Chief of the Office of Educational Access DeWayne Street invited Leander ISD Chief of Schools Matthew Gutierrez, Ed.D., to speak about his journey in education and the meaning and history of LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

This On the Street: A #1LISD Journey podcast series serves as an opportunity to continue the conversation around educational access and to highlight our efforts around increasing cultural competency for Leander ISD staff. Our work is about bringing people into the conversation.

Episode 11 – LGBTQ+ Pride Month with Matthew Gutierrez

DeWayne starts by asking Matthew about himself as a person and a practitioner, along with his favorite childhood memory (00:49)

Later, DeWayne and Matthew have a conversation centered around:

  • The connection between educational access & resources (09:03)
  • Favorite educator (19:32)
  • The importance of observing LGBTQ+ Pride Month (22:13)
  • Connecting the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights with cultural competency and educational access (25:56)
  • Closing (29:03)

Subscribe: Spotify / Apple Podcasts / RSS

Below, you will find a transcript of the episode.


DeWayne Street
Hello, friends. I’m here today with Dr. Matthew Gutierrez, Chief of Schools for Leander ISD. Matthew started with LISD in October of 2023 and has become a valuable addition to the #1LISD family. As we observe LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I have asked Dr. Gutierrez to be our guest for discussion regarding the meaning and history of this month. Dr. Gutierrez, welcome to On the Street.

Matthew Gutierrez
Thanks, DeWayne. It’s a pleasure to be here.

We are so pleased that you are here. And how do you feel about us just jumping into the conversation?

Let’s jump right in.

About Matthew as a person and a practitioner (00:49)

All right. Love that. Just go right in. So please tell us a little bit about who you are as a person and as a practitioner. And then also include, what is your favorite childhood memory and why this memory?

Who I am as a person, I think what has identified me for the last 23 years is being an educator. I’ve had the opportunity to serve as an educator in a variety of capacities: teacher, principal, HR director, assistant superintendent, interim superintendent, deputy superintendent, superintendent, and now Chief of Schools in various districts. And so it’s really been part of my identity. In fact, in many cases, I … when I was in a specific role, that … it’s what was my identity.

Being an educator.

Being an educator. And I think that stems back to my childhood – and I’ll get to that shortly when I talk about my favorite childhood memory. I come from a small town in the geographical center of Texas – Brady, Texas, the heart of Texas. Small town of about 5,500 people. Grew up in a family of six. Both of my parents and three brothers.

And where are you in the birth order?

I am the second of four. But I like to say I’m the one that’s in charge. And my dad passed away in 2010, so I feel like since then, I’ve kind of taken on that role that my dad had in ensuring that, you know, we still come together and that, you know, my mom is well taken care of and that my brothers are on the right path.

And so that’s kind of been just another part of my identity now. And I grew up in a family of six. I have often spoken about how that has shaped and molded me into the educator I am today. I was raised in poverty, what I would consider extreme poverty, and fortunately, I was able to overcome a lot of different obstacles related to poverty, but also other identity challenges to get to where I am today.

One of the things that was important to my parents was education. They weren’t fortunate enough to go on to college after graduating high school. My mom did while I was in high school raising a family and attained her teaching degree. And that’s really what changed the trajectory of, really, the lives of my two younger brothers. Their upbringing was very different.

We’re all far apart in age. So they didn’t grow up with the challenges that my older brother and I did. As soon as I was out of high school and my mom had started teaching, parents moved into a new house, a brick house.

That’s a big deal.

And so my brothers were raised very differently with access to more resources, and that was just because of one decision that my mom made that was heavily influenced by the superintendent in Brady, Texas, who allowed my mom to pursue her degree while keeping her her job and full pay as a paraprofessional, which allowed her to be able to put food on the table.

