Maria Hernandez Ferrier’s career had led her from making ends meet as a single mother with no education, to counseling presidents and leading international relations for the Texas A&M University (TAMU) system. Along the way she served as inaugural president of Texas A&M – San Antonio (A&M-SA), giving the city’s Southside a growing higher education presence aimed at building a local workforce close to home.
Now Ferrier has taken on a new role. She is serving on the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessment and Accountability, at the request of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. The one-year appointment came only weeks after Ferrier unexpectedly announced her retirement from her position as director of development and Mexico relations for the A&M system.
Ferrier said that she felt the urge to retire in early January 2016. It surprised her, because she was in the middle of numerous projects, and experiencing great success in her the position A&M had created just for her.
“That was so weird for me, because (retirement) was something I had never considered,” Ferrier said.
Like most major life decisions, Ferrier said that she approached the idea of retirement prayerfully.
“I prayed, ‘Let me know this is from you, God, and not from me,’” she recalled.
On Jan. 31, the morning she wrote the resignation letter, Ferrier said was flooded with a sense of joy and peace. She didn’t know what was ahead, only that she was where she needed to be.
The call from Straus came within days. She agreed to the commission, and was immediately pulled into a flurry of work, hearing testimony from education professionals on the state of assessment in Texas. An overhaul of the state’s high-stakes testing system will be possible, thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act. Many are hoping that test-loving Texas will lighten the burden on teachers and students.
“The last four weeks have been a blur of work,” said Ferrier.
James Hallmark, vice chancellor of academic affairs for TAMU, said that Ferrier will be missed, and that the university is not clear yet on how they will replace her.
“We’ve frankly been wrestling with what we are going to do,” said Hallmark.
The position within the TAMU system was created especially for Ferrier after she stepped down as president of A&M-SA. Hallmark said that the system saw a great opportunity and grabbed it.
“She has amazing connections with Mexico,” said Hallmark.
Ferrier helped the eleven universities and seven system agencies within the TAMU system forge mutually beneficial partnerships with Mexican institutions. Some, like Texas A&M International already had strong relationships, while others like Tarleton State and West Texas A&M University had almost no connection.
“She was able to bring opportunities that made sense for them in Mexico,” said Hallmark.
With Ferrier gone, Francisco Perales, administrator of the system’s Mexico and Latin America Relations office, has been maintaining the many projects.
“We don’t want to lose the momentum,” said Hallmark.
Ferrier’s former office at the Alameda Museum will likely close, said Hallmark, and the position will be moved onto one of the system campuses. He is unsure as of now whether Ferrier’s position will be filled as is, or if it will be divided into several positions and spread across several campuses.
Prior to her tenure as A&M-SA president, Ferrier directed the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush. Her work has continually allowed her to be a strong voice for English language learners, a fast growing population in Texas that experiences significant achievement gaps compared to their native speaking peers.
*Top image: Texas A&M University-San Antonio founding President Maria FerrierTexas A&M University-San Antonio founding President Maria Ferrier