It’s 1988 in Houston, George H.W. Bush is President-elect of the United States, renovations to add 10,000 seats in the Astrodome have begun, and sixteen-year-old Laura Aguirre has just started her first job at Harris County Department of Education.
“I started working here through a co-op program my senior year of high school,” she said. “I started in Adult Education and was a part-time teacher’s aide. I worked in the evenings from 4 to 9 p.m.”
Aguirre, the Department’s November Employee of the Month, reflects on her 34-year tenure at HCDE as she prepares to retire this December as an executive administrative assistant.
“I feel as if she’s the heart and soul of HCDE,” said Assistant Superintendent of Education and Enrichment CJ Rodgers. “There’s something every one of us can learn from her. Her servant leadership, passion, commitment, and loyalty. She’s always helping us take a normal idea to extraordinary without being told or prompted.”
Hard work and the determination to make every opportunity exceptional were ingrained by Aguirre’s parents, who emigrated from Mexico.
“My parents raised me to do the best I can at anything, whatever it is,” she said. “My dad was tough on us when it came to our education. He wanted something better for us.”
Lessons in resiliency and independence also came in handy.
“My dad had a drywall company, and when I was 13 or 14 years old, he would take me to work with him. He taught me how to hang sheetrock and tape and float. One time, I fell through a ceiling because I forgot there was no flooring. So, I know how to sheetrock, but I choose not to do it,” she chuckled.
After her first year with HCDE, Aguirre was offered a full-time job as a data entry clerk in the Adult Education division. Because she spoke Spanish, she then worked as the division’s receptionist and subsequently became the administrative assistant for Adult Education’s executive director.
The division’s work was close to her heart, as she had a personal connection to the services provided.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and English was her second language. She had a hard time helping us as we got older because of the language barrier, so she went through an Adult Ed program,” said Aguirre. She learned English, received her GED, and got her cosmetology license. I was so proud of her. A lot of the people we served were those types of parents.”
Aguirre then joined the executive administrative team in the Instructional Support Services division, which is now the Center for Educator Success.
A single mother of an active-duty Army commissioned officer, Aguirre says retirement will allow her time to express her creativity and spend time with her family.
“I feel like I’ve worked really hard for my daughter,” she said. “I love seeing that my hard work and determination have paid off. You always want your children to do more than you’ve been able to do. And that’s happening for me. I’m so proud of her.”
Aguirre now looks ahead to life after HCDE.
“It’s not because I don’t want to be at HCDE. I’ve been here for 34 years. That would be a total lie,” she laughs. “But there are other journeys I want to pursue. I’m not going to retire and not work.”
One of those journeys has led her to a passion project that unsuspecting colleagues may have already admired.
“I’m a balloon artist. You know, garlands, columns. So, you’ve probably seen them around. I do them for our divisions or anybody who asks me,” she said. “Who doesn’t like balloons, right?”
Aguirre has created balloon decorations for this year’s Partners In Education Scholarship awardees and recent workshops.
“I hope HCDE will allow me to continue to do balloons for them for events like the Scholastic Award exhibits and the Early Childhood Winter Conference,” she said. “I hope they use me to make their events just a little glam or pizzazz.”
Or, as Rodgers describes it, “she puts her Laura on it.”
As she counts down the days until she says goodbye to the place she has called her home away from home for more than three decades, Aguirre has only gratitude in her heart.
“I’m very grateful for HCDE and proud to have worked here,” she said. “I know all the changes HCDE has gone through, and I know HCDE is going places. This is one of the best organizations that Houston and Texas have to work for. They’re part of my world. And I don’t think they ever will not be.”