Alumni Spotlight

Melissa Chavez, Ph.D. in Special Education, 2013, M.Ed. in Educational Administration

Melissa Chavez, Ph.D. in Special Education, 2013, M.Ed. in Educational Administration, 2004, and B.S. in Applied Learning and Development, 1997

Melissa Chavez

Melissa Chavez

Melissa Chavez is associate vice president and executive director for UT Elementary School and the UT University Charter Schools. She began teaching in Austin public schools in 1997, rapidly rose to the position of assistant to the superintendent, and soon was recruited to help open UT Elementary School in 2003. She started at UT Elementary as an assistant principal and created the school’s special education and reading programs. Chavez was promoted to principal in 2006, helping the school win numerous exemplary awards, and in 2009 became superintendent. As executive director, she not only has excelled at academic and operational management and leadership of the school, but also oversaw the development and construction of Phase I of UT Elementary’s permanent school building, which opened in August 2012.

Her Story

While I was in the College of Education’s principalship program and obtaining my master’s degree, I was selected to intern for an associate superintendent in Austin ISD. Although it was a very demanding position for me at the time – I was a full time graduate student and pregnant – I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. I got to work with 15 very talented principals in Austin ISD. I learned so much from them about managing schools, working with parents, training teachers, collecting and using school data, understanding school law and school policy, and working with budgets. That experience was invaluable.

Why UT?

I had such positive experiences with the professors and instructors in the College of Education during my master’s program and I felt very successful as a student. I also felt that the instructors cared about me. For those reasons, when I decided to get my Ph.D. in special education I knew UT Austin was the place for me. As far as faculty who were particularly influential, Dr. Norma Cantu, Dr. Martha Ovando, and Dr. Terry Falcomata definitely stand out. Dr. Cantu’s passion for civil rights through the public education lens made me appreciate the job I do every day. Like Dr. Cantu, I believe high quality education for all children is important and that this goal deserves our complete attention. Dr. Ovando taught me how to be an instructional leader by modeling the instruction I wanted to see for my teachers, and modeling how respectfully children and parents should be treated. Dr. Falcomata taught me how to make meaningful, data-driven observations of students and how to use that information to implement behavioral or instructional interventions. I loved that class!

Life After UT

My story is pretty straightforward – I have simply continued to do what I love, which is work in public education. In addition to being a school administrator, I have done some guest lectures, committee work, served on dissertation committees, and written some articles about UT Elementary School.

Advice For Students

First, build strong relationships. The education you get at The University of Texas at Austin is of the highest quality, but it’s the relationships you build with your peers and professors that are crucial in order for you to thrive in the real world. Your peers become your colleagues and your professors become your mentors. Second, create opportunities to learn more and gain new experiences. Volunteer to guest lecture in a class you love, tutor a student in an elementary school, or volunteer to support a research project. Once you leave the Forty Acres, it ends up being your experiences, along with your degree, that help you do well! And, finally, never stop learning. Learning shouldn’t cease once you leave school. I still learn something new almost every day.

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