Nov. 21, 2019

Speaking Truth to Power with Hydra Mendoza

Suppose you step away from work for awhile for personal reasons. Does this have to set you back? The answer is NO! It actually can propel you forward.  

On this episode, Hydra Mendoza shares how she used time away from work to develop skills, cultivate a new passion, and find her voice. All of these, especially her ability to speak truth to power, led to big opportunities she never dreamed of for herself.

Meet the Guest
Hydra Mendoza has served Mayors Gavin Newsom and Edwin Lee in San Francisco, and Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York City as their Senior Education Advisor, Deputy Chief of Staff for Education and Equity, and Deputy Chancellor for the Division of Community Empowerment, Partnerships and Communications, respectively.

Hydra was the first and only Filipina ever elected to office in San Francisco. In 2006, 2010, and 2014, Hydra successfully won a citywide bid and re-elections for a seat on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education where she was elected by her peers, twice, as the President and Vice President.

Hydra has been honored by many local, state, and national organizations including Pin@y Educational Partnerships, College Track, Mission Economic Development Agency, San Francisco State University, California Association for Bilingual Education, Filipina Woman’s Network – 100 Most Influential Filipinas, and Donor Network West.

Hydra is the current Chief of Strategic Relationships for the Chairman and co-CEO of Salesforce.

Hydra has two adult children and lives with her husband in the Bayview community in San Francisco.


Beth Davies:        It's not uncommon to be doing one thing in your career and then discover you want to be doing something completely different. It's a big, swooping career curve that can be both scary and exciting. It's also exactly the experience of our guest today.

Welcome to Career Curves where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got where they are. I'm your host Beth Davies.

Today we're joined by Hydra Mendoza who has held top level positions in education including deputy chancellor in the New York City Department of Education and president of the San Francisco School Board. She didn't start her career in education, but rather discovered this passion… Hold on, wait a minute…

Hydra, you're sitting right here. Why don't I let you tell this story. I'm really happy to have you here with me.

 Hydra Mendoza:      Great. Thanks so much for having me.

 Beth:  I'd like to start by getting to know you and starting all the way back with growing up. Tell me about your family and where you grew up.

 Hydra: Sure. So my father was in the military for 28 years and that's actually how we got to the United States. He grew up in the Philippines with my mom. In 1965, my dad was stationed in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and I was born there. And then five years later, my brother was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

We spent our entire childhood traveling all over the countries. We lived in Guam and in Germany and in Texas, and just had this really wonderful life of traveling around and being amongst a lot of other army brats.

I also had three older sisters that were born and raised in the Philippines. So we had kind the immigrant side of our family and then my brother and I who were born in the States, who were raised just very differently.

So it was interesting when all five of us were at home having a dynamic of those who lived in the Philippines and grew up poor and in a village, and then those of us who had the privilege of being born in the States and having all the luxuries that we had.

 Beth:  When you think about that experience and where your career is today, do you make any connection to the career you've built and that early start?

 Hydra: Sure, I think part of the way I grew up, because we traveled all the time, we had to make new friends wherever we went. We had to adjust – new home, new friends, new school. All of those things helped me to be a lot more outgoing.

 Beth:  What about career messages as you were growing up. Were you given any messages from either of your parents about what you could or should be as you became a professional?

 Hydra: Yeah, absolutely. My father and I are very close. He's always been my hero. But, even while he was serving in the military, he always had an extra job or two in the evening. He would clean offices or he would be a bouncer at the local dance club that the GIs all went to. So he always had som ething on the side. And it was interesting to hear him talk about, as an immigrant, wanting to be able to take advantage of every opportunity that he had and to do as much as he could for his family.

That's where my work ethic came from. I think watching him and wanting to use every hour of my day is something that I do now. I don't have side hustles like he had because mostly the jobs that I've had have been all time-consuming, but everything he did, whether he was cleaning offices or doing HR, which is the work that he did in the military, he did it with perfection. He always wanted to make sure he was making connections. If people were still at the office when he was cleaning, he wouldn't just come and empty garbages, he would sit and chat with them for a little while.

