado said.
She praised the benefits of dual-immersion, from developing cognitive abilities to being better suited for tomorrow’s job market.
Rosado has been working to strengthen communication within the school by telling her teachers she is right there with them to support them.
“I’m visible, available and anything that I’m going ask you to do I, I will do as well,” she said. “I want to continue to sustain and to build what is already here. I believe we’re a family. We’re all in this together and here just to make the community better.”
She’s also already launched, with the help of parents and community members, a Parent-Teacher-Community Organization (PTCO), and is working to establish a parent center within the school where parents can come in during the day and better interact with the school.
All of which supports her main goal for the year.
“I think, bottom line, this year we’re going to focus on continuing building relationships,” she said.