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At a brief ceremony in the Manuel Rodríguez, Jr. Board Auditorium, José Leal was sworn in as District III trustee by State Sen. Sylvia Garcia. He was surrounded by friends and family during the board ceremony, which was presided over by District II Board Secretary Rhonda Skillern-Jones.
“I am here to serve the students, the parents and the teachers,” Leal said in an interview after the ceremony. “This is not about status, it’s all about the service and people.”
Leal was appointed to the Board of Education in August 2017 by unanimous vote of HISD trustees. He is serving a portion of the unexpired term of District III representative, a position left vacant by the passing of Trustee Rodríguez. Leal’s term will expire in January 2018 after a special election for the office will be held on Nov. 7, 2017.
Leal has worked in HISD schools since 1981, beginning his career in the operations and maintenance departments.
“When someone puts down the district, I say no,” Leal said. “This man [Leal] used to clean the hallways and toilets and then became a counselor and administrator. So don’t talk down about HISD!”
Leal was born in Chicago but grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, speaking Spanish. He returned to the U.S. in 1980 and attended adult-education programs at Austin and Milby high schools. Leal earned a bachelor of science in business information computer systems and graduated cum laude from the University of Houston-Downtown and went on to get a master’s degree in education/counseling from University of Houston. He also holds a certificate of leadership from Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies and a certificate from the Harris County Department of Education’s Campus Leadership Academy.
Leal became certified as a bilingual teacher and taught second grade at Pugh Elementary School. Later he worked as a counselor at Hamilton Middle School and assistant principal at Wheatley High School. He also served as dean of students at Hamilton and Johnston (now Meyerland) middle schools, both of which improved their status from acceptable to exemplary during his tenure. “It was all about teamwork,” he said.
Leal retired from HISD in 2011 but returned to work as an assistant principal at North Forest High School and as a counselor at YES Prep Northbrook Middle School. Currently, he is a special education teacher at Houston Can Academy, where he has also worked as a Spanish teacher and assistant principal.
Leal and his wife have one son who attended Park Place and De Zavala elementary schools, Hamilton Middle School and Heights High School (formerly Reagan), graduating as valedictorian in 2012.