And whenever I went with him, he paid me. I got a dollar for every visit that I went to, but I also had to do my share of work. I think those were the kinds of things that started me off in terms of thinking of career. I was always the one that would, whenever we had fundraisers, be the one that would bring the most money because I had the work ethic in me already at a very young age.

My first job was my own paper route in the fifth grade. On weekends when the papers were a lot larger, I would pay a couple of my friends to come and throw the papers with me, so I had a little bit of an enterprise going on. During the week, I would do it myself and then on weekends, I'd share the love and pay my friends. We got to do it as a team.

It was those little things that kind of…

 Beth:  Send big messages.

 Hydra: Send big messages.

 Beth:  There's another little message in there that was a big message. You said that you would do some work for him and he would pay you. Or you would recruit some others to help you and you would pay them. So early on too, you were getting a message that said there is an exchange that goes here and that place a value on the work that you're doing.

 Hydra: Yeah, and it gave me an incentive to think about the kinds of things that I wanted to. Like, what was I saving my money for? Or what were the kinds of things that I could now do that I wouldn't have been able to do before? And that would make me want to ask for more shifts with my dad or can we go do something else?

 Beth:  Right, so creating even that motivation.

 Hydra: Yeah.

 Beth:  So then, as you're finishing up high school, what were you thinking you were going to do or be when you grew up and how did that influence what you studied in school?

 Hydra: So this whole moving around thing was very intense in high school because I went to four different high schools because we were moving around quite a bit. So I started in Germany and I ended in San Francisco. That's actually how I landed in San Francisco and have spent the last 37 years there.

My senior year of high school, I was over-credited because I had been to so many other high schools and so I only had to take two classes. I was done at 11:00am at Washington High School.

 Beth:  You were the envy of every other high school student.

 Hydra: Yeah, they're like, "What do you mean you get to leave now?" So, I took more credit but it was work experience, so I got more credit to go take a job.

 Beth:  And what was the job?

 Hydra: I began as an assistant to a law firm. I would take documents from this law firm and bring them down to City Hall to get filed with the Assessor's office because we were doing real estate law. And then, as that career started – or that "job" because I was looking at it as just a job at that time – to add more responsibility, I got a lot more engaged in this idea of maybe law is the path that I want to go down.

But, I was also an athlete in my high school years, so I also was very engaged in sports. I loved sports and that was the thing my dad and I would always do. We'd go to boxing matches or football games. I was his pal in that regard. The commentating that we would do at these games that we were at also had me want to go into journalism or do some kind of reporting. So that was always the question: Do I want to pursue a career in journalism or is law something that I think I could be really good at?

Then ended up going into business.

 Beth:  How did you make that decision?

 Hydra: While I was in school, I worked the whole time. So from high school and then going to Cal, all of that was done while I was working for this law firm. They helped me pay for college. And so all of that I learned and thought about in terms of what do… I mean, what am I going to do? I'm not going to stay here for the rest of my life or maybe I am? I don't know. But what can I glean from this job that translates into my academics and then what can I do academically that would help me with this job?

 Beth:  So you were really seeing this synergy between the two of them.

 Hydra: Exactly. It's interesting to see now how my experiences working and going to school has influenced the way I talk to my own kids about making decisions to do one or the other because they're not trying to do both. I've said to them, if you do both, it would make me a lot more comfortable because then I know that you're not just pursuing this one thing. That was really helpful for me to make some decisions around what to do next.

 Then, I got engaged.

 Beth:  While you were still in college, you got engaged?

 Hydra: While I was still in school and while I was still working for the law firm, I had gotten engaged. And that brought me to Boston.

So I was living in Boston with my fiance at the time who had matched at Mass General. He was doing an anesthesiology internship and residency. So I took my skills from the seven year job that I had and worked for a real estate company in Boston. They had me doing loan workouts.

 Beth:  What's a "loan workout"?

 Hydra: It's when you talk with somebody. They're about to go into foreclosure or they're about to go into default, and you want to talk with them about all of their encumbrances, all of their debt. How do we minimize their debt so they can save their house or save their car or whatever it is that somebody's coming after them for?

 Beth:  So at this point, you're essentially giving people advice about their life and helping them work through challenges. You're in your early 20s, if I'm figuring this out right. How did you establish credibility in that type of a situation? Because I imagine it's common that people step into jobs that feel bigger than them or almost feel like somebody should be older than they are in that role. So how did you establish credibility?

