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As images of desperate families attempting to cross into the United States bring a sobering reality into focus, I'd like to call attention to the connection between this humanitarian crisis and our own classrooms.
Each year, a growing number of children are entering Pittsburgh Public Schools as new arrivals to the United States. Imagine leaving the only home you have ever known, perhaps now unrecognizable due to war, crime, or natural disaster, and traveling halfway around the world to Pittsburgh — a place you have never seen, even in photos. As intimidating as this might be to an adult, now imagine you are a young child with no English language skills, or a teen who is already navigating the turbulent adolescent years and now has to do so with limited ability to communicate with your new peers.
These are the challenges faced by more PPS students each year. As a District, we take very seriously our role to create a welcoming environment for these students.
When the doors open for the new academic year at one of our 12 schools that serve as ESL centers, more than 1,100 children representing more than 95 languages will enter our buildings. We strive to ensure that each of them feels as though they are part of our PPS family: a place where they are supported and where they can find friends; where we, as educators, invest in their future.
How do we do this? We start when each student walks through the door by greeting them and taking the time to know them as individuals. We pair them with translators when they tour the school, which gives them someone they can depend on when they have questions in the future.
At the District level, we have invested in additional supports. A translation and interpretation manager coordinates a deluge of requests from families, and 13 multilingual educational assistants, many of whom come from other countries themselves, support 35 ESL teachers. These individuals take a personal interest in helping our students and families access the supports they need.
Across our ESL centers, we guide students as they move through the exciting but challenging process of acquiring a new language, and we celebrate their roots with a series of cultural celebrations throughout the year. School staff also work with the rest of the student body to encourage greater awareness and` understanding of global issues. We revisit our efforts through student surveys and by meeting with student groups to gauge how well we're doing, and where we could improve.
In so doing, we are also benefiting our students who were born in the U.S., making them better global citizens. Together, they and their classmates will gain a diverse student experience that closely mirrors what they can expect in their futures. Our society's focus is increasingly global; in any job or post-secondary educational experience, the student who is comfortable working with those who speak a different language or hail from a different culture is far more likely to succeed. Increasingly, global competence is becoming a measure of a school district's performance.
As we look ahead toward the start of the coming school year, I'm pleased that we are beginning to see gains in achievement for students who are new English language speakers from the 2016-17 school year to 2017-18. These include:
· A jump from 13.1 to 14.5% testing proficient on the mathematics PSSA
· An increase from 16.5 to 16.8% testing proficient on the PSSA for English language arts
· A significant bump from 3.8 to 15.5% proficiency in the Keystone Algebra 1 exam
· An increase from 0 to 11% proficiency in the Keystone Literature exam
Additionally, 56% of English language learners were on track for Pittsburgh Promise eligibility in 2017-18, up from 50.4% the previous year — a hopeful indication of the success that we hope to expand.
Of course, we are never satisfied with the status quo, and we are always looking to build on these early indicators of success. However, it is gratifying to know that our efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
I hope you will join me in welcoming our newest immigrants as they find a foothold in our school community.
Yours in education,
Dr. Anthony D. Hamlet
Superintendent of Schools
Pittsburgh Public Schools
341 South Bellefield Avenue. Pittsburgh, PA 15213
412-529-3600 (W) | 412-622-3604 (F) |firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hustle Issue #58
Sunday, June 16, 2019
How a Frito-Lay janitor invented Flamin' Hot CheetosRichard Montañez went from cleaning toilets to being one of the most creative executives in the food industry.
On an early morning in the late 1980s, a group of the highest-powered executives at Frito-Lay — the CEO, CMO, and a platoon of VPs — gathered in a California conference room to hear what Richard Montañez had to say.Montañez didn't share their pedigree. He wasn't an executive. He had no fancy degree. He had a 4th-grade-level education, and couldn't read or write.Montañez was a janitor. But he was a janitor with an idea — an idea that would make the company billions of dollars and become one of history's most celebrated and iconic snack foods: Flamin' Hot Cheetos.But first, he had to convince the world to hear him out.
