Meet the CSO: Maria Montoya
October 05, 2017
Maria is the Manager of School and Community Partnerships for our office. She joined our team in August and is excited about creating new opportunities for community development, school and parent support and partnerships in Detroit.
Maria is a graduate of communications from the University of Florida. She spent the first part of her career as a journalist for USA Today, and later covered children and families for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. While working as a reporter following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Maria covered schools and school leaders working to rebuild the city’s education systems. It was in her role as an advocate for her own children that Maria become involved in a parent group seeking to create more efficient and fairer enrollment practices.
As a leading parent voice, Maria became involved in creating OneApp, the first citywide enrollment process in New Orleans. She also used her passion to serve the community to oversee the day-to-day operations of three family resource centers. At these resource centers, families could learn about their enrollment options and seek support if they ran into barriers. As the Director of Enrollment at the Recovery School District and Communications and Policy Director for Agenda for Children, Maria created partnerships with local libraries, health care officials, housing authorities, local universities, and city officials to increase access to actionable information for students and the service providers assisting families with enrollment issues.
In 2016, Maria moved to Michigan to lead Enroll Detroit, a program created by Excellent Schools Detroit (ESD) to help eliminate enrollment barriers for students from birth to college. In her time with ESD, Maria and her outreach staff where able to work closely with the students and families displaced due to local school closures. By creating enrollment events, communications assets easily understandable and accessible to families, and training service providers, Maria and her outreach staff connected with hundreds of families.
When she’s not working on planning community events or directly supporting schools or families, Maria is a huge foodie with a passion for cooking and collecting cookbooks. She and her family live in the Grandmont/Rosedale area with their 8-year-old boys and 10-month-old daughter, and she is a part of a local co-op currently in the launch phase of opening a pop-up bookstore in Hamtramck. Additionally, Maria serves on several Detroit Head Start advisory groups as a community rep, as a board member of a local nonprofit, and on the board of a New Orleans student advocacy organization.
What fuels your education passions?
Seeing a child’s eyes light up when they feel excited about learning is what drives me. Too often, I have seen children who haven’t found the school that meets their needs lose that light, and that’s just heartbreaking. I feel like it’s our responsibility to help every child have the best educational experience possible, and, as communities, work together to ensure all of the supports that are needed to make all children successful are in place. Education was everything to me growing up, and I know that the experience I had and the successes I experienced are directly linked to the adults who made sure I had the tools I needed to achieve.
What is one piece of advice related to community engagement you would give to educators?
Authentic engagement isn’t easy, but the rewards and benefits that come from committing to do the work are truly transformative. Parent and student engagement isn’t about one-time events or handing out flyers that explain engagement. Engagement that is meaningful to students, families, and communities can be incredibly tough because it involves having tough conversations and working collaboratively to create solutions.
Do you have a memorable teacher? Why is that person memorable to you?
Hands down my journalism and English teacher, Marge Craig Barber. Throughout my life I didn’t have a lot of stability outside of school, but Marge was my constant every day. She checked in with me and made sure I stayed on-top of school, forced hugs on me when she could tell I needed it, and cracked the whip when she thought I wasn’t working hard enough. Still to this day, Marge writes me and my children, and just when I am being too hard on myself or having a rough day a note from her will show up and turn things around.
What is one book you would recommend to parents and/or educators?
I cannot even recall how many times I have gifted, “Hope Against Hope” by Sarah Carr and “Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life” by Dr. Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson. Both books document the experiences of children and families living in today’s very complex educational landscape, and offer truly insightful views of how lives are impacted by our current processes, systems and policies.