Rodriguez Works to Change Lives as an Elementary School Principal

Perla Rodriguez

By Andrew Shaughnessy

Perla Rodriguez (EdD06) has served as a principal for minority-majority elementary schools in Oregon’s Forest Grove School District for 16 years, and has worked in the district for more than two decades. Over the course of her career, Rodriguez has led through budget crises, served as coordinator for the district’s dual-language program, moved kindergarten from a half day to a full day, and implemented the school district’s first clothes closet for students, its food bank, and a school uniform policy.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed: In April of 2018, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators named Rodriguez the 2018 Oregon Elementary School Principal of the Year. But praise, she insists, is not her motivation. “I don’t know anyone who gets into education for the recognition,” she says.

Rodriguez began her academic career at Boise State, where she studied bilingual education – a choice rooted in experience. Her parents had emigrated from Mexico, and Rodriguez and her siblings were the first in their family to be born in the United States. Remembering the challenges of her own childhood, Rodriguez was determined to follow a path that would allow her to change lives for the better. 

“I thought about being a social worker, but I wanted to be on the preventative side,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives as an educator.”

After graduating from Boise State, Rodriguez moved to Portland to serve as a third-grade teacher at Echo Shaw Elementary School, intentionally seeking out a bilingual school where she could put her skills to work.

She thrived, but before long found herself asking big-picture questions. She wanted to make a difference beyond her classroom, to have a voice in the systems and policies, and to lead. Rodriguez earned a master’s degree in school administration from Concordia University and a doctorate from George Fox, both while continuing to teach.

“I wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t get lost, where people would know me,” she says of George Fox. “I wanted to know that if I missed a class, they would miss me.”

Rodriguez took her first principal job at Cornelius Elementary School, serving there for nine years before taking her current position as principal of Echo Shaw Elementary. Over the years, she’s faced countless obstacles in her quest to make a difference. Yet, according to Rodriguez, her biggest challenge has been creating a positive and empowering space for Latinx kids in the midst of a toxic political climate.

“Kids aren’t immune to those conversations,” she says. “We want to be a school where everyone feels secure in their identity.”

Creating a place where kids feel safe is a clear priority for Rodriguez. Beyond that, she also hopes her school is helping shape people poised to make a difference in their communities and in the world. “I want our students to be the next change-makers,” she says. “We just have to give them the tools.”