USC Rossier Alumna Tapped as L.A. Mayor’s Top Education Advisor

Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana PhD ’95

Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana PhD ’95

Celebrated USC Rossier alumna Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana PhD ’95 has accepted a high-profile post as the newly appointed top education advisor for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The L.A. Board of Education unanimously approved her hiring on August 20, 2013, with the title of director of education and workforce development. In this new role, she will provide guidance on matters affecting L.A. Unified and be a liaison with local colleges and businesses to improve the connections between education and job training.

Meléndez de Santa Ana had recently served as superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District. The school board praised her performance, citing the development of a broad strategic plan which included the rapid transition to new learning standards adopted by the state. From 2009 to 2011, Meléndez de Santa Ana served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education for the Obama Administration under U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. During her tenure, she developed the Blueprint for Reform and implemented the School Improvement Grants program.

Dr. Meléndez de Santa Ana brings passion, commitment and deep expertise to the field of education and tremendous distinction to USC Rossier. Los Angeles could not be served by a better, more transformative education leader.

— Dean Karen Symms Gallagher

In 2012, Meléndez de Santa Ana was honored with the USC Alumni Merit Award, for which she expressed her gratitude “for the lasting influences USC and the Rossier School of Education have had in (my) life.”

Before she was recruited to Obama’s team, Meléndez de Santa Ana led Pomona Unified School District as superintendent, and has been credited with transforming the district’s culture by increasing transparency and engaging parents and the community. She also has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, and director of instruction in the Montebello and Pasadena Unified School districts.

Meléndez de Santa Ana often cites the influence her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Silverman, has had on her life and pursuits in education. As a shy child who spoke no English, Meléndez de Santa Ana found confidence and a love for learning under the attentive wing of Mrs. Silverman.

“She showed me how magical learning could be,” she recalled. “She not only set me on a course for academic success, she also set me on the path to make education my career.” In that career, Meléndez de Santa Ana has continued to advocate for supporting underserved students, and raising the expectations for Latino and English Language Learning students like herself.

Among her many honors, she was recognized as 2009 California Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators; 2011 National Hispanic Woman of the Year by the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation; 2010 Woman of the Year by Hispanic Business Magazine; and Latina of Excellence by Hispanic Magazine.


By Andrea Bennett