In a bittersweet ceremony, Susie Castillo took her place on the Miami-Dade School Board on Tuesday.
Her mother, former teacher May Garcia-Clissent, administered the oath for Castillo, as her teenage son, Kevin, stood by her side and held the Bible.
But the family affair was missing a beloved member: Castillo’s 21-year-old daughter, Andrea Nicole Castillo, who died last month after a car accident involving a Hialeah police detective. She wanted to become a teacher like her grandmother and had worked on her mom’s campaign.
“Her passion was to help our students and improve their life, to help them acquire the skills that they needed to get ahead,” Castillo said in an emotional speech.
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“That desire has now become my challenge and my main objective in life,” said Castillo, who was given a warm standing ovation from the packed auditorium.
She will represent District 5, which includes the northwest part of the county, including Doral, Miami Springs and part of Hialeah. It’s the same School Board office where Castillo worked as an administrative assistant, answering concerns and questions from parents and residents.
It marks Castillo’s first stint in public office. She said she plans to be “part of a team” to make the district the best in the nation.
Returning board members were also sworn in Tuesday for new four-year terms: Wilbert “Tee” Holloway for District 1, Martin Karp for District 3, Carlos Curbelo for District 7 and Lawrence Feldman, for District 9.
Castillo takes the seat vacated by Renier Diaz de la Portilla, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the Florida Legislature. She was elected in August, as voters picked her over former Miami Springs councilman Dan Espino.
Castillo followed her mother into education and started her career as a secretary at Mae M. Walters Elementary School in Hialeah. She later worked as an administrative assistant in regional office, the superintendent’s office and in the District 5 office. She left the district to work for the mayor of Doral, Juan Carlos Bermudez, though she stayed involved in education on the Parent Teacher Student Association for Ronald Reagan Senior High, where her son is a senior.
During the emotional speech, Castillo thanked residents of District 5 and supporters. “I ask for your support and patience as I travel through this dark road,” Castillo said.
She added her daughter’s legacy will live on, through a foundation to provide scholarships for college students pursuing education degrees.