An effort born in San Antonio received a massive shot of adrenaline this weekend at the National Association for Bilingual Education’s 29th conference, held here in San Antonio, where much of the D.C.-based group’s work first began.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 educators and policymakers attended the weekend meeting at the Convention Center, according to NABE exec Jaime Zapata.

“This is a new era for us,” says Zapata, “in part thanks to Delia Pompa.”

San Antonio-born Pompa has spent her career focused on education and public policy, and recently took over as head of NABE.

“Because of her vision, it was very clear to people that we really want to expand our focus beyond advocacy to professional development,” Zapata said. “So we had greater scope this conference, and more sessions that would be useful in classrooms around the country.”

Conference participants also praised conference coordinator Mercedes Cisneros, Pompa’s special assistant. Mercedes came well-prepared to this post, as Henry Cisneros’ daughter.

Texas Board of Education member Joe Bernal, one of the conference chairs, praised San Antonio Hispanic Chamber leaders “Berto” Guerra and Rita Elizondo, whose well-coordinated drive already has enlisted many prominent business groups in their “Imaginate” program to create across-the-board bilingual education throughout San Antonio.

Maria “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, current chief of the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association, accepted NABE’s prestigious President’s Award for “25 years of not only service, but commitment and advancement all over the country in bilingual education, school finance and matters dealing with minorities’ civil rights,” Zapata added.

Texas Commissioner of Education James Nelson, who was appointed to the job last year by Gov. George W. Bush, also won high praise from delegates for his personal promise to become bilingual as soon as possible.

But it was Henry Cisneros who made the biggest splash of all with a Saturday night keynote speech that won him a 15-minute standing ovation, Bernal reported.

“His comments were very direct: that we cannot give up teaching limited-English-proficient children; that we must bring them in as full citizens,” Bernal said.

“I had the sense that suddenly Henry was talking from his own heart and mind; not talking for the administration, not running for office, just saying what he feels.”

He had some assistance along those lines, according to Mary Esther Bernal, San Antonio School District board member, conference attendee and spouse of Joe Bernal.

At a weekend baby shower at Patricia Garcia’s Monte Vista home for Cisneros’ eldest daughter, Theresa (whose first child is due July 4), Mary Esther complimented Mercedes on her dad’s speech.

Mercedes’ reply spoke volumes.

“She said: ‘Thank you – I wrote it,'” Mary Esther reported.

And the torch passes on ….

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