 Hydra: Yeah, and that one was really tough for me because I can remember situations where I was responsible for people. I was managing a small team and when they came to me about situations that I had no experience in, it hadn't happened to me myself, I didn't talk this through with anyone else. They would come to me about these situations and I didn't really know how to come up with a professional answer. And so my responses were oftentimes more personal, and I think that that's how I established the credibility.

But oftentimes, when I'm trying to sort out a situation, I try to not approach it from a, "Well, what am I going to do about this?" It's a, "Well, what do you think we should do about this?" Or, "What's been your experience? How do we problem solve and find a solution?"

Because everybody brings a different perspective to the table and I think that's what I learned early on. I only bring so much to the solution and other people have had different experiences that can add to the solution that we're trying to find. And so that's been my approach.

 Beth:  It sounds like it's a combination of "I'm going to be authentic in recognizing my own limitations and then I'm going to be inclusive in asking you and involving you and together we'll problem solve this."

 Hydra: Exactly, and that's been my approach in every position that I've been in.

 Beth:  Interesting. Now you didn't end up staying in real estate or in this loan part. So tell me what happened. Why didn't you and how did you make a move out?

 Hydra: So I got a broken heart and decided to move back. My fiance and I decided that, "You know what? This West Coast / East Coast thing is really different and it's really been a strain on our relationship. You're here for the long haul" because he was doing his internship and residency. He was going to be there for six years and I just could not see myself there for six years.

So I came back home. I came back to San Francisco and did a few odd-and-end things. I really wanted to think about what I wanted to do.

There was a group of friends that I'd worked with in the industry that wanted to start their own company. So I became part of that for a couple of years. We started our own foreclosure company and we were doing all of this work.

Then, a few years later, I met someone else who I ended up marrying and then having kids. And then took some time off. I had the luxury of being home with my kids for five years.

 Beth:  I'd love to ask you about that for a moment. There are plenty of people who are afraid to take time off.

 Hydra: Right.

 Beth:  They're afraid of the gap that that's going to create in their resume. Knowing that you're as driven as you are and have the work ethic that you do from your father, how did you process through that and make yourself okay with the idea of taking that time off?

 Hydra: Yeah, so that was really tricky. It was early in our marriage, too. We weren't making a lot of money and this idea of not having two incomes was always heavy. But then this idea of being able to spend time with my first – and then our son followed two years later – and to be able to be home for this stretch was also such a privilege and probably one of the hardest jobs I've ever had.

I just learned a lot in terms of being organized, doing event planning, the way in which I started to talk to my children. With children, you had to really think about where they were coming from, what knowledge they already had, and then how you presented to them. And that was yet another skillset that I used in executive roles that I've played. It's also a reminder that everybody that we interact with has their own learning style and their own work style, and so how do I adapt to that as a leader? So that part was really interesting.

And I think as a household there was a little bit of the, "Well, these are now your responsibilities, and then I'll go and make the money." And I think that a little bit harder for me to adjust to because these were more kind of traditional roles that people expected…

 Beth:  Gender-specific?

 Hydra: Gender-specific. Or, it's funny, there would be times when I would have my daughter in the playground and someone would come up and say, "Oh, who do you work for? You know, so then I was…

 Beth:  As if you were the nanny?

 Hydra: As if I were the nanny because no woman would be taking time off to take care of their child and be at the playground with them. Like why would you do that? So there was a lot of questioning my own self-worth and the confidence that I had built over the years and what was I going to do with that?

 Beth:  What I love that you did do is recognize the skills that you were building. I think a lot of people look at the time off as almost like… Not wasted years because there is the family time, but as if there's no skill building. And so I really appreciate you're calling out that there still is a lot of growth and skills that can translate into work even when you're doing work that doesn't earn a paycheck.

 Hydra: Right. I mean simple things like budgeting. We never had to budget before, but now we have one income so now we have to budget differently. But this is also where I transitioned into education.

 Beth:  At some point you had to decide, "All right, it's time for me to go back to work" and I'd love to know about that transition especially because it does take you into education. So what happened?

