Refugio Independent School District Superintendent Melissa Gonzales has worked with the school through an unprecedented time. From Hurricane Harvey to COVID-19, she has steered this ship through its fair share of natural disasters.

However, some would be surprised to find that Gonzales became an educator based off of a snap decision.

“At the time I was a single mom,” recalled Gonzales. “I had two children depending upon me and I had taken a salary cut. I was wondering how I would be able to support them. I was in Tivoli and I heard that a teacher had been let go that day... They were looking for an English teacher and a coach.” Gonzales had a degree in political science and a minor in English as well as being an athlete in high school. She called the superintendent and, within the hour, she had secured an interview and been hired.

While Gonzales had become an educator overnight, she had initially committed herself to a career as an elected official in service to her community. She was elected as Justice of the Peace in Refugio County when she was 26 years old. However, education opened doors to her to help her support her family.

While Gonzales had started as a teacher, she saw the needs that the students had. She knew that students had needs beyond what a classroom teacher could provide. When she arrived at Refugio ISD in 2002, she got to know her students. While she was teaching English, she also obtained her master’s degree in counseling from the University of Houston-Victoria. She was then hired as a counselor at Refugio ISD, a position she filled for the next 10 years.

Gonzales felt that God wanted her to further her understanding as an instructor. She worked on her administration certification and eventually became superintendent of Refugio ISD.

Gonzales admits that going to school, teaching classes and raising children made for a very busy time. She had also started dating her current husband at this time. “He helped me with my children. My parents helped me tremendously.”

She persevered, however, as she felt this was an investment for the future of her family and the future of her students.

Gonzales has had a deep love for Refugio ISD and felt inspiration from the students and administrators who came before her. “I felt very motivated to not let any of them down,” Gonzales said.

Right before she became superintendent, she had a battle with bacterial meningitis. After recovering, the previous superintendent announced their retirement. “There was never a question in my mind of if I would interview for it,” Gonzales said. “... At some point I had decided I did want to be superintendent of this school. That’s where God was leading me.”

Gonzales officially became superintendent on July 1, 2017. Just a month later, Hurricane Harvey hit the Coastal Bend.

Gonzales mentioned that they were in the progress of construction projects at the school when the hurricane hit. She had to make tough decisions, including whether they would accept a new furniture delivery as the hurricane bore down on them. She took the furniture in time for school to begin.

She recalls that former students came to the aid of the school in the form of monetary donations, food donations and clothing donations. She is inspired by their commitment. From this came the formation of the Refugio ISD Education Foundation. These volunteers have made a tremendous difference in getting through the hurricane and COVID-19.

The entire school suffered damage from the hurricane, some of which is still in the process of being repaired.

Gonzales’ home also suffered damage, making it unlivable for a time. However she persevered, her leadership shining through the crisis.

COVID-19 then hit Refugio. Gonzales has worked closely with her colleagues to work through the pandemic. “I can see that we are making progress and I can see that we are going to get past this as well.”

Gonzales draws a lot of strength from the Lord and her church family. She leads an adult Bible study at First Baptist Church in Refugio.

Gonzales gives a lot of credit to her students, staff and board. “It’s an honor truly to serve as their leader.”

She trusts in God to guide her through the future. In her heart, though, Gonzales wishes to remain at Refugio ISD until the day she retires.

•mtamez@mysoutex.com•

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