Interview with Janet Soto Rodriguez | Chalkboard Project

Interview with Janet Soto Rodriguez

Thursday, January 3, 2019 Communications Team Portrait of Janet Soto Rodriguez, Chalkboard Project's newest employee

I recently sat down with our newest Chalkboard Project employee, Janet Soto Rodriguez, to talk about what inspires (spoiler alert, Selena) and excites her about her new role.

Hi Janet! Your job title is Policy and Innovation Director. Tell me more about the "innovation" portion of your job.

I like to think of innovation as fundamentally questioning and challenging the status quo. In education, that can mean how teachers are educated, recruited and compensated. It can also mean how we engage communities and families, and how we bridge culture and language.

What does innovation mean to you?

I believe the creation of this position affirms that Chalkboard is willing to take risks, move in a new direction and rethink what we advocate for. I want to both honor Chalkboard’s legacy and be open to new possibilities in order to make education work for all our children.

Your previous job was focused on rural economic development for Business Oregon, and now you are joining an organization focused on education. Do you see a connection between the two?

For me the connection is huge! My commitment to economic development is rooted in my passion to address disparities and ensure individuals, families and communities have what they need to succeed and contribute. I believe that education is a primary building block to insure vitality in all communities. In my previous work, the health of our school system was a reoccurring factor in community-based livability and innovation planning. Time and time again, conversations about creativity, innovation and problem solving circled back to education. My transition from economic development work to education is now formal, but I believe it has always been a part of my work. 

Why is public education important to you?

For so many reasons! First and foremost, my family has always instilled that education is an opportunity. My mother has a third-grade education, my father never had any formal schooling and many of my siblings did not make it past middle school. A lot of that had to do with our family’s financial situation and access. In Mexico, where we lived, you either went to the free village school, which usually ended around 3rd or 4th grade, or you had to travel far distances and often pay money for access.

When we came to the US, being able to access free public education was a tremendous gift. I was encouraged to really make the most of the gift. I would like to pass this on; I would like to give this opportunity to our future generations.

What inspires you?

I am really inspired by my family. Crossing the border, living in multiple cultural worlds and growing up in poverty helped me learn a lot about adapting and resourcefulness.

My family also taught me about the integrity of people. We each have our best selves and our compromised selves. My family taught me that the compromised state is often the result of systems. Because of this I have always thought a lot about systems, conditions and access. For those of us that are in positions to change systems, we have a responsibility to create new pathways [for our kids] and I find that really inspiring.

Last question-Madonna or Selena?

Selena!! No question (laughs). When Selena was really big, my older sisters were teenagers. They would dress like her, copy her hair style with the curl on the forehead, and wear bright red lipstick. I grew up with her, it wasn’t until later in my life that I learned about Madonna.

Thank you Janet! We are lucky to have you!

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