Maria Vazquez ’95MEd ’10EdD has recently taken the helm as Orange County Public Schools Superintendent — making her the district’s first Hispanic superintendent. Vazquez’s new position follows the retirement of fellow UCF alumna Barbara Jenkins ’83 ’86MEd ’96EdD, who served in this role for 10 years.

Vazquez became the district’s deputy superintendent in 2018, but her career in education spans more than 30 years. She started as a teacher in Hillsborough County before moving to Orlando to teach at Sadler and Shingle Creek elementary schools, eventually transitioning to the district office as a resource teacher. She then worked her way up through the ranks and has previously held various leadership roles such as assistant principal, principal, executive area director and chief academic officer.

Vazquez received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida. At UCF, she completed her master’s in educational leadership and administration, as well as her doctorate in curriculum and instruction.

The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Vazquez says her parents made significant sacrifices for their family and always emphasized the importance of education.

“Education was incredibly important to them,” she says. “We knew the sacrifices that they made for my sister and I to have a better life. When I started school, I did not speak any English. I had incredible teachers who believed in me and pushed me, and I was successful. It was because of them that I was able to have the opportunity to go on to college and become a teacher. It’s my way of saying thank you to my parents for their sacrifice, and it’s also my way of giving back to those incredibly caring adults who created a learning environment where I felt safe and supported.”

In addition to her experiences in education, Vazquez credits her time at UCF with helping to lay the foundation for a successful career in education leadership.

“I did not gain a true understanding of what was possible in the area of education until I went through my doctoral program.” — Maria Vazquez ’95MEd ’10EdD

“I did not gain a true understanding of what was possible in the area of education until I went through my doctoral program,” she says. “The professors were incredible. They challenged and pushed us, but they were also very supportive. I had a phenomenal team surrounding and supporting me through my doctoral work, which focused on whether the power of professional development in special education would impact perceptions that principals had of students with special needs. It was a very enriching experience.”

Vazquez says she hadn’t originally planned on pursuing the path to superintendent, but it was Jenkins’ mentorship that encouraged her to take the next step in her career.

“With her support and guidance, I took on additional responsibilities and engage in more work with our partners,” she says. “I started to sit on more boards in our community, and I felt that I could take the helm as the next superintendent.”

Those boards include City Year Orlando, the American Heart Association, CareerSource Central Florida, YMCA of Central Florida and the Orange County Citizens’ Commission for Children.

She’s also handled some significant challenges while in various leadership roles. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, it forced Vazquez and her colleagues to think outside the box and work toward finding solutions for the issues it posed. That experience further solidified her desire to continue making a difference in education.

“Seeing the power of collaboration and how our community was able to work through what has been the most unpredictable time in my career showed me that this is such a unique community — one that values education, one that believes in coming together and overcoming obstacles,” she says.

Jenkins has worked with Vazquez to create a smooth leadership transition.

“I am extremely pleased that the School Board selected Dr. Vazquez,” Jenkins says. “Maria is well-versed in every aspect of the district and will be able to accelerate strategies for student success. More importantly, she has the passion and the fortitude to lead a large urban district. I am confident that she will work with the School Board to continue leading our students to success.”

“I am a living, breathing example of the power education has to transform lives.” — Maria Vazquez ’95MEd ’10EdD

Vazquez says she is looking forward to serving in the role of superintendent at a time when leaders have been tasked with reimagining ways to use time, resources and learning spaces to educate children.

“We need to capitalize on this moment to be able to improve those opportunities for our children,” she says. “I also hope that other children who have stories similar to my own see that if they set a goal and work hard, they will be able to succeed and it will be life changing. I am a living, breathing example of the power education has to transform lives.”