Picking grapesMontañez grew up in the 1960s in Guasti, California, a tiny unincorporated farming town 40 miles east of Los Angeles.Under the sweltering Cucamonga Valley sun, his family — mother, father, grandfather, and 11 children — scraped together a meager living picking grapes, and slept together in a one-room cinderblock abode at the labor camp.As a first-generation Mexican immigrant at an all-white school, Montañez had access to few resources and struggled to understand his teachers. "I remember my mom getting me ready for school and I was crying," he later told Lowrider magazine. "I couldn't speak English."One day in class, the teacher went around the room asking each kid to name his or her dream job: Doctor… astronaut… veterinarian. When she called on Montañez, he froze."I realized I didn't have a dream," he says. "There was no dream where I came from."
The Cucamonga Valley region, in San Bernardino County, California, where Richard Montañez grew up (Image: Paul Hofer III)
Montañez soon stopped getting on the school bus and began boarding the work truck with his father and grandfather.After dropping out of school, he worked the fields in 110°F heat, and took on odd jobs slaughtering chickens at a poultry factory, washing cars, and picking weeds. With a 4th-grade-level education and few economic opportunities, Montañez saw no path out of poverty.Then, in 1976, a neighbor told him about a job opening that would change his life.
"There's no such thing as 'just a janitor'"Down the road, in Rancho Cucamonga, the Frito-Lay plant was looking for a janitor.At $4 per hour ($18 in 2019 dollars), the job paid many multiples of what Montañez made in the fields. It represented a better life — insurance, benefits, social mobility.Unable to read or write, the 18-year-old recruited his wife to help fill out an application. He journeyed down a dusty road, met with the hiring manager, and got the job.When he broke the news to his family, his grandfather imparted a piece of advice that would always stick with him: "Make sure that floor shines," the man told his grandson. "And let them know that a Montañez mopped it."Montañez decided he was going to be the "best janitor Frito-Lay had ever seen" — and he quickly made his presence known."Every time someone walked into a room, it would smell fresh," he says. "I realized there's no such thing as 'just a janitor' when you believe you're going to be the best."
The Frito-Lay plant in Bakersfield, California (via CLUI)
Montañez also developed the philosophy that "it's not about who you know — it's about who knows you."In between shifts, he set out to make himself seen, learning as much as he could about the company's products, spending time in the warehouse, and watching the machines churn out crunchy snacks in the lonely midnight hours.And eventually, his insatiable curiosity would pay off.
"I saw no products catering to Latinos"By the mid-1980s, Frito-Lay had fallen on tough times. As a way to boost morale, then-CEO Roger Enrico recorded a video message and disseminated it to the company's 300k employees.In the video, Enrico encouraged every worker at the company to "act like an owner." Most employees brushed it off as a management cliché; Montañez took it to heart."Here's my invitation… here's the CEO telling me, the janitor, that I can act like an owner," he later recalled. "I didn't know what I was going to do. Didn't need to. But I knew I was going to act like an owner."After nearly a decade mopping floors, Montañez gathered the courage to ask one of the Frito-Lay salesmen if he could tag along and learn more about the process.They went to a convenience store in a Latino neighborhood — and while the salesman restocked inventory, Montañez made a fortuitous observation: "I saw our products on the shelves and they were all plain: Lay's, Fritos, Ruffles," he recalls. "And right next to these chips happened to be a shelf of Mexican spices."In that moment, he realized that Frito-Lay had "nothing spicy or hot."A few weeks later, Montañez stopped at a local vendor to get some elote, a Mexican street corn doused in chili powder, salt, cotija, lime juice, and crema fresca. Cob in hand, a "revelation" struck: What if I put chili on a Cheeto?
Elote, the Mexican corn treat that inspired Flamin' Hot Cheetos (via Vallarta Supermarkets)
Introduced to the world in 1948, Cheetos — crunchy corn-based nuggets coated in cheese-flavored powder — were a flagship product of Frito-Lay. And while they were popular among California's growing base of Latino consumers, the company had yet to consider re-tailoring the product's taste profile."Nobody had given any thought to the Latino market," recalls Montañez. "But everywhere I looked, I saw it ready to explode."So, Montañez heeded the CEO's words and "acted like an owner."Working late one night at the production facility, he scooped up some Cheetos that hadn't yet been dusted in cheese. He took them home and, with the help of his wife, covered them in his own concoction of chili powder and other "secret" spices.When he handed them out to family members and friends, the snacks were met with universal enthusiasm. He just needed a bigger audience...