And of course, she was working part-time because she was going to school full-time. And she finished her education in three years. And so that was truly inspiring to me, along with others along the way who inspired me as well. And that kind of goes to that childhood favorite memory … Growing up in poverty, there wasn’t a lot of … there weren’t a lot of toys or technology, video games, because they were things that we couldn’t afford.

But one of the things that I did have access to were … I had access to books. I had access to paper, pens, and pencils and access to my brothers and a lot of cousins. So what that meant was that we were going to do school, every day, weekends or in the summer, before we could play basketball, before we could play games, anything fun, even at a time when we finally were able to get, I think, a Nintendo years later, we couldn’t do the fun things until we finished our schoolwork. And so my cousins and brothers give me a really hard time now because they say they were basically tortured with school.

And, you know, most kids, it’s pretend school. And I’ve watched nieces and nephews play and younger cousins, and it’s just pretend most of the time. Well, it wasn’t. We were doing real work, and I was differentiating at 8 years old for my 3-year-old cousin upwards to 10 years old.

Natural born educator.

Natural born educator. My mom would tell my grandparents, uncles, aunts and my dad, “I really hope Matthew does not ever become a teacher because he loves the red pen so much and he loves making those Xs.” And so I became a teacher. But there were times when cousins or brothers would go crying to grandparents or parents because they didn’t want to play school.

They didn’t want to do work, but they were redirected to go and finish whatever they needed to do because in their eyes, I was helping them. I was tutoring and helping their kids get smarter. And so when uncles, aunts ran across textbooks anywhere, they would give them to me. And so I felt like I had a real classroom.

I’d sometimes have 10 kids in my class and would go crazy over that, and I’d be teaching my 2- 3-year-old cousins and like I said, upwards of, you know, older. And I remember in a board training talking about this memory and with my board in my prior district in and TASB, and they really got a kick out of it because I pulled up a photo where I had … my brother’s not in the photo because he took the class picture with me standing right by all of my cousins.

And so …

We’ll have to include that in his podcast.

Because really just an amazing experience as a kid to be able to do that. But I think what I’m most thankful for is that my grandparents, uncles, aunts, my parents believed in me and supported me throughout. And although they did not want me to be an educator – they felt strongly about me becoming an attorney or a doctor.

And of course, my mom did not want me to become a teacher. I did anyway. But until this day, you know, I’m so fortunate to have had that love and support from my mom’s side of the family. And if it wasn’t for them when my parents didn’t have resources providing school clothes, school supplies, paying for college courses in high school, I had an uncle who would pay for those college courses, and sometimes my grandfather. I was able to graduate with 36 hours before early college and all of that stuff was a thing.

I took evening courses, summer courses in the late ‘90s and was able to finish, and it was truly because of that investment that came from family and all of those around me.

The Connection Between Educational Access & Resources (09:03)

You know, I want to go back and just talk about a couple of things you lifted up, Matthew. I love how you connected the increase of educational access to more resources. And that’s something that I think when I look at my life similar to yours, I grew up in poverty as well. But having an education allows you to have more resources.

And that’s why it’s so important that we think about how we can enhance educational access for all students, because when they exit our system, they will be more equipped to meet some of the challenges in life because they’ll have more resources. And so I’m very thankful that you lifted that up. 

Also, when you talk about your family support network, I think that’s extremely important. You know, I had many people who believed in me who were also part of my family network, and my parents, like yours, did not have the benefit of attending college. But education was something they saw as so important that they were willing to make the sacrifices for us to have that enhanced access. Some of those sacrifices were things that when you’re a kid you really don’t appreciate.

But as you get older, you come to realize how they have benefitted you and allow you to get to this point in your life. And so when you talked about your mother and your family, you reminded me of that.

It is truly about education access and how as educators, oftentimes we make a significant difference without even knowing. I was fortunate to have had family and extended family who really wrapped their arms around me and my brothers to help us, to ensure that we had resources and tools to be able to be successful. A lot of students don’t have that.

