State Board of Education welcomes charter teacher whose personal experience led to her life’s passion
Erika Dilosa believes her love for a challenge drives her career success in teaching and the education field.
“I had several favorite teachers, who I remember and love, but there is one teacher, Mr. Rhodes, my fifth-grade English language arts teacher, who really stands out in my mind,” said Dilosa, director of special education at 21st Century Charter School in Gary.
“Our class had been assigned to write and deliver a speech explaining something our peers probably didn’t know about,” she said. “I selected Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but when I started to dive into it, I realized it was much more difficult to understand than I thought, (so) when I tried to change my topic, Mr. Rhodes wouldn’t allow it.”
He told her no topic was too difficult for her.
“That motivated me like never before,” Dilosa said. “Not only did I deliver my speech for the class, he also had me deliver it to the entire school.”
Dilosa said that, years later, she returned to her alma mater West Aurora (Illinois) High School, where she graduated in 1996, to give a speech at the graduation ceremony.
Mr. Rhodes introduced her to the crowd by sharing her challenging speech presentation experience in fifth grade.
Dilosa, 42, is eager to join her peers from around the state to begin her new career chapter. She said she is prepared to overcome any hurdles.
In July, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Dilosa’s appointment to the Indiana State Board of Education. Besides work for 21st Century Charter School, she is also on staff at Gary Middle College East and West.
Dilosa represents the first congressional district and will serve a four-year term on the board.
A recent change to Indiana law required the governor’s next appointment to the board be a special education teacher or director. Dilosa’s appointment fills the seat previously held by Tony Walker.
“We are pleased to welcome Erika to the Board,” said B.J. Watts, state education board chair. “Her experience with special education, coupled with her passion for her community, will make her an excellent addition.”
Dilosa moved to Indiana after she married her husband, Brian, a church pastor, in 2001. She said her passion for working with students with special needs grew after learning her own child was on the autism spectrum.
“When I noticed my child was not developing at the rate of his peers in some areas, I did research and decided to take my child to have an evaluation,” Dilosa said.
“When I received the results, they indicated he was on the spectrum of autism,” she said. “At the time, it seemed like everything I read indicated he would have a poor quality of life, (and) in an effort to give him the best education possible, I went back to school to become a special education teacher and fell in love with advocating for children and families.”
The couple have six children, between the ages of 9 and 18, all attending Lake Central School Corp. Dilosa said one of her goals as a board member is to connect and communicate with community leaders.
“I will reach out to other community stakeholders, hear what matters most to them, and work cooperatively with them to meet the needs of all children in Indiana,” she said.
Another goal is to be a voice for those who people do not understand.
“It is not easy having a disability, but it sure helps when those who are capable are understanding and willing to help those that have a disability,” Dilosa said.
Dilosa said her mother lost her ability to walk and required a wheelchair for her mobility.
“I remember feeling the world was only built for those who could walk,” Dilosa said. “There were several places my mom couldn’t access because of her disability.”
Her mom often felt discouraged leaving home because she felt she would not have the support necessary to accommodate her disability.
“I view my appointment to the SBOE is an opportunity to remove some of the barriers that exist for children with special needs and which go unnoticed,” Dilosa said.
Dilosa is a graduate of Chicago State University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science as a scholar athlete, and is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
She continued her post-baccalaureate education at Indiana University where she earned a master’s degree in special education.