 Hydra: So it actually started when my daughter was really young. Here I was a young mother. Nobody teaches you this stuff and I had no idea like what approach I should take. I really wanted to do a good job as a mom and since I had the privilege of being home, I wanted to make the most of it. So, I saw a flyer or something at City College about a brain development class, a child development class. It was about specifically about the brain.

I said, "You know what, I am going to go take this class because it seems fascinating and I want to be able to understand instead of just looking through the first 10 year book of Dr. Spock" or whatever it was at the time. What are the other things I should be thinking about? How do I help make her more cognitive and more linguistic and all of these things. The first place to start would be with brain development.

So I took this amazing class with Nina Mogar, she was the professor. Her class had a waiting list; she apparently was the top star over at City College. It was an evening class, so I could go and do this. And I loved it, just devoured the information. I wanted to know more, so I started, not really consciously, but just taking more of her classes and other classes. Here now I'm on child #2 and I've got 70 units of early childhood education under my belt.

 Beth:  So you weren't necessarily taking these with the idea of getting a degree or anything like that….

 Hydra: No.

 Beth:  You were purely doing this out of interest,

 Hydra: Interest, total interest. Another space that I'd never dreamed of. I'm learning so much and then watching it in action because I've got these two kids in front of me that are doing all these things that I'm reading about and then I'm testing some of my theories on them and it's just fascinating.

Then my youngest starts to go to preschool. We choose a cooperative nursery school because now we as the parents have this opportunity to take a slot to teach. So this is how I started teaching preschool was through her cooperative. And, because I was certified and had my credentials, I could sub for the director. So whenever she was out, I had the opportunity to run the school.

 Beth:  When did you actually say, "Wait a moment, this is more than for me, just about my parental contribution and this is now actually my next career curve?"

 Hydra: So that actually, as in many of the roles that I've played, wasn't something that I recognized and pursued. It was something that someone else recognized and asked me.

 Beth:  Tell me more about that.

 Hydra: When my daughter went to public school in San Francisco, we were on a wait list even though there were spots at the school, which made no sense to me. So already I was kind of annoyed that this was happening. "How do parents go through this?" And, "This doesn't make any sense." So I started making a little noise around that, just asking questions. Even before my daughter was accepted to the school that we ended up at, these parents had heard that I was inquiring because they had the same concerns. They had said, "You know, you should join the PTA. And so, before we were even at the school, we were already participating in a PTA that we didn't even know our kid was going to go to, which was a little wacky, but it was a great group of families to be around and to really start thinking about some of the challenges and how do we solve for them.

I'm not a complainer. I don't go down and say, "You know, you haven't finished this or you didn't do that" without coming with some kind of a solution.

 Beth:  Which is actually probably why they turned to you to say, "Will you get involved with this?" Because here's somebody who's going to help us solve, not just somebody who's going to complain.

 Hydra: Yeah, I think so. We were in a school that used to be considered a low performing school. It had a high dominance of native speakers, so there wasn't a large English population there. It wasn't very diverse in terms of socioeconomics. So coming into a school like that and it was a Spanish immersion program – a new Spanish immersion program – and having been raised with sisters who spoke my parents' home language when my brother and I did not, it was really important for our kids to have their home language, which was Spanish. Their father's Puerto Rican and Italian, and so Spanish was a language that was offered and we thought it was really important for them to be able to have their home language. That's how we ended up at that school.

So fast forward a little bit, I served on the PTA, I was the co-chair of the School Site Council, and then I was one of the first founding members of an organization called Parents for Public Schools. That was really taking families and bringing them back into the public school system because we were really losing families from the public school system. So we were recruiting families into the public school system.

 So, again, utilizing my skillset of meeting and greeting, and the outgoingness…

 Beth:  Relationship building,

 Hydra: Relationship building, organizing, bringing people together to both celebrate and to problem solve. So all of those things kind of came to me in this new role as a parent leader in my kid's school.

And then, this organization that we started, Parents for Public Schools, the executive director ended up going to go work for the school district. People came to me and said, "You know, you should run Parents for Public Schools" and then this is how it became that time when I actually go back to work. Because I'm still raising two young kids and I'm volunteering at the school, but I'm not working full time anywhere. I'm working, but not in a career.

