José Antonio Rico is the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Named to his post on Dec. 7, 2011, Rico helps carry out President Obama's efforts to improve the academic achievement of Hispanic students. He came to the Department as a senior adviser in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education on April 29, 2009, and most recently served as the White House Initiative's deputy director since Feb. 1, 2010.
Born in the small town of Jeruco, México, 7-year-old José and his brother, Carlos, immigrated to the United States, where his father was a railroad worker and his mother was a housewife. His sister, Florentina, was born after the family settled in Chicago.
Rico attended public schools in Chicago and graduated from the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, where he made the dean's list and won a full-ride scholarship to study mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois–Urbana. After a six-month internship as a staff engineer at Amoco during his senior year, Rico realized he'd lost interest in engineering and, in 1993, took a job as a science teacher at Chicago's Latino Youth Alternative High School, where he taught for the next three years.
From 1995 to 1997, he served as the program director for Public Allies, a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to community service, and, during this time, in May 1996, he finished his bachelor's degree at Northeastern Illinois University.
In 1997, he went to work for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Rights, organizing its "Removing Barriers to Education" campaign, working with parents around the state to see that their children were not denied access to education.
Two years later, he was hired by the University of Illinois–Chicago's Small Schools Workshop to help develop small, innovative learning communities in public schools. During this time, he worked as a school improvement coach and on charter school projects with the Knowledge Works Foundation and the National Council of La Raza. While at UI–Chicago, he also completed a master's degree in curriculum instruction in 2003.
In 2004, while still working for UI–Chicago, Rico completed a second master's, this time in administration, at National-Louis University as a principal resident in the New Leaders for New Schools program.
As Chicago's Multicultural Arts High School opened in 2005, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan named Rico its first principal. It was quite an achievement, considering that 13 members of the Lawndale–Little Village neighborhood had gone on a 19-day hunger strike starting on Mother's Day weekend in 2001 to call attention to repeated delays by previous administrators in approving the school. Rico served as the founding principal of the school, which has 24 teachers and an enrollment of 350, until he joined ED in 2009.
Rico, his wife, Angélica, a registered nurse, and their daughter and two sons live in Washington, D.C., where the three children, a kindergartener, a second-grader, and a high school sophomore attend D.C. public schools.