One of the many TASA member benefits is access to member service representatives. These former school leaders serve as an extension of the TASA staff, dedicating their time to support individual TASA members in their respective regions. The roles of a TASA member service representative are many, from welcoming new administrators to supporting those who’ve been in their positions for an extended period of time and find themselves in need of a mentor. TASA’s member service representative for Regions 1, 2, 19 and 20 is Roel Peña. This is his story.
Roel Peña is a lifelong resident of the Rio Grande Valley and a tireless supporter of Texas public education, dedicating his entire career, and beyond, to working for school districts. He graduated from Edcouch-Elsa High School, located between Edinburg and Harlingen, not far from the Texas/Mexico border, and received his bachelor’s degree in biology and physical education at Pan American University.
He was drawn to work in public education because, growing up in the Valley, he knew his personal experience gave him a unique insight into how best to work with students in the area.
“Kids here in the Rio Grande Valley, they have special learning needs and economical disadvantages,” Peña says, “I wanted to work with those students, so I started teaching in Edcouch-Elsa High School my first year.”
Peña taught high school biology and physical science at his alma mater for three years before moving north. His wife was a student at Texas Woman’s University, and so he moved with her to Denton, where he started working in Frisco ISD while pursuing his master’s degree at North Texas State University.
Frisco was a small district in those days, and the administration asked Peña to serve as a pseudo-assistant principal, working to help with learning needs and discipline situations of Frisco’s Hispanic students. He remained in the district for two years, then once Peña and his wife had completed their studies, the couple moved back to the Valley.
Peña began working in Edinburg ISD as a counselor, then moved into assistant principal and principal positions, spending eight years in the district while returning to Pan American University for his educational administration and superintendent certificates. Nearby McAllen ISD hired Peña to serve as its administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction, a position in which he was responsible for overseeing the district’s secondary school program. Peña was asked to serve as superintendent of San Perlita ISD in 1994, after the district had been categorized as low performing by the TEA. Over the next three years, Peña held the superintendency and helped bring the district’s rating up to exemplary.
“I was very proud of the fact that it became recognized as an exemplary school district by the state of Texas,” he says. “It continues today as an exemplary district.” From San Perlita, Peña moved to Region 1 ESC, where he served as a deputy executive director for seven years, up until his retirement. Former TASA Executive Director Johnny Veselka was quick to ask the newly retired Peña to come aboard as a member service representative.
“He saw that I had a good connection with superintendents, because that was really my job at Region 1, working with superintendents,” Peña says. “And Region 1 continued using me as a board training field service agent, so I did both.” In his role as TASA MSR, Peña is focused on communicating with superintendents and central office staff in regions 1, 2, 19 and 20.
“I have a total of about 147 superintendents that I work with, providing them with up-to-date information on TASA policy development, initiatives and state-level priorities,” he explains. “I welcome new superintendents to their positions and provide assistance and support.”
Peña also attends regional advisory committee meetings, which he says allow him to stay abreast of critical issues and initiatives in his districts. His favorite part of the job are the connections he’s formed and maintained with dozens of superintendents, even during COVID-19, when many of his meetings have gone to a virtual space.
“I’m proud of the human connection I have with superintendents and being able to relate to what they do,” he says. “They appreciate the fact that their member service rep is someone who’s been there, done that. And remaining connected with a job I always enjoyed makes it almost not feel like a job. I enjoy what I do tremendously.”
Serving as superintendent during a global pandemic makes an already challenging job even more so, Peña says, though he believes Texas’ school administrators are making necessary adjustments and rising to the occasion. “You have to consider the emotional aspect of what they’re going through,” he says. “It’s not an easy job, and it’s difficult times right now, but I do think schools and educators can meet the challenge.”
Find contact information for all five TASA member service representatives on the TASA staff webpage.