 Beth:  But much of this stuff you were doing wasn't for pay.

 Hydra: Right. It was for all the kids in that school. So then I took on this role and and started to get recognized by the school district itself. They see this new parent leader who's coming, wants to be a critical friend but doesn't want to rubber stamp everything that the school district is doing. And again, coming up with solutions.

 So Arlene Ackerman, who was the superintendent at the time, asked me to be part of her cabinet, her parent cabinet, so I started to sit on this. I went from PTA to School Site Council to this larger policy body to help the superintendent think about ways to improve the public school system. So now I'm learning about policy, which was not in my bailiwick at all. I'm learning how to bring issues to the table, think about how it fits into the system, looking for the resources in order to implement, and then translating that into policy so that the school district can start doing some things that actually benefit the parents. This was the parent voice now that was starting to show up in our school district, which had been muted for a very long time.

That was an exciting moment because now I'm talking to all the muckety mucks who are making these decisions and sharing with them what I'm hearing on the ground.

 Beth:  What I hear in your story so far is a lot of your recognizing that from your life experiences you are acquiring skills and perspective that had value to others and that you weren't then shy about bringing that to the table and adding impact and value through it. Did you have any moments where you doubted yourself because this wasn't what you had studied?

 Hydra: Oh yeah. Every day.

 Beth:  And how did you manage through that?

 Hydra: I think I realized that as kind of the default representative of the entire school or this parent body or these students that were being thwarted from having something at their school site, that if I'm standing there in front of a leader and I'm not telling them what it is that we need than who is telling them?

 Beth:  So, frankly, if you'd gone back to school and gotten more of a formal education in this, you almost would then have the same perspective that they have.

 Hydra: Exactly.

 Beth:  As opposed to saying, "Wait, I've got a unique perspective and I'm going to keep sticking with that. And that's my strength."

 Hydra: Exactly. I think the connection to the community has always been my strength. No matter what role I've gone into, the community perspective is the one that people would come to and say, "What are you hearing? What do you know?"

And when I was running Parents for Public Schools, we had a big general meeting right around the time of elections. There was this group of mayoral candidates that were coming through and making their stops at various places. So Gavin Newsom was our guest at our annual meeting and he came and talked about his perspective on education.

 Beth:  He was a candidate for mayor at the time.

 Hydra: He was a candidate for mayor at the time. Young, not married, without any kids, and so coming into our meeting was really fascinating for him because this was a whole new group of people he'd never interacted with. They were throwing things at him that he couldn't really respond to. He pulled me out of the meeting afterwards and he just was like, "Can you give me the lowdown on what just happened?"

I had no connection to him. I had no idea who he was. He was one of many candidates that had been coming through, but he was the only one that stopped me and said, "Help me understand what's happening here. Who are all these people, like I've never seen them," which reminded me that when you surround yourself with the same people, you're going to get the same results and you're not really going to get the perspectives that I've been talking about. So, that was our first encounter.

Fast forward a couple of months later, he wins. He's now the mayor of San Francisco and early into his administration, he starts to bring in advisors. He wanted a few community organizers on his team. So there were several of us that were now in an administration and sitting in this place of power with this ability to help influence policy. It was really cool to be in this place and in this kind of advisory role to him.

 Beth:  Was that actually a paid position then at this point?

 Hydra: It was.

 Beth:  So now you're actually working in city government.

 Hydra: Yes, so now I'm working in city government. I was interviewed by the chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff. I had no idea who these folks were. And so I didn't come in with any kind of a relationship or anything. It was funny because one of them was going through the process of entering the school system and so I was able to lay it all out because I had just helped hundreds of parents navigate the school system. And so I think he was very impressed with this idea of, "Oh my gosh, you just answered all these questions that I've been asking and nobody has been able to answer them for me. And so what if that's the role that the mayor's office had?

So we're now answering questions that people couldn't get out of anywhere else. It was such a privilege to be asked to come on onto the administration because it certainly was not where I imagined myself being.

 Beth:  You seem to be, and please correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be very comfortable talking truth to power.

 Hydra: Yeah.

 Beth:  Where does that come from?