And that was really a driving force to me – watching that and noticing it at a very young age and in having that desire to want to become an educator, to do things differently. And I started teaching in a high poverty school in the west side of San Antonio.

And what did you teach?

I taught middle school English Language Arts, the West Side of San Antonio. And it was about 90% Hispanic, probably 90% poverty. Where I had grown … I was raised very poor. I had family and extended family that were pushing me and providing where a lot of students don’t have that, perhaps they don’t have both parents, perhaps parents are unemployed. They have one parent, being raised by grandparents, don’t have that extended family network that is so critical. 

And so the people that many of our kids rely on are the educators. And as an educator, I wanted to ensure that every single kid that walked through the doors of my classroom – later on school, later on school district – had access to every opportunity that was available within a classroom, a school building or school district.

And I truly believe that it was my upbringing that really shaped and molded me into the educator I am today.

It sounds like it.

I worked in a place called Beloit, Wisconsin, which I’ve referenced before – high poverty, one of the poorest areas and one of the more challenging places in the country in the Midwest. And growing up in poverty and then seeing so many young people living in poverty in my practice, it did fuel my practice in ways that allowed me to grow, but also to meet the needs of students who, to your point, didn’t have another person they could turn to.

The challenging part of that for me was that when I was a young educator, I was not prepared for that responsibility. Because when you work in a very intense place like that, your practice is very intimate. And so a lot of young people bring everything to you. And as a 23, 24 year old, you’re not always equipped to handle that.

And it’s a lot to carry. And some days, it felt like it was suffocating, but you start to grow and evolve and to meet that need because you realize that sometimes you don’t have people at home that they can turn to. They don’t have people who can push them and people who can be there and say, “you got this.”

And so that’s the thing that I do miss about working in the classroom day to day, because when I left the classroom in March of 2008, I was aware that nothing else I would ever do would be as rewarding as that from day to day. And I’m very thankful for the journey that I had. But there’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss that level of engagement, although some days it was heavy to carry. So listening to your story … and you taught eighth grade?

I taught, I was able to teach, experience all three grade levels at middle school and you know, I appreciate you sharing your perspective because I’ve never reflected on just how much, as a young teacher, I carried as a 21-year-old teacher. It … Yeah, I think back of how challenging it was to, one, just start a new career and to ensure that I was helping kids master the curriculum, but also helping students overcome some of their challenges.

When I was really a kid myself and the kids I was teaching were the same age as one of my younger brothers. I just never really put that in perspective. I was on a fast track to grow in my career, and I taught three years, but I also had an amazing administrative team that invested heavily.

They saw something in me and started investing in me, and I truly attribute where I am today to that team that started giving me leadership opportunities. But thinking back and thinking about teachers right now, especially brand new ones who are starting, just how much they’re caring because you take it home with you. And we’re experiencing far more challenges today compared to what I experienced over 20 years ago.

No, I would agree. And I think that’s why we have to give this generation of teachers the space and not permission, but the ability to acknowledge and to own that, because it is a lot to carry. Because if you want to be good as a teacher, I know for me, when I first started teaching, I had not exited my own internalized marginalization and so struggling with that and then trying to help young people exit theirs through education, when I look back, that was one of the biggest challenges that I had. And I know that for a lot of young educators who come from historically marginalized backgrounds, that still is a challenge. But then you overlay some of the contemporary challenges like post-pandemic and some of the resource constraints, it is a lot.

So I think we have to give them permission to reflect on that, but also keep pushing them forward to get through to the other side, because that’s what people did for us.

It sounds like your administrative team did that for you.

They absolutely did. And that’s where I truly believe in schools being inclusive places. We are here to educate every learner from all walks of life, every background, creed, religion, regardless of socioeconomic status, regardless of whether their parents are on one side of the political aisle. We’re just here to teach the standards that the state sets forth in and to ensure that we are equipping our students with the skills to be successful beyond high school, when they go into a career, military or college. And so I, I truly believe that it is so important to celebrate just the diversity that we have. And one of the great things about Leander ISD is that I really feel like we’re representative of what the real world looks like.