So he called the CEO"I was naive," Montañez later said. "I didn't know you weren't supposed to call the CEO... I didn't know the rules."Finding Roger Enrico's phone number was easy enough: It was listed in a company directory. He rang the line, and was put through to the chief's executive assistant:"Mr. Enrico's office. Who is this?""Richard Montañez.""What division are you with?""I work at the Rancho Cucamonga plant.""Oh, you're the VP of operations?""No, I work inside the plant.""You're the plant manager?""I'm the janitor."The assistant paused for what seemed like an eternity. "One moment."
Richard Montañez, via Twitter
Then, a voice on the other line: "Hello, this is Roger."Montañez told the CEO he'd heeded the call to action. He'd studied the company's products, identified a demand in the market, and even crafted his own rudimentary snacks in his kitchen.Enrico loved the ingenuity: He told the janitor he'd be at the plant in 2 weeks and asked him to prepare a presentation.Moments after Montañez hung up the phone, the plant manager stormed up to him. "He said, 'Who do you think you are? Who let the janitor call the CEO?'" recalls Montañez. "Then he said, 'YOU'RE doing this presentation!'"
The birth of the Hot CheetoMontañez was 26 years old. In his words, he couldn't read or write very well and had no knowledge about how to formulate a business proposal.But he wasn't about to give up.Accompanied by his wife, he went to the library, found a book on marketing strategies, and copied the first 5 paragraphs word for word onto transparencies. At home, he filled 100 plastic baggies with his homemade treats, sealed them with a clothing iron, and manually drew a logo and design on each package.On the day of the presentation, he bought a $3 tie — black with blue and red stripes — and had his neighbor knot it for him. As he gathered the bags, his wife stopped him near the door: "Don't forget who you are."
Hot Cheetos, in all their saturated glory (Frito-Lay)
Montañez stepped into the boardroom. "Here I was," he says, "a janitor presenting to some of the most highly qualified executives in America."At one point during the presentation, an executive in the room interjected: "How much market share do you think you can get?""It hit me that I had no idea what he was talking about, or what I was doing," Montañez recalled. "I was shaking, and I damn near wanted to pass out…[but] I opened my arms and I said, 'This much market share!' I didn't even know how ridiculous that looked."The room went silent as the CEO stood up and smiled. "Ladies and gentlemen, do you realize we have an opportunity to go after this much market share?" he said, stretching out his arms.He turned to Montañez. "Put that mop away, you're coming with us."
Feeling hot, hot, hotSix months later, with Montañez's help, Frito-Lay began testing Flamin' Hot Cheetos in small Latino markets in East Los Angeles.If it performed well, the company would move forward with the product; if it didn't, they'd scratch it — and Montañez would likely return to janitorial duties. This was his one shot, and some folks didn't want things to work out for him."It seemed there was a group of [executives] who wanted it to fail," he later told the podcast, The Passionate Few. "They thought I got lucky. They were paid big bucks to come up with these ideas... they didn't want some janitor to do it."
Montañez signs a young fan's Hot Cheeto bag (@daliaabbas9, via Deskgram)
So Montañez assembled a small team of family members and friends, went to the test markets, and bought every bag of Hot Cheetos he could find."I'd tell the owner, 'Man, these are great,'" he recalled. "Next week, I'd come back and there'd be a whole rack."In 1992, Flamin' Hot Cheetos were greenlit for a national release. And in short order, the snack became one of the most successful product launches in Frito-Lay history.
From janitor to VPToday, Flamin' Hot Cheetos are one of Frito-Lay's hottest-selling commodities — a multi-billion-dollar snack celebrated by everyone from Katy Perry to middle-schoolers on meal vouchers. There's even a rap song about them.And Montañez is no longer sweeping floors: Over a 35-year career, the former janitor rose through the corporate ranks and is now the vice president of multicultural sales for PepsiCo America (the holding company of Frito-Lay).Before Montañez joined the executive team, Frito-Lay had only 3 Cheeto products; since then, the company has launched more than 20, each worth $300m+.Recognized by Newsweek and Fortune as one of the most influential Hispanic leaders in America, Montañez is a gifted speaker who often tours the country giving keynotes. And soon, his story will hit the silver screen: Fox Searchlight Pictures is currently working on a biopic about his life, appropriately titled "Flamin' Hot."He still lives in Rancho Cucamonga, where he gives back to his community through a nonprofit he launched, and teaches MBA classes at a nearby college.Recently, a student asked him how he was teaching without a Ph.D."I do have a Ph.D.," he responded. "I've been poor, hungry and determined."
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