Renatta Adan-Espinoza is challenging Councilwoman Jan Rodusky for the Group 4 seat on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council. The election will be held Tuesday, March 14.
Espinoza, founder and principal of the Academy for Positive Learning charter school in Lake Worth, is a member of the village’s Education Advisory Board. She has lived in Royal Palm Beach for 15 years.
Espinoza was born on Merritt Island, near Cape Canaveral, where her father worked as a NASA telecommunications engineer.
“In 1969, I saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon with the other astronauts. My dad was a big engineer at NASA, and in order to grow up in Merritt Island, which was a very small town, everybody knows everybody,” she recalled.
Her mother is from Ecuador, while her father is from Mexico.
“My inspiration and my idol is my father, David Adan,” she said. “When he came to this country, he learned English in six months. My father was determined to become something in his life.”
Espinoza recalled having a hard time in elementary school. “They did not like Hispanics in the school I attended,” she said. “I was discriminated against for being Hispanic, and it was very tough overcoming those problems.”
In response, she learned that nothing in life is given. “I had to work very hard, and when someone told me, ‘You can’t do it,’ I always did it,” she said.
Espinoza, who is married with two children, has a son, now 23, who was diagnosed with autism at age 4.
“My son was not able to communicate, and I learned to become his advocator,” she said. “I had to learn the ins and outs of having… a special-needs child.”
A political science major at Florida Atlantic University, Espinoza turned from her aspiration to become a lawyer to instead get a second degree in elementary education so she could help her son. “I’m finishing up my master’s degree now,” she said.
Her experience with her son led her to start her nonprofit charter school. Espinoza brought several parents and a couple of attorneys together to create a different type of school setting for high-functioning children on the autism spectrum. The K-8 school now has 134 students and teaches children with a wide range of learning disabilities. “I’m a big advocator when it comes to community schools, kids who are at risk, especially in high school,” she said.
Espinoza believes that she is the better candidate to serve on the council because of her communication abilities.
“I get the job done. If someone has a problem, I don’t say, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ I make sure I follow through on it,” she said. “I have a very good sense when it comes to education out here in Royal Palm Beach, and dealing with senior citizens, also. I have a senior citizen living with me, my mother-in-law.”
She is also active with her church, Our Lady Queen of the Apostles.
“I take the time, and I make this village personal,” Espinoza said. “I’ve lived here since 2002, and I want to see more young people coming in, kids who are going off to college and want to come back and work here and raise a family.”
Espinoza said her experience as an educator and child advocate will help her on the council due to her professional background and her outreach to people who are less fortunate. “I teach kids and I teach adults on how to give back to your community,” she said.
She added that her experience managing her school’s budget will help her on the council. “My budget is very tight,” she explained.
Espinoza acknowledged that the council has developed a strategic plan for Royal Palm Beach’s future but said that many residents are not aware of it. “You have to talk to your people because they are the ones who are bringing in the money and the ones who are paying out here, so we need to make sure that they know what’s happening here in the village,” she said.
Her goals over the next two years if elected include establishing an Alzheimer’s facility or senior citizens home. “There’s not one out here, and there is a need for it,” she said.
Espinoza also wants to get residents from all areas of the village involved with local government through more outreach. “When you have your West Fest or any of these community events, have a booth out and say, ‘Hey, stop by and let me tell you what has been going on in our village,’” she said.
Espinoza also wants to improve traffic conditions in the village.
“Traffic is the biggest thing,” she said, explaining that she has talked to residents who believe that Sparrow Drive, Sandpiper Avenue, Ponce de Leon Street and La Mancha Avenue are the worst areas.
She said she felt hurt at a recent meeting about traffic calming because residents felt that nothing was being done to reduce speeding and cut-through traffic on those streets, and they were tired of surveys and establishing requirements for petitions.
“Families feel that they can’t have their kids come out to play because they’re scared that their little ones are going to get hit,” Espinoza said. “You’ve got to come up with solutions. The best people are your public safety people.”
She was disappointed at a recent meeting at the way the council handled public discussion on the traffic calming study.
“A traffic study was already done,” Espinoza said. “Why are we doing it a second time? It frustrates your residents.”
One of her top issues, she added, is to attract businesses to fill empty commercial spaces in the village.
“You have a lot of buildings that are empty, and if you’re constructing new buildings, why don’t we get those other buildings filled out first?” she asked.
Espinoza thinks that council meetings are conducted well but could be better.
“In any type of business, there is always room for improvement,” she said. “You do have an opportunity to speak, you have three minutes to speak on any topic that is on the agenda or not on the agenda. However, people feel intimidated. Your average person who lives here, they don’t attend those meetings. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t understand government, and you’ve got to really educate them.”
Espinoza said communication is the key to make sure residents know what’s going on, and she believes that the village could do a better job at that.
She said she has attended several strategic planning sessions where residents provide input on what they want their community to look like.
“You just can’t stay back and say, ‘OK, government will take care of itself,’” she said. “That’s not how it works. Everybody has to pitch in and do something.”
If elected, she said she would bring her knowledge of education to the council, something that she does not see in other council members.
“I’ll be asking a lot of questions, because this is going to be new for me,” Espinoza said. “I’m not just going to educate myself, I’m going to educate the residents of Royal Palm Beach.”
Being a school principal is a demanding job, as is being a council member, but Espinoza is ready for the challenge.
“My governing board already knows that my full-time job if elected is going to be councilwoman,” she said. “I can work part-time as a principal of my school. My school has been going really well for 13 years, and they are very supportive.”
Espinoza noted that she draws a lot of support from residents when she tells them she is an educator, and encourages them to join her in a more active government. Her vision for the future of Royal Palm Beach is for it to remain a family-friendly place.
Espinoza knows her strengths and weaknesses. “My weakness is I never shut up. I can go on and on and on,” she said. “My strength is education and budget. My strength is asking questions, not being afraid, not being intimidated. I have no problem with people criticizing me and accepting it.”
She said her opponent’s strength is her grant-writing abilities at her job with the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.
“I know what she does for the cultural centers, for the arts,” she said. “It benefits for everybody, not just for the village.”
However, Espinoza believes her opponent’s weakness is that she has not been out on the side of the village where Espinoza lives, in Seminole Lakes.
“I feel like they neglect us,” she said, referring to village officials.
She said voters should vote for her because she is a strong-willed person and will get the job done.
“I’m very passionate about what I do, and I want the people to believe in me,” Espinoza said. “I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, but I want to do what’s right for the residents.”
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