New East Bay school to be named after Latino educator, early leader in bilingual teaching

New East Bay school to be named after Latino educator, early leader in bilingual teaching

Brentwood’s newest public school – the first in more than a decade – will be named after a longtime retired educator who is still helping the community: Isaac “Ike” Montañez.

The elementary school, which is under construction on Smith Road near Lone Tree Way, broke ground in the spring and is scheduled to initially open with 500 students for the 2024-25 school year. Paid for with Measure B bonds, the $78 million school will be Brentwood Union School District’s 13th one, joining its existing eight elementary, three middle schools and one virtual academy.

School trustees unanimously approved the school’s naming last week in honor of the 87-year-old Montañez, who worked for the district for some 30 years and for Mt. Diablo Unified School District before that.

“Today we’re celebrating somebody who’s had one of the most profound influences on me since I’ve been here,” Brentwood Union School District Superintendent Dana Eaton said of Montañez.

Eaton later said the naming of the school was “a deeply touching tribute to an incredible member of our community.”

“As superintendent, I am so proud that we will have a school building that has Mr. Montañez’s name on the front,” he said. “He will be a wonderful role model to all of the students that attend.”

Montañez was the city’s first Mexican-American school principal – working at both Ron Nunn and Garin Elementary schools – a school trustee for five years, a bilingual teacher and administrator, pioneering one of the state’s first bilingual school programs. The son of a farmworker, Montanez worked in the fields as a youth, but his mother stressed the importance of education and he went on to earn his master’s in school administration.

Even decades after his retirement, Montañez volunteered for an array of organizations, Eaton said.

Some of the nonprofits Montañez has worked with, including some as a tutor, are the Village Drive Community Resource Center, A Place of Learning, One Day at a Time and the Brentwood Regional Community Chest, the latter of which collects and distributes food for families at Christmas. He also taught Sunday school with wife Ginny at Golden Hills Community Church for some years.

Mary Casey Black, a past honoree who had an elementary school named after her in 2013, said she couldn’t think of a more deserving person to be honored with school naming.

Black worked with Montañez as she taught in a bilingual class in the early 1970s at Brentwood Elementary, when Montañez was director of the Los Amigos bilingual program, which he introduced to the district.

“It was an exemplary program that paired English and Spanish-speaking students who not only learned from one another in class, but also extended their learning into real life by spending time with each other’s families, experiencing and developing understanding and appreciation of a culture different from their own,” she said.

“I would watch as Ike seamlessly weaved instruction through two languages simultaneously building the capacity of mutual respect of students from both languages,” she added. “Always with heart, always with a smile, a gentle chuckle, and also the attitude ‘I believe in you.’ ”

Paul Ramirez, whose mother Alicia was one of the district’s first bilingual aides, recalled meeting Montañez for the first time decades ago,

“I saw this very humble, dignified, quiet, powerful brown guy who looked like me, which was very, very important,” he said. “We all know how important that is.”

Ramirez said one of the first things his mom and Montañez tackled was teaching the Spanish-speaking parents and getting them involved with their children’s education, making sure they understood the importance of school for both their sons and daughters.

“And so that started a very, very dynamic movement to make sure that all children got the education even if English was not the primary language,” Ramirez said.

Former district Superintendent Doug Adams said Montañez was well-connected in the community and always knew who needed help and had the students’ best interests in mind in all he did.

“We all knew that when it came to children, Ike spoke from the heart,” Adams said. “We all knew if there was a need in this community, Ike could find a way to make it happen and to help them.”

Former Councilman Johnny Rodriguez recalled how he convinced Montañez to be on the board of his One Day at a Time, a nonprofit to help at-risk youth in the community. More than two decades later, the retired educator is still on the advisory board.

“He still guides and gives advice to our organization to continue to do the work that we do,” Rodriguez said. “…Ike was really big on supporting those that are starting out, not only from the top, but from the bottom, and I really admired that and appreciated that.”

For his part, Montañez thanked God and said he always tried to follow the commandment to “love my neighbors as myself.”

“It’s been an honor to serve for 52 years in this community,” Montañez said, thanking the school board and community. “You don’t get to this point in life without all the support and help from your colleagues and your family…I want to thank the Brentwood community for allowing me to serve all these years in this community. It’s been a joy.”