Name: Luis Santana
Profession: Executive Director, Reading and Beyond
“My name is Luis Santana, and California is in a truth moment. We need to look at the policies we have in place and see if we are aligning them with our needs.”
Santana is a staunch believer in the power of education as a vital tool in “preparing the next generation to replace us.” He grew up in Brazil, where he was a hospital administrator and worked with street children. He then came to the U.S. and earned a master's degree in social work from CSU Sacramento.
In the late 1990s, members of the First Covenant Church in Fresno were concerned that children in poor neighborhoods were lagging behind in reading skills. To address the issue, Santana founded Reading and Beyond in 1999.
From its humble beginnings of tutoring 30 youngsters, Reading and Beyond now helps 1,100 children per day at three dozen centers all over the Central Valley. About 70% of the children in the program for at least six months improve one grade level in reading.
Reading and Beyond has earned state and national recognition and is now stepping in where government can no longer maintain service. This summer, it will open at Fresno’s Mosqueda Community Center, which has been struggling due to budget cuts. Santana says: “This was about taking a difficult situation and turning it around to better serve the community.”
Santana believes education is crucial to the success of California. “The state's strengths lie in its diversity, resources and history of taking the initiative on fresh concepts,” Santana says. “But, the state hasn't always been consistent in carrying through on changes or making difficult decisions.”
He urges government to be open to listening to ideas, and Californians must insist that legislators and policymakers work together to address major problems. It will take an immense amount of hard work, Santana said, but “there is hope.”