Beneath the calm, an educator who's passionate about rights
by Wendy Owen.
HILLSBORO -- Carlos Perez simply smiles when asked about his hidden artistic talent.
His secretary discovered the cartoonlike drawings on the margins of paperwork years ago.
"He's an excellent artist," said Charlotte Bramlett, who kept one of the drawings Perez doodled of himself, while talking on the phone.
But Perez isn't one to promote his own talents, be it doodling or his work as an educator. The Hillsboro School District deputy superintendent prefers to work on the margins, behind the scenes, making a difference but never taking credit.
It will be up to others to note his 31 years of accomplishments with the Hillsboro School District and in human rights before he steps into retirement July 1. A celebration is planned today at J.B. Thomas Middle School, where he once was principal. The photo slideshow probably will include the time Perez dressed as Capt. Stubing, from the 1970s sit-com "The Love Boat," for an eighth-grade graduation.
By all accounts, the 58-year-old Perez has been a top-notch administrator.
People in and out of the district use the same words to describe him: integrity, compassionate, funny.
"He is very much what you see is what you get," said Perla Rodriguez, a Forest Grove School District principal.
Perez rose quickly through the ranks in Hillsboro from counselor to assistant principal to principal and district-level administrator. He has served a decade as deputy superintendent. As second in charge, he was the "go-to" guy at the district level.
Student deaths, a bleacher collapse, new construction, student expulsions, boundary changes, parent complaints. Perez got them first.
"Sometimes the phone doesn't stop," Bramlett said. "When you're in that position ... it's just constant."
Somehow, Perez squeezed in time to mentor other Latino educators and work on programs for underserved students in the 20,300-student district.
He also helped found two locally based civil rights groups, the Human Rights Council of Washington County and the Oregon Association of Latino Administrators.
"Carlos is the guy who has kept (equity) in the forefront of our decision-making," said Mike Scott, incoming superintendent, who has worked with Perez for 11 years. "We've concerned ourselves with issues of equity for a number of years, and you see other districts just now getting on board with that work."
Human rights is his passion, and seeing them trampled is one of the few topics that causes the soft-spoken Perez to raise his voice.
A 2003 livability study of Hillsboro residents cited the growing presence of Latinos on a list of what "satisfies residents least about living in Hillsboro."
Perez was disturbed by the statistic, but what made him angry was the fact that it was publicized when only 5 percent of the 400 respondents -- or 20 people -- cited it as a reason. He was further irritated when he visited an elementary school and found the newspaper open to the glaring headline in plain view of Latino students.
"Just the idea that these kids were judged by the color of their skin," he said. "Seeing it in print, it was like a slap in the face."
L.A. and civil rights
Perez was born in the Los Angeles area and attended a high school where the majority of students were Latino. The youngest of seven children, he planned to follow in his siblings' steps and immediately join the work force to provide income for the family.
"The plan was for me to be a carpenter," he said. "I never aspired to be a teacher."
With little formal education, Perez's parents had worked in the fields, picking lettuce, melons, oranges. By the time he was born in 1951, the family was financially stable: His mother stayed home to care for the children and his father worked as a construction laborer.
The 1960s and '70s were a tumultuous time, Perez said, and Los Angeles was a hot spot for civil rights.
Few would guess the professorial man with the graying Vandyke beard once had long hair, a scraggly beard and shouted "Si, se puede!" ("Yes, we can") with the United Farm Workers.
He joined the thousands of demonstrators with the Chicano Moratorium in 1970 to protest the disproportionately high number of Latinos being sent to the Vietnam War.
"You protested the aggrieved," Perez said.
The experience shaped him as an adult.
"You're listening to Martin Luther King or Cesar Chavez or John Kennedy," he said. "They're talking about the rights of each and every man (but) you're witnessing injustices.
"It does raise you to be involved to ensure that every person has an opportunity to grow and develop."
Breaking the ceiling
A fellow activist, a mentor, persuaded Perez to attend college and helped him apply. He found an interest in elementary education and started his teaching career in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where he said people teased him about his hippielike appearance, not his ethnicity.
Perez was among the pioneers for Latino educators, said Gus Balderas, a Hillsboro assistant superintendent, who is 17 years younger than Perez.
"Carlos broke the ceiling," Balderas said. "I consider him one of the old guard in terms of Latino educators. That really helped to get us where we're accepted to fill positions. Thirty years ago, it wasn't the case."
In Forest Grove, Rodriguez, a member of the Oregon Association of Latino Administrators, also has benefited from the mentoring organization.
Perez is her mentor.
"I can't think of a single important decision that I've made without bouncing it off him," she said. "I don't always want to hear what he says, but 99.9 percent of the time, he's right."
Rodriguez said the work of an educator often is thankless.
"We just keep going on because we know in our hearts that the work does matter," she said. "I hope he knows how important he is to each of us. We get our resilience from Carlos."
-- Wendy Owen; email@example.com
Born: San Fernando, Calif.
Family: Married 34 years to Corine, vice president of finance/enterprise services at Intel. Two children: Joel, 24, works in Bend for a business and print solutions company, and Carly, 21, attends the University of San Francisco.
Education: San Fernando Valley State College (now called California State, Northridge), where he signed up with a teacher corps program. Finished his bachelor's in elementary education at Idaho State; master's degree in counseling from Oregon State University.
Career: Grade school teacher in Idaho. In 31 years with the Hillsboro School District, he's been a counselor at J.B. Thomas and Evergreen junior highs; assistant principal at Evergreen and Poynter junior highs; principal at David Hill Elementary and J.B. Thomas; director of secondary operations; executive director of K-8 operations; associate superintendent of support services; deputy superintendent.
Heroes: Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. Perez says they "talked about not only issues of social justice but of contributing to this country."
What's next? Perez said he's looking for a change but doesn't have any specific plans and expects to continue his human rights work.
Something that might surprise people: When traveling, "I'm the guy who wants to stop to see the world's biggest ball of yarn or the world's biggest treehouse."