A Nov. 4 Metro article said Victor Reinoso was believed to be the first Latino to win a major elected position in the District. Another Latino, Frank Shaffer-Corona, was elected to a school board seat in 1977. (Published 11/6/04)
Victor Reinoso understands all too well the struggles of many Latino families in the District. The new D.C. Board of Education member was born to Peruvian immigrants who arrived in this country speaking no English. Growing up, he shared a bedroom with his four brothers.
Now, he is the first Latino to win a major elected post in the city, according to local Hispanic activists. Reinoso defeated six other candidates for the District 2 board seat on Tuesday, including the incumbent, Dwight E. Singleton. In the other D.C. school board race, Jeffrey B. Smith claimed the District 1 seat being vacated by Julie Mikuta.
Reinoso, 35, director of education initiatives at the Federal City Council, said he did not run simply as a Latino candidate but is proud of his breakthrough.
"I'm happy to serve as an example of what's possible, not just for Latinos, but for all students of the District, if you work hard and get a quality education," Reinoso said yesterday. The Board of Education also includes a member of Puerto Rican heritage, Mirian Saez, who was appointed by the mayor in 2002.
Reinoso's district covers Wards 3 and 4, a mix of wealthy neighborhoods and black middle-class areas. He attributed his victory to a diverse mix of supporters and a campaign message of representing all parts of the city. He also got a key boost from D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4).
Reinoso was born in Tulsa to a schoolteacher mother and a father who worked with the mentally disabled. His parents immigrated to the United States, he said, because "they felt they would have a better life." Reinoso went on to graduate from Georgetown University.
Reinoso has been active in civil rights work and is a longtime public schools volunteer. He also brings a business perspective to his new job, having earned an MBA at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He said he would like to join other school board members in requesting a facilities audit to investigate overspending. He also hopes to see more professional development opportunities for teachers.
Latino activists expressed delight at his victory. "It's about time, because we are a very large community in the District," said Gustavo F. Velasquez, executive director of the mayor's Office on Latino Affairs.
The city's Hispanic population grew by 37 percent in the 1990s, reaching nearly 45,000 in 2000, according to the census. Many activists believe the population is much larger.
Smith, the other newly elected board member, attended Eastern High School and taught for a few months at Gibbs Elementary School after he graduated from Howard University's School of Law.
The 30-year-old city employee said he believes that more residents need to focus on problems in the schools, and demand solutions, in order for the educational system to improve. To that end, he said, he visited more than 4,700 homes in District 1, which covers Wards 1 and 2, and distributed fliers at every apartment and condominium building he could find during the campaign.
"We said, 'We're going to knock on a lot of doors and get people really engaged in the school board race' -- just like they would be in a city council race or a mayoral race," Smith said late Tuesday night.
Smith has pledged to increase parental involvement and introduce more vocational programs to prepare young people for the work force.
The Board of Education is made up of four elected members who represent districts, four members who are appointed by the mayor and a president who is elected citywide. It also has two student representatives.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.