For most of her education, Angélica Ramsey felt as if she was playing catch up.

She was only 5 years old when appendicitis caused a hospital stay that resulted in her starting first grade late. Then her family sold their house in Pico Rivera, California, to pay medical bills and moved 350 miles north to Stockton. 

She grew up speaking Spanish and so did most of her classmates in Pico Rivera, but people spoke dozens of languages in Stockton. Suddenly, her bilingual class was more diverse and different from her class in Pico Rivera. Again, she fell behind.

It was a teacher’s aide who spent time with Ramsey during lunch or after school to help her close the gap between her and her classmates. She doesn’t remember much of that time, but she does remember how the aide made her feel: Like she could catch up. Like she was smart.

“My mom would say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a teacher because you love your teacher,’” Ramsey said. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do outside of education. I just knew that that was a good middle class job. When you come from a household that’s lower income, you’re really just looking for stability, and a steady paycheck and — more than anything else — health insurance. I didn’t have super, super high dreams. My parents always encouraged us to go to college. I knew I was going to college. I just didn’t know what I would do after that.”

Ramsey is coming into Fort Worth ISD, where the student population looks like her and her family. About 85% of families in the district are low-income, 64% are Hispanic and 35% are bilingual. She is the lone finalist for superintendent, and the Midland ISD chief believes her experiences prepared her to lead Fort Worth ISD.

Catching up

After arriving in Stockton, medical issues hurt Ramsey’s education again. When she was in sixth grade, her father had a stroke. And then, three years later, he had another and transitioned to using a wheelchair.

Her mother worked full time and started her work day at 5 a.m., meaning it fell on Ramsey and her brother to take care of their father. Before school, she would get up and help him get ready, but some days he wasn’t very mobile and it took more time, causing her to miss the bus often.

Ramsey’s absences started to tally up, and she wasn’t sure she’d even finish high school, much less meet her family’s dream of college for her.

A knock on her door from a stranger changed that.

As part of a grant for her local school, coordinators went out to the neighborhoods and knocked on doors to help find out the needs of students and solutions to keep them in school.

When one of those coordinators knocked on the door and asked what she could do to help Ramsey, she said she needed two things: a job to help her family and transportation for when she missed the bus.

A stranger moved mountains for her. She found Ramsey a job where she could ride her bike to.

“I sincerely believe that she’s one of the reasons why I graduated from high school and went on to college and had success,” she said. 

Ramsey reflected back on the teacher’s aide who helped her when she moved to Stockton and the coordinator who found her a job; they’re both educators to her. They helped her get the education she wanted.

“I just knew that they cared about me as a person,” Ramsey said. “They weren’t judgmental about my situation. They weren’t judgmental that there was a hospital bed in the living room. (That coordinator) just found what I needed to be able to be successful.”

She graduated and got into college at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. But her dad died her first year, and in her mourning she fell behind in her coursework again.

After his death, she wanted to honor his legacy. Her father was born prematurely and with heart problems. Because of that, he was the only person in his family who did not serve in the military.

Ramsey believes that, because of her parents, there is nothing she can be afraid of. Her father still managed to thrive and survive much longer than expected. Her mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the late 1960s on a worker program with a seventh-grade education and managed to get both of her children into college.

With that fearless attitude, Ramsey walked the stage at graduation and then right over to the recruiting station, where she joined the Army.

Angélica Ramsey, the superintendent of Midland ISD, speaks at the Fort Worth ISD school board meeting on Aug. 30. Ramsey was selected as the lone finalist for superintendent of Fort Worth ISD. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Service and appreciation

With a history of service on her father’s side and appreciation for becoming a naturalized citizen from her mother, Ramsey joined the Army later than she wanted. She considered joining the Navy after her high school graduation, but her mother said she was going to college.

While waiting isn’t what Ramsey wanted, it turned out to be what was best because she met her husband, Daryton, while they were training to become paralegals in the Army.

“We fought the attraction for a few weeks,” Ramsey said. “I think I told him to leave me alone. And he told me, ‘I’m here to go to school. So, I know you think, ‘whatever,’ but I’m here to concentrate.’” 

Fifteen years later, they’re still married.

She said her husband is the most patient man, and she doesn’t know many people who would move as much for a wife’s career as he has. Now, he also works in education. He spent some time as a teacher, coach and administrator and now is the chief learning officer for 3E Consulting Group.

During Ramsey’s first Army tour — which includes four years of active duty and two years of inactive duty — her mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Ramsey was unable to complete her first tour because she chose to take care of her mom.

After her mother’s death, she stayed in California for six months to get the affairs in order and prepared to move to El Paso, where her husband was stationed at Fort Bliss.

Entering the classroom

During this transition period in her life, Ramsey started researching schools as she weighed going back to education, what she originally saw herself doing. She read an article about Socorro ISD and how the high school was defying the odds with English-learners.

She knew education was the right choice for her career, so she became an English Second Language teacher at Socorro High School. It took three days in the classroom to know she was exactly where she was meant to be.

“I learned so much from being there,” she said. “That school district, the systems they have, the staff, everyone rallies. It has high expectations for every student, but really understands that it’s the school system’s place to provide support to make sure that kids can meet their goals because every child has different circumstances.”

Her 10 years in Socorro taught her to believe in all children and that it’s on adults to find ways for children to succeed — just like those adults who believed in her as a child.

She served in many roles besides teaching. She coached softball and speech and debate, coordinated fine arts and eventually oversaw accountability efforts.

When the opportunity to become assistant principal at the school presented itself, she cried because she was torn between the impact she knew she could have in her own classroom versus the impact she could have on even more students.