 Hydra: You know, it's interesting. I think if you're not speaking truth to power, you will get called out very quickly. You see that with people that come into our communities. You see that when you're organizing to get some policies that are done. If those types of things are not truth to power and you're making stuff up or your values are skewed or you're not sticking to what really means a lot to you, it shows.

Going into elected office was also something that I kind of stumbled into. Was not my plan. I had never run for office except for fifth grade when I ran for fire marshall. But it was the mayor at the time who said, "Oh, by the way, we need somebody on the inside. If we're going to partner with the school district, we need somebody who's going to be telling us what's happening and not waiting until they're in a hole or there's a problem. We want to be proactive and we want to be able to partner with them."

And I said, that's a great idea. You should definitely get somebody to run for school board.

 And he said, "No, no, I'm talking about you."

 There was just no way. I was like, "You're crazy. There's no way I'm running for office in San Francisco and it's a city-wide race. There is no way."

 Beth:  So not only had you not seen yourself in policy and then you hadn't seen yourself in government as an advisor to a mayor, now he's talking about, no, we actually want you in government as an elected official.

 Hydra: Correct.

 Beth:  So you did decide to run?

 Hydra: "Decide" I think is a strong word or maybe saying, "I decided," because it was not my decision as the way that I approached it. This was just not something that I really wanted to do.

 Beth:  But then why did you do it?

 Hydra: There were people that really believed in me. Most of my career moves haven't been because of things that I've thought about and I want to go do that and I'm going to go figure out how to get there. They've all been because somebody has seen something in me and has said, "We're going to get behind you. We're going to support you and this is going to be great. And you're going to be great at it," which is not how I view myself.

The mayor said, "I'll back you. We will have everybody help you do this. We know that you're new at this, but you're genuine. You're authentic."

There was a very balanced reputation that I had and that I was a problem solver and not one that was going to throw people under the bus in order to get whatever it was that we needed to get.

 Beth:  The entire embodiment of who you now were was unique and exactly what he wanted and the city needed.

 Hydra: Exactly. So there were 16 candidates for three seats and I finished second. So, three women of color won and we just hit the ground running and it was really, really dynamic.

 Beth:  Congratulations.

 Hydra: And then the following mayor when Gavin moved on to become Lieutenant Governor, the new mayor that came in kept me on as his advisor. We had some great momentum because we were building a partnership with the school district. Here in New York, it's mayoral control. We didn't have. We didn't have mayoral control in San Francisco, so we had to work side by side with the school district because we couldn't take over them and they had an independent board, which means they didn't really have to listen to us either.

So what were we bringing to the table? It was the services and supports that our families needed that we as a city could provide that the school district had no jurisdiction over. So, it was an interesting relationship. Here I was as a policymaker on the school board and then a policymaker on the city side. That was my day job. There was always this question about conflict of interest and I had to get a letter from the city attorney to be able to do this, but I always looked at it as a complement of interest and not a conflict of interest. Whether it was paying teachers more, building teacher housing, increasing the language acquisition pool, whatever it was, it was going to benefit both the city and the school district.

 Beth:  Yeah, I see it. You're using your relationship skills and your problem solving skills to say that the best solutions lie in bringing together both what the city has and what the school board coming from the state then has.

 Hydra: Exactly.

 Beth:  And how long did you stay in this type of role and doing work of this capacity?

 Hydra: I was in the administration for five months when Mayor Newsom asked me to run for school board. So I had these parallel tracks for the entire longevity of my term in the mayor's office. That's where I started and then stayed on the school board up until the untimely death of Mayor Lee.

That was that turning point. This is one of those first times that I stopped and said, "What am I going to do next?"

 Beth:  So how did you decide what to do next for yourself?

 Hydra: Yeah, so it was really interesting. San Francisco has been my home and I really wanted to stay in the city somewhere. One of the things that I'd been able to build over the course of time were some really strong relationships with philanthropy. I was raising millions of dollars for the school district.

I talked to one of the department heads and said, "This is what I can bring to the table. You already give out $75 million in grants to community based organizations across the city. I want to build the relationships for you with philanthropy to double what you've got or at least to leverage what you've got so that our cities are a lot more effective because now they're getting a lot more money, a lot more support, and we're streamlining what it is that's important to us. We're lining up our priorities so you don't have money all over the place." So that was the job I was going to go to. I was going to be a director of strategic partnerships for the city and build those relationships until I got a call from the Chancellor here in New York.

