Antonio Herrera is loyal to those who have given him an opportunity to succeed. That’s why he’s proud to be an administrator in the Syracuse City School District, and equally proud of his association with OCC and the impact it has had on his life. “Even though I got my master’s at SU I always tell people I also went to OCC. You can not forget where you started.”
Herrera is a native of Port of Coquimbo, Chile. His first exposure to the United States came at the recommendation of his father. “He told me ‘if I can give you one tool for life it would be learning another language.’ He felt that language needed to be English.” Herrera took part in the Rotary’s Youth Exchange program, spent a year attending high school in Reno, Nevada and became more proficient in English.
Herrera returned to Chile and attended college for two-and-a-half years but didn’t like it. He began working in the family business and found it unfulfilling as well. “I realized I needed college to achieve other goals,” he said. While he was working Herrera met and began dating Nancy Hayman, a Syracuse native who Herrera was introduced to through a mutual friend in the Rotary program. Eventually they would marry and move to Syracuse.
Herrera’s renewed quest for higher education brought him to OCC in the mid-1990’s. He was working full-time during the day and attending classes at night. Herrera recalls his first year of college in the United States as his most difficult. “There were times I felt like dropping out but I kept persevering. I knew I had to work through it.”
Herrera recalls a class at OCC as perhaps the most important he ever took. “It was called ‘career exploration’ and was an orientation to life. It helped me with everything from learning organizational skills to how to prioritize to scheduling classes. It made all the difference for me.”
OCC also provided Herrera with a valuable opportunity which convinced him a career in education was perfect for him. Through the College he volunteered at the Delaware School in the Syracuse City School District. “It’s always good to volunteer because you find out what you really want to do. I went in wanting to be an inner-city teacher and came out feeling the same way.” After earning his degree from OCC in 1997 Herrera became a Teacher’s Assistant at Fowler High School.
Eventually Herrera left Fowler so he could attend SUNY Cortland full-time. He earned a degree in elementary education with a concentration in Spanish. During his senior year Herrera attended a job fair and found his diverse background made him an attractive candidate for school districts across the state. “I received multiple job offers because of my skills and being bilingual. I preferred to stay in Central New York, interview with the Syracuse School District and was hired.”
Herrera returned to the Delaware School, this time as a bi-lingual teacher. In between working and raising a family he earned a master’s in education and a certificate in educational leadership, both from Syracuse University.
Today Herrera is vice-principal at Syracuse’s M. L. King, Jr. Elementary School on East Raynor Avenue. He enjoys helping children and knows his success makes him a role model. “It’s important for kids to see a person who resembles their background or looks like them. You will see an increase in African American or Latino children experiencing success if they have people in key positions sending positive messages.”
Herrera’s OCC degree hangs on the wall behind his desk and he loves to talk about his alma mater. “In our community everyone knows OCC because of all of the great things that are happening there. I don’t want kids to think the only place they can go is Syracuse University because it’s so unreachable for many of our kids. But if you start at OCC you can get to Syracuse University if that’s where you want to end up.”
Herrera has a simple message about college which he shares with students and it’s a message his father shared with him. He would tell me, “College doesn’t determine what you are going to do in life but college will open many doors for you.” Those words have also been recited numerous times to his three daughters; Alisa (age 23), Izidora (age 14) and Gabriela (age 10).
Herrera has dreams of more career moves. He wants to continue to serve as an instructional leader while exploring opportunities to impact more students. “I have ideas and passion. I couldn’t implement them as a volunteer or teacher’s assistant. I did make an impact as a teacher. I know I’m making a bigger impact as an administrator.”