Written by: Juan Esparza Loera, Vida en el Valle
The journey for the only son of a single mother from Fowler who battled poverty to raise him while he excelled in basketball – but barely kept afloat on his grades – reached a major plateau Friday (May 14) morning when Henry ‘Hank’ Gutiérrez received his doctorate in education at Bulldog Stadium.
He went from entering Fresno State as a special admit through the Educational Opportunities Programs (EOP) to earning a 4.0 GPA and the graduate level dean’s medal from the Kremen School of Education.
“EOP will always be a part of my educational heritage,” said Gutiérrez, a 50-year-old father of two. “I want to thank Fresno State because they took a chance on the right kid.”
Twenty years ago, he earned his master’s at Fresno State.
Gutiérrez, the Fresno County deputy superintendent of educational services, helps provide services for 32 school districts and numerous charter schools that serve almost 198,000 students.
He wants his doctorate to serve as an incentive for kids like him. He remembers very well “standing in line for that long block of cheese with my grandmother or paying for our milk and bread with stamps used as money.”
The doctorate, he said, “boils down to showing kids, showing Hispanic kids, that we can achieve at the highest level.”
“I want to be a role model at the very core of my existence,” said Gutiérrez, a 1988 graduate of Fowler High School where he was a basketball standout and once ran against the vaunted McFarland High cross country teams during their heyday.
“I just want to be a role model to all kids – that particular kid from Fowler where I grew up – to show that no matter how you grew up, no matter your trials and tribulations that education is our key out of poverty.”
Gutiérrez decided to get into education when he became a junior high basketball coach.
“I really fell in love with the interaction with kids,” he said. “I really thought my path would evolve into some sort of leadership role and leadership capacity with kids.”
Being raised without a father probably made Gutiérrez take a liking to providing coaching and teaching lessons to children that he never got at home from a dad.
Coaching Experience Motivated Him to Get Into Education
“I told myself that if I wanted to continue coaching basketball, I probably should pursue a teaching credential so that I can really stay involved in the educational system,” said Gutiérrez, who has served as principal of Fowler High and later Washington Union.
His first teaching job was at Lane Elementary. His first administrative position came in 1999 when Sunnyside High opened.
In 2014, he was honored as the Fresno County administrator of the year when he was at Fowler. Leaving his alma mater for Washington Union was difficult, but it was part of his plan to build his leadership skills.
The two-decade break between his master’s and doctorate degrees also allowed him to build up his leadership skills.
“I just immersed in all kinds of leadership experiences and life experiences that really prepared me to take that leap of faith to get into the doctoral program,” said Gutiérrez. “It really made the rigor of the program and the focus for me that much easier.”
The doctorate (his thesis was ‘The Enactment of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: A Case Study of One Elementary School’) should open more opportunities for him in education.
“I’m just learning how to lead an organization, and I’m happy leading and assisting,” he said about his current job. “I don’t know what my future holds. Only time will tell, but I know that with this doctoral degree I’m better equipped.
“I put myself in the driver’s seat for any leadership role that I aspire to.”
Jim Yovino, the elected superintendent in Fresno County, first met Gutiérrez when he was principal at Fowler High.
“There was something special about him,” said Yovino. “It’s that quality to get people to move in a direction that’s going to help kids and families.”
Yovino praised Gutiérrez’s confidence while remaining kind and compassionate.
“That’s really hard to do, and he does it really well,” said Yovino, who hired Gutiérrez as an assistant superintendent and about a year ago elevated him to the deputy superintendent position.
“I’m just incredibly proud of him,” said Yovino. “I just think he’s got all the right qualities a leader should have.”
Mother, Wife Have Influenced Him
Gutiérrez, in previous interviews and in public appearances, has mentioned the critical role that his mother, Henrietta, played in his life.
He remembers graduating from Fresno State in 1993 and spotting his mother in the audience.
“I still remember that moment, walking into Bulldog Stadium and finding her in the crowd. I saw her standing up,” he said in 2014. “That type of emotion she had drives you to keep on reaching for the next successful eclipse in your life.
“My accomplishments were a testament to what her aspirations for herself were, but maybe she didn’t have the means because she was raising me. I need to achieve these goals because I’m kind of living for my mother and myself at the same time.”
His wife, Lisa, a financial consultant, has kept him motivated. Gutiérrez compares her to what Mary Castro is to CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro.
“She’s my First Lady,” he said.
In his dissertation, he praises her support.
“You inspired me to be brave and conquer this dream. I simply could not have finished this dissertation and the entire program without your sacrifice, love, and support,” he wrote. “My life’s dreams and future goals are centered around you and for you. Together, we can do anything and we “always win!”
The late Justin Garza – the Central High football coach whose name will grace that district’s newest high school – introduced Gutiérrez to her.
Gutiérrez remains a big fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and of superstar Michael Jordan. As a 6-foot-3 center at Fowler, he led the Redcats to the Valley finals before they lost to Immanuel.
He received an email from the dean of the School of Education notifying him of the dean’s medal.
“When I first read the email, I had to leave a few times and make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” he said. “I just couldn’t believe it. It was like a moment frozen in time where I realized all my hard work had been recognized.”