I would agree.

So our students, when they leave Rouse High School, Leander High School, and walk on to a college or join the military, whatever it is, whatever their pathway is, they are going to have some truly valuable experiences because of the exposure that they’ve had to just the diversity that encompasses Leander ISD. And to see that celebrated from the elementary level all the way to the high school level is something that is truly remarkable and unique about Leander ISD.

I agree, Dr. Gutierrez, and I don’t think we should ever take that for granted because it’s not happening everywhere, right? And so we have to celebrate that. And then you said something else which reminded me of an educator here who said this a while ago. You know, schools should be inclusive. And this educator also said schools should be places of social cohesion.

I believe that. I mean, we should all rally around the mission of preparing the next generation, in the words of Dr. Gearing, to do anything. We should all rally around that irrespective of where we are personally or politically. It shouldn’t matter. Because the mission should be to get them ready. So when the educator said that, it really stuck with me.

Schools should be places of social cohesion. 

Favorite Educator (19:32)

So you talked a lot about being an educator, so I’m going to ask you a question that I always like to ask people. Who is your favorite teacher and why, when you were coming up?

I certainly have one – and I have several – but one that truly stands out is a second grade teacher. And you know, I always believe we should really celebrate our elementary teachers because oftentimes they’re forgotten as kids get older and graduate.

I still remember my second grade teacher – Mrs. Beafield. Changed my life.

She was my second grade teacher. Mrs. Mallow. Just someone who also helped to inspire me to want to become a teacher because I wanted to be like her. And she loved all kids and would celebrate a kid a week and her husband would … you got to choose whether you wanted Sonic or Dairy Queen. And so once a week she would have lunch with her students.

She’d have … we’d walk to her house several blocks away for Easter egg hunt, for picnics. And so she just really went above and beyond at a time – the ‘80s – when that … you didn’t really see a lot of that. And she just truly embraced every single kid. And I think back to that time and I have just such vivid images and memories just on how she treated kids.

And I have very vivid images and memories of how teachers did treated kids differently even from a young age. And so I just have always been very fond of her. And for years … she passed, recently passed away in her 90s. But she would always ask about Matthew and how Matthew was doing, and she was so proud of what I had done.

And, and I just I see a lot of our teachers that when I visit schools who remind me of Mrs. Mallow, who I truly believe was ahead of her time in a lot of ways, and just how she approached teaching, which was at that time very traditional and she was pretty innovative at that time. And so I think of her often.

And when I think about individuals who have influenced me, I think of Mrs. Mallow, along with my elementary principal, who really triggered that interest back in kindergarten in becoming a principal because I wanted to be like Mrs. Parks and go in the back of classrooms and take notes on the yellow pad. And so I wanted to be a principal, too, so that I could go and take notes on teachers.

And so it was Mrs. Parks, that principal who really fostered that environment for the teachers at Brady Elementary to be able to be creative and do things different. And, you know, the teacher … us getting to walk to her house on a regular basis and and learn in her backyard and have picnics, it was truly an amazing experience that I will always be thankful for and that I will never forget either.

Wow. Sounds like she was an amazing, amazing educator.

She absolutely was.


Observing LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Enhancing Educational Access (22:13)

So I like to move on. So in your opinion, Matthew, why is it important for one LISD to observe LGBTQ+ Pride Month? And how does this observance connect to our goal of enhancing educational access for all students?

To me, it’s about ensuring that there is a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, for every single kid. That we are fostering that love of learning, fostering that ownership of learning. And you can’t do that when students don’t feel safe in a learning environment, regardless of background beliefs. But in in this instance, with LGBTQ+ students historically have been marginalized, bullied, perhaps not being able to be their true selves as well.

