Influential and long-time Presbyterian racial ethnic school leader retires
Maria Cordova Andrews grateful for her time at Menaul School in N.M.
For the past 40 years, Maria Cordova Andrews has served the students and staff at Menaul School in Albuquerque, N.M. This year, she’ll celebrate her last graduation celebration at Menaul, as she retires from years of dedicated service to the students, staff and community.
Cordova Andrews began her journey with Menaul during the 1974-1975 school year, when she served part time in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. In that role, she organized the ESL program, taught Spanish and French classes, and served as a coach for the volleyball, tennis and softball teams.
“A year or so before I came to Menaul, I had taken a class from Edmundo Vasquez, who was president at Menaul at that time,” she said. “Over the course of this class, he reached out to me and encouraged me to consider a job at Menaul. At the time, I had a variety of options to choose from and didn’t feel that Menaul was the right place for me at the time. About a year later, however, several things changed for me and I decided that it was time for me to give Menaul a shot, and here I am, 40 years later.”
Just a few years after she started at Menaul, Cordova Andrews transitioned from a part-time teacher with the ESL program to a full time staff member, serving as a counselor.
“Things started unfolding for me early on at Menaul,” she said. “I realized that my interests were really in helping the kids develop their character and personality, and that I wasn’t necessarily so excited about teaching subject matter.”
With that in mind, Cordova Andrews began pursuing her degree in counseling, obtaining an Ed.S. degree in psychological foundations. “Coincidentally, the counselor at the school was retiring as I was finishing up my degree program, and I took over that position once I finished my program.”
During the mid-to-late 90’s, Cordova Andrews served dual roles at Menaul—as counselor and principal. “I did the administrative work and did it well, but just didn’t feel like it fed my soul. Being able to serve as a counselor and help these students grow and evolve has been tremendous. One of my most cherished memories from my time here was serving first generation students and their families as they laid out their college and career plans. That’s been so special to be part of.”
Cordova Andrews’ ties to Menaul run deep. “My family is from northern New Mexico and all of the boys in my family attended Menaul. I had a history with Menaul before I came here 40 years ago to pursue my career. It was sort of a familiar place for me. I knew the campus, but I had never been involved with the inner-workings of the school. Beyond that, however, this place has helped me find somewhere to belong. I’ve never been good at belonging in one place, but for 40 years, this has been the one consistent place that I’ve been. Menaul has been a consistent place for me to build relationship and a community that I could function and thrive in.”
Serving the students and community during her time at Menaul provided Cordova Andrews with a unique perspective on women’s leadership development and the importance of racial ethnic education. According to her, schools like Menaul reach a population of students that even in the 21st century, likely wouldn’t be reached, if schools like Menaul didn’t exist.
“While there isn’t necessarily one particular type of student who comes to Menaul, the students here have all been marginalized in some way—they have somehow been isolated from ‘the mainstream.’ I think our calling is really to find a way to best serve these kids,” she said. “Those of us in leadership positions represent a door… an opportunity… that isn’t always open for these students. I always tell kids when they graduate, ‘Your responsibility isn’t just to yourself. You need to open doors for yourself and also figure out how to open those same doors for others, too.’ Those in leadership – especially racial ethnic women and men—can continue to pave the way for the students that our racial ethnic schools and colleges serve.”
Cordova Andrews has seen Menaul grow and evolve over 40 years from a boarding school, to only a day school, to a hybrid of the two as it stands today. She’s also seen various transitions in leadership.
“It’s not necessarily easy being a racial ethnic woman in leadership, but it has been very rewarding for me,” she said. “In some ways, I’ve felt like being a racial ethnic women in a leadership role at the school has provided me with an opportunity to serve as the face of my culture, so to speak, and it’s been a tremendous blessing to be able to show these students that you don’t necessarily have to fit within societal norms in order to achieve your goals and dreams.”
Reflecting on her time at Menaul, she is grateful for the opportunities that she’s had to serve the students and the community at large. “I have so much to be grateful for—wonderful opportunities, challenges that were overcome, relationships that have been built and for so much more. But my biggest joy has always been and will always be the kids. Being able to watch them evolve and become the people they are meant to be, and being able to be part of that process, has been the most wonderful part of my work.”
Menaul School, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is one of four Historically Racial Ethnic Institutions founded by the Presbyterian Church. Today, Menaul is a co-ed facility that serves students in grades 6 -12 with a college preparatory curriculum. Menaul School has graduated more than 3,000 students since they opened their doors. Today, 100 percent of students who graduate from the school go on to pursue higher education.