More than a month ago, Patricia O’Caña-Olivarez found out that she would be receiving a Texas School Board Trustee of the Year award, but she is still in disbelief, she said.
The Mission CISD president has served on the school board since 2008 and was nominated by the Mission Texas Classroom Teachers Association to receive the honor.
Her name was put forward because she goes above and beyond the call of duty, said Nydia Alvarez-Alonzo, Mission TCTA president. O’Caña-Olivarez participated in Principal for a Day, shadowing one of the MCISD principals; she volunteers to be a UIL judge and participates in career days at various campuses.
“These are quality interactions with the students, not just someone who is there because they were elected,” Alvarez-Alonzo said. “It takes a lot of time, and she is a very busy person, but we see what she’s given to the students and how they’ve benefited from the leadership.”
When O’Caña-Olivarez received the phone call and heard she was chosen, she immediately thought of her family.
“I was a hot mess, like they say. A flood of memories came from my background and the hard work ethic that my parents have,” she said.
The 41-year-old comes from a migrant family. She was born in California, where her parents worked in the fields. It wasn’t until she was in law school at St. Mary’s University that she discovered her first home was a hotel.
“My mom said that they would go work in the fields with everybody side by side, but what kept them going was knowing that that was not my future,” O’Caña-Olivarez said between tears. “When I realized those were the roots that I came from, it just really bore down on me because I took it like I had to really stay and finish law school.”
While in law school, she managed a long-distance relationship with her husband Hector, who remained in Mission to run a business. They saw each other on weekends, except for when she was studying for her bar exam. She was licensed in 2002 and opened her own practice in 2005.
Her parents taught the value of volunteer work and the importance of education, she said and that’s why she decided to give back to the community by joining the school board.
“Being an attorney, most people think you’re going to run for judge, and maybe some day, but this is my passion right now,” O’Caña-Olivarez said referring to the school board. “I am what I am not only because of my family but because of my school district and the teachers that I had along the way.”
Alvarez-Alonzo and her husband Victor are regulars at the monthly board meetings. The teacher of 15 years said she wishes more people would take time to see the board members work and attend meetings.
In their time spent at district functions, Alvarez-Alonzo said O’Caña-Olivarez truly exemplifies what Mission is about.
“Our Mission statement ends with our goal for our students serving as successful citizens for our community, and she truly exemplifies that,” Alvarez-Alonzo said.
The attorney admitted that six of her seven years on the board have been difficult, but she is seeing the work pay off and said she is confident the district is going in the right direction.
Although she said her daughter at Mims Elementary serves as inspiration, the board president said she keeps in mind every type of student when making decisions.
“Every student, regardless of where they come from, needs to go out and represent Mission CISD in the best way that they can,” O’Caña-Olivarez said. “The only way that they’re going to do that is if we prepare every single student.”
O’Caña-Olivarez will be accepting her award July 16 at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin. She is up for reelection next year and will run for at least one more term.
“I want for not just my daughter to be proud of me, every parent wants their child to be proud of them, but for the community to be proud of me,” she said.