 Beth: Oh, so you had designed that job but never stepped into it. And so what appealed to you when you got the call from the Chancellor of New York?

 Hydra: It was a friend. I was his boss for upwards of seven years.

 Beth:  So somebody from the San Francisco schools?

 Hydra: Correct. He was the Superintendent at the time. So when he called it was a friend. "Hey, I'm in New York now. I'm reorganizing the entire DOE and there are some areas that I want to build out and I'm wondering if you could help me with the JDs. So he wanted me…

 Beth:  So the job descriptions? Using you as a thinking partner for the Department of Education?

 Hydra: Exactly. So he sends me the job description, I look at it and it was a communications and public affairs position. And I said, "So what do you want to do?"

 He's like, "Well, we really need to connect with the community. We need to get more information out. We need to do this, this and that, and we want to empower families. We want to build partnerships."

 I'm like, "Okay, but this is communications and public affairs. All those things you just described does not get you what you want." So I revamped the JD for him and said, "I think this is really what you're looking for," and sent it back.

He called me shortly and he said, "Would you consider this? I think you would be phenomenal on this."

And so, to wrap things up, it's my role as a parent, as a communicator, as a teacher, as an elected, as an advisor. Having dealt with philanthropy and having dealt with electeds, being able to create policy, being able to implement – those are all the things he was looking for. So I was the unicorn because all of the departments that I run are press, communications, marketing, community affairs, intergovernmental affairs, translation and interpretation. These are all things that I'd been able to do in the span of my career. So coming here I had a little bit of a lot and was able to take on this role with a lot of confidence.

 Beth:  So even though you say it's a unicorn, it actually is allowing you to be your complete you.

 Hydra: Exactly.

 Beth:  Very cool.

We are just about out of time, but I've got a couple of last questions that I'd love to ask you. What would you say is the smartest career move that you made, whether intentionally or accidentally?

 Hydra: Running for school board. I really did not believe I could do this. It hit a number of different things: it hit my confidence level; it hit this idea of being able to influence policy. The impact that we've been able to make in this role has been tremendous. I think about the thousands and thousands and thousands of kids that I've been able to say, "I did that policy. I helped to move the needle on this. Test scores are high. Our graduation rates are higher. Or internships are more. We've raised more money," because I was on the school board as a leader that was elected by the people.

 Beth:  Yes! So you can say, "I made an impact. I've got a legacy."

 Hydra: Yeah.

 Beth:  If you could have one do-over, what would it be and why?

 Hydra: Hmm. I don't know if I would do anything over, quite frankly. Everything has led to the next thing. I'm in such a great place. Working in the New York City public schools is somewhat of dream job and I think if I were to do something over, I wouldn't be here.

 Beth:  What's one piece of career advice that you wish you could have given to your younger self?

 Hydra: You are just as important and relevant as anyone else at the table. That hesitation when I first started having a seat at the table, wondering if I was going to say something smart enough or wondering if I was actually going to contribute to the conversation, was always on my mind. This idea that people were judging me slowed me down in terms of wanting to contribute and to interact and engage. So, if I could rewind that a little bit, that's exactly what I'd say: You are at the table for a reason. You should absolutely be giving voice to your perspective.

 Beth:  And last question, how do you define success?

 Hydra: I define it by the impact that I've made on others. So for me, it's not about who I am or what awards I've gotten or whatever the kudos piece has been. For me, it's have I impacted a family's life? Have I seen a kid through college and now they're doing these amazing things? As I meet parents on a regular basis and I get invited to birthday parties or to skating competitions, I feel like I've been enveloped in other people's lives and that to me is what success looks like. It makes me feel like I've been adopted into something that's bigger than me and it's been impactful, and people feel where my heart comes from and that I'm willing to do the work that needs to happen in order to get them to where they want to be.

 Beth:  I love that. I love that.

 Hydra, thank you so much. I've so enjoyed getting to know you and hearing your story and I think yet another way that you'll have impact is by inspiring people through your story. So thank you very much.

 Hydra: Thank you. This was great.