Rachel Ayala was one the first 10 female principals during the Besteiro administration at the Brownsville Independent School District, not knowing back then that she was paving the way for her three daughters.
A few decades later, the three young girls grew up and became principals at the same district.
The three daughters — Rachel R. Ayala, Myrta Ayala-Garza and Marisol Ayala-Treviño — all remember it the same way: Being little girls and teenagers and accompanying their mother to her office to help with what needed to be done, such as answering the phone or delivering textbooks.
Unbeknownst to them, they were preparing themselves to one day follow the footsteps of her mother and also become educators in leadership positions.
“My daughters were influenced very young because of the fact that when I became a principal, there were no secretaries. I came into a very male-dominated profession. I was the first female principal in the district,” the mother, whom eventually became assistant superintendent at BISD, said.
“So, when my daughters were young, all three of them, I would take them with me to school,” she said. “One of them would answer the phone, the other one would help me deliver textbooks, and the other one would help me do something else. So, they grew up there. … They’re just fantastic.”
The three sisters are currently principals at BISD, and even though they all different styles of leadership, they have one thing in common: the love for their students.
Myrta said they all are very blessed to have each other because they can brainstorm and share ideas about their job while other principals don’t have the same luxury.
“They all say, ‘You’re just like your mom; you’re following her footsteps, and that a lot of the ideas you do is what she used to do as a principal.’ And we take it for granted because since we were little, our mom was at Russell (Elementary School), and we all got to do different things,” Myrta said. “We were learning since we were little, and we take it for granted, so a lot of the things that we do are things that we learned from our mom before we even knew it.”
Echoing the sentiment, Rachel R. said even though her mother was the one who taught them how to be a woman in a position of leadership, their father was also instrumental for them to reach their full potential by raising them to not allow anyone disrespect them in any way.
“Women who are leaders, in any industry, especially those of us who are Hispanic or Latina, we do face challenges,” she said. “Sometimes, we have to have crucial, candid conversations with parents and employees and sometimes we are perceived differently because we are women.
“While my mom did set the example as a woman in a position of leadership, I would like to say that my dad — who was an educator as well — he equally set that example for us. Because my father raised us (and taught us) that a woman was to be respected and to never allow anyone disrespect you, to value yourself as a woman, to value yourself as a young lady. And he was very firm of that. So, I never lost sight of that,” she said.
When it comes to the three of them being in leadership positions, Marisol said that even though they all have different challenges, leadership styles and personalities, they all help each other to be better leaders who hope to continue inspiring young women.
“The three of us have to continue being female-role models to those younger female generations in our schools,” she said. “I believe that all three of us will continue to build them up and let them know that they can be like us, or they can be more.
“ They can be leaders in other fields. It doesn’t have to be in education but just the fact that they see a woman in a leadership position proves to younger girls that they can do it, too. A woman leader knows that we have to take that extra step to be respected, and we know the work that it takes to gain that respect. That’s why being a woman in a leadership position is very different.”
An earlier version of this article misstated Ayala was the first female principal at BISD. She was not the first one at BISD but one of the first ones during the Besteiro administration.