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Luna retiring from TPS as Hispanic Outreach Coordinator

By La Prensa Staff

Health concerns are forcing José Luna into retirement after 29 years with Toledo Public Schools in a vital role helping Latino students find their futures. He will leave big shoes to fill after mentoring thousands of teens over nearly three decades as Hispanic outreach coordinator.

“It’s time to stop and heal,” said Luna, who is facing severe kidney disease. “It’s just a perfect storm of stress and 20 years of being a type 2 diabetic. I feel a little sluggish at the end of the day, a slowdown in my system which is something I’m not used to.”

Luna, 66, will discuss the situation with his doctors over the next month while he considers putting his name on an organ donor registry. Some friends already are ready to be a kidney donor if found to be a match for a transplant. But he harbors no hard feelings for his present situation.

“I’ve really loved what I’ve done and it’s hard to walk away,” he admitted. “There was nothing in place when I took it. The person that hired me Ms. [Raquel] Bravo, introduced me to the principals and said ‘Now go do your job.’ I was just putting out fires the first five years.”

Luna stated he was a candidate for burnout after those first five years, until he started looking at the hundreds of Hispanic TPS students on a bell curve, a common practice in classroom grading. According to that model, there were a few kids on one end “who would always get in trouble,” some kids on the other end “are kids who are going to be successful no matter what happens.”
 

José Luna

José Luna with his wife Maria

“But the vast majority is in the center of the bell, where they’re good kids and they can do well with just some direction and some input,” he explained. “So I tried to put my efforts into that. I still worked with the other kids, but most of my effort was on those kids. I think I developed the right plan because you’ve got one guy and 2,300 Latino students.”

Most of his paycheck comes from a Perkins grant, which is focused on career education. So Luna puts a lot of effort into showing kids potential careers, helping each one find that “aha moment” when a student figures out their professional future, then develops the plan to get there.

“I’ve developed some really great experiences for kids that could expose them (to careers),” said Luna, explaining kids always seem to come back to the same few paths: nurse, doctor, teacher, cosmetologist, lawyer, fireman, police officer. “We know they’re not all going to be that.”

Luna became well-known for organizing field trips, taking vanloads and busloads of Latino kids to see TPS career tech prep programs, colleges, and places of work like the GM Design Center.

“The kids would tool around and see all the different jobs that it takes to design an automobile,” he said. “The artists and engineers would take them on a tour and always tell them ‘You’ve got to do good in school.’ Give them a dream and then tell them what to do to get there.”

Luna changed dozens of lives along the way. Some of his favorite success stories include students who reached out to him later in their lives to tell him what an influence he had on them.

One of those stories involves Battalion Chief Daniel Brown-Martínez, who is nearing his 20th anniversary with the Toledo Fire Dept., who now leads the fire cadet recruitment team.

“I kind of hassled him until he went to a summer program in Findlay and he talked his brother and sister into going, too,” recalled Luna. “He told me that completely opened their eyes. That’s the thing I’m proudest about: opening the eyes of kids to possibilities.”

But he also emphasizes organizational skills, time management, setting priorities, and discipline with each Latino student he counsels. He meets with them one-on-one, going over their grades and their plan to make sure they’re “being real.” His overall goal was to lift the children of working class parents into the middle class.

“I tell kids that they’re going to change your brothers and sisters lives by being successful,” he said. “Another one of my catchphrases with kids is there’s nothing more addicting than success.”

Luna certainly could relate to where the kids were at that point in their lives. A self-described “late bloomer,” he started his own career working at the Defiance GM Foundry in the 1970’s.

“I had a great job, made lots of money. But I wasn’t happy, wasn’t fulfilled,” he admitted. So he headed to Bowling Green State University, determined to become a history teacher. But there were no jobs available once he graduated. So he took the job as Hispanic outreach coordinator.

“I went into it with a real attitude, a Chicano attitude, radical,” he recalled. “That’s what kept me going. I wasn’t going to give up. The kids are coming from some really dark places. You have to be able to light a match, show them the way, and make it last.”

Luna grew up in a small West Texas town, one of six children raised by a single mother, who, in his words, “was always such a stickler about education” and expected every one of her kids to go to college despite their attendance at a segregated school. His family later relocated to Northwest Ohio and he graduated from Patrick Henry High School. He graduated from BGSU in 1991 with an education degree and a master’s in school counseling in 2002 from Siena Heights University in Adrian MI.

Luna has won several awards over the years for his dedicated professional service at TPS and groundbreaking community work, including as a founding member of the annual Latino Youth Summit held at the University of Toledo, where 600 middle school and high school students explore college and possible careers. He earned a Diamante Award for education in 1998.

Adelante presented him with the César Chávez Humanitarian Award in 2012. Luna received a Distinguished Hispanic Ohioan (DHO) award from the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs in 2019.

Luna’s wife of 20 years Maria also works for TPS, with 36 years of service time as a teacher’s aide and her current role running a distance learning lab at Bowsher High School. She has not decided yet whether to retire.

“Above it all, she’s my best friend. My only regret is I didn’t spend an entire lifetime with her,” said Luna. “She’s the best.”

The couple owns a small publishing firm Dove in Flight, which they’ve used to publish several books they’ve written. The latest is a bilingual children’s book If a Little Girl Was President. Unfortunately, the book came out just as the coronavirus pandemic hit, stalling promotional efforts. Maria focuses on poetry and short stories. Luna is also thinking about starting a consulting business in retirement. 

“I’ll never regret becoming a teacher. I don’t look back, even though I would have made more money as an auto worker,” said Luna. “Never. It’s been too wild of an experience. I’ve been a musician, a factory worker, a farm laborer, and now a teacher. I think I’ve lived a life that most men would envy.”

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2021 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/27/21 20:22:05 -0700.

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