She and the principal, Miguel Serrano — who is now at Midland ISD — worked together to turn around the campus. It took three years, but the low-performing school eventually received exemplary status.

“No excuses for high numbers of students who were free or reduced lunch, no excuses about what ZIP code, how poor — none of that matters,” Ramsey said. “It’s about putting in systems to help those students exceed their potential.”

Serrano, school improvement officer at Midland ISD, said the two started their turnaround efforts in 2007. When he came to Socorro, the district was in danger of a state takeover because of low performance. He set a goal to become an exemplary campus — which is a label from the old accountability system — in three years. 

To meet that goal, he would have to lead the campus to double-digit gains three years in a row, Serrano said. He knew Ramsey could help him meet that goal.

On the campus, she worked with teachers to align instruction that had the best outcomes for students so they were successful. She made changes in the classrooms that led to gains in the first year.

Those skills will be required for her tenure in Fort Worth ISD. Though the district received a B-rating from the state this year, the school board wants to keep up efforts to improve the district.

Serrano believes Ramsey will have no problem taking what she’s learned in other improvement efforts and applying it to Fort Worth ISD, especially with English-learners.

“I think she’s got the track record of being that transformational leader in any capacity,” he said. “I can see her being successful at (the largest school district).”

After the growth at Socorro High School, Ramsey later became principal of the campus. Later, the superintendent named her chief academic officer.

“If it wasn’t for a really strong mentor — starting all the way at 6 years old — helping me catch up and learn English, … I wouldn’t be so passionate about what a great not only equalizer, but just the power of public education,” Ramsey said. “Without public education, I’d have a very, very different life trajectory. And I know I’m not the exception. I’m not any smarter than anyone else. I don’t know anything more than anyone else. I’m not more gifted, none of that. I just had a lot of people champion for me a lot of opportunities.”

Though she achieved her mother’s dream of a college education, Ramsey went even further. She got her master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from the University of Texas at El Paso. She was content with those degrees.

Then Ramsey shadowed Jeannie Meza-Chavez while working on her principal certification at Socorro High School. As part of shadowing, Ramsey sat in on a conversation Meza-Chavez had with one of her teachers.

Meza-Chavez told the teacher she had a space on her wall between two degrees for her doctorate. And she told that young teacher she could get her doctorate, too.

After the teacher was dismissed, she turned to Ramsey and said, “That was for you, too.”

In general, “men will go out and do things whether they’re qualified or not,” Meza-Chavez said. But women sometimes need more of a push because they want to make sure they check all the boxes. She wanted to be that push for Ramsey. And she took that moment to do so.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I was smart enough to do it,” Ramsey said. “I just didn’t have any models for that.”

Meza-Chavez had no doubts. She said Ramsey had a drive to do more for the school, paid attention to everyone and was inquisitive.

“She’s always been very encouraging,” Meza-Chavez said. “But in that moment, it was that you see somebody who has that fire, that shine, that dedication to do more, to be more, then why wouldn’t you?”

Ramsey chose Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, because she could get a generous military discount and take courses online and in-person. It was the program that best fit her finances and schedule.

The program challenged her to not only study education, she said, but because Liberty University is a Christian school, tie it back to biblical teachings. She wasn’t just writing about Montessori practices for classes, but how they fit into biblical perspectives, too.

While earning her doctorate of education in education leadership there, she said she learned about the Bible in her coursework and prayed in class. However, she added, she still understands the need for separation of church and state in public education.

“There are public and private universities across the U.S.,” Ramsey said. “Regardless of what type of institution an educator attended for higher education, we believe and abide by the U.S. Constitution. It is an oath I have made in both of my careers.”

Preparing to lead Fort Worth ISD

Ramsey is ready to step into her role of leading the sixth-largest school district in Texas. She feels as if her family and education has led her to this moment. When she discovered Fort Worth ISD was hiring, she looked at the job description and decided it was a perfect match for the work she wants to do as a superintendent.

She believes her Hispanic upbringing means she values community and sees how people can come together to take care of a child — like when she was 15 and her family couldn’t afford a quinceañera, so her aunts all chipped in to make the day as special as they could.  

“It’s this community kind of perspective that I bring into how I do my work,” Ramsey said. “It may be also the fact that I wasn’t able to have my own children that I take personally the education and the livelihood and just the wellness of the children that I serve. And I truly believe that it takes the entire community to do right by kids. And that’s how I lead.”

Meza-Chavez also believes that culture and upbringing will help students in Fort Worth ISD. She said young girls will see themselves in Ramsey and know they can achieve that level of success, too.

Ramsey is eager to get to Fort Worth and start visiting schools and meeting students and teachers. She wants to hear from the community. She wants to develop partnerships in Fort Worth and bring people with all views together to figure out how to best serve students.

Ramsey said she’s a fighter, and she intends to fight for the students of Fort Worth.

“A few years ago, it was all about grit. I say, you get a poor kid, you don’t have to teach them grit,” she said. “They can teach you about grit and perseverance. There’s always a way to do the right thing the right way, and there’s always a way to have a positive outlook.”

Ramsey truly believes if she can manage to bring people together, value opinions and present the information she has, lives can change in Fort Worth. She can help a district that fell behind in recent years go on the same trajectory her path took: Up.

“What I’ve learned my entire life is: If you give and you do your best and you’re just a good human being and you can try to be better tomorrow than you were today, then things are going to work out,” she said. “And it’s not all sunshine and butterflies. You have to have a strategy, and you need to know what you’re talking about and do your homework.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...