And that should not be the case. We should celebrate all heritages, all backgrounds, all walks of faith, and every student should come to school feeling safe and that they know that when they walk into a building or a classroom, that they are going to be their full selves, that they are going to be respected by their peers and their teachers, that they are going to be able to take risk in the classroom by being able to fully participate in and engage.

And so for me, the opportunity to celebrate this month is important for not only our students, but for our staff as well. And there was a time when even staff members could not be their true selves as well. And so it’s important that we honor, recognize and celebrate this month just as we do other months as well.

It’s just part of the mosaic of our communities.

It is. It goes back to what I just talked about, what makes Leander a very remarkable place is that we have the diversity. But not only is there diversity, we embrace it and we celebrate it.


Well stated.

Connecting the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights with cultural competency and educational access (25:56)

So the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in this country goes back to the 1920s with the creation of the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. It also goes back to Stonewall in New York in June of ‘69. What lessons can we learn from this history with respect to cultural competency and educational access?

I think one of the lessons is just simply acknowledging that this is a marginalized group that has historically struggled to have a seat at the table, to have access to the same opportunities as others, to be treated equal and fairly. And I think it’s important for us to also understand the sacrifices that people had to make for us to get to where we are today.

And we’ve certainly made a tremendous amount of progress. I’ve seen it in my time as an educator, 23 years. I’ve seen it as …  in my entire lifetime. When I think about my own public school experience, there’s been tremendous progress. But there are people along the way who have had to make tremendous sacrifices. And so that’s another reason why it’s important to recognize this month as well.

We are in a school district where you can be your true self as a student, as a staff member. And I think that is something that Leander ISD should be proud of and this community should be proud of, because that is even still today in the year 2024, not the case in every school district, even in our state of Texas.

And so I am proud of where Leander is and I am proud to be part of this system. And I am thankful for sacrifices that people have had to make from all communities for even myself to have an opportunity to be here today to serve as Chief of Schools for this school district.

No, I agree, 100%. It seems like the older you get in life, the more you value and appreciate the people who came before you and the enormous sacrifices people had to make so that you and I could do this podcast today. I mean, people had to sacrifice for this. And so we have to honor that and we have to recognize that.

And one way to do it is to recognize months like this. And I encourage people, you know, being a historian, to always do research, to complete the story. You know, we’re teeing up some things here, but we want people to continue their own journey of discovery because there’s so much more to learn about every group that represents #1LISD.

There absolutely is.

Closing (29:03)

So, Dr. Gutierrez, is there anything else you would like to add to our discussion today?

I think the one thing I would like to add is that although we are seeing so many things happen in our society with culture wars and the political divisiveness, there’s just a lot happening in our world right now. And it can seem and feel like chaos. But one of the things that gives me hope and that encourages me, it’s what’s happening in school systems, especially a school district like Leander ISD and seeing how our students, our staff members respect one another, celebrate each other and create safe spaces to work and to learn.

That really gives me hope about the future and encourages me as well to to believe that we are going to overcome this because we are absolutely stronger together. And although it may not feel that way right now, I am encouraged about the future and these students within Leander ISD who are going to go and be our future leaders.

No, I agree, 100%. The only thing I would add is what I’ve always said about that in the past. We have to transfer that responsibility to the next generation, but we have to stay connected to them to always model and to lead until they’re ready to fully carry it. So I agree. I think the future is very bright as long as we all do our part, because I think this generation is going to take our country and the world to places that we can’t even imagine in terms of good things that are coming. So I would agree.

So Matthew, it’s been a pleasure visiting with you today. I’m confident that our listeners found value in our discussion and got the opportunity to learn more about you and your role in LISD. Since your arrival in LISD last fall, I have been impressed by your calm demeanor, professional aplomb and sense of humor.

LISD is fortunate to have you, and I’m confident that your time here will make us all better. Thank you for being here today.

Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure and I appreciate your kind words.

Absolutely. Thank you, sir.