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Rita was born in San Antonio, Texas, as were her parents. When Rita was three, the family moved to Austin, where her father worked as a printer at the Austin American-Statesman. Her mother stayed home to care for Rita and her brother and sister. Rita attended Austin public schools and graduated from William B. Travis High School. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Texas at Austin and has a Master’s degree in Union Leadership and Administration from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Rita started her teaching career in 1988 at Willie I. Kocurek Elementary School in Austin, where she taught first-grade bilingual students for sixteen years. She was elected Kocurek Teacher of the Year in 1997. She later was elected president of the Austin Association of Bilingual Educators and organized her members to retain bilingual stipends and bilingual materials for their students. She was legislative chairperson for the Texas Association of Bilingual Education in 2003-2004.
Rita was vice president of the Austin Association of Teachers in 1998-1999 and vice president of Education Austin (formerly the Austin Association of Teachers) from 1999-2008. She was appointed vice chairperson for the Texas State Teachers Association’s Community and Instructional Advocacy Committee in 2000. She also served on the TSTA Board of Directors from 2001-2005 and was National Education Association Director for Texas from 2004-2008.
Rita was elected president of the Texas State Teachers Association in April 2008. That same year, she initiated a comprehensive plan, The Texas Project, to focus on organizing and leadership development. TSTA currently has over 67,000 members statewide.
At the national level, Rita currently serves as member of the NEA Advisory Committee on the Elementary and Secondary Act.