When Ashley Paz and her husband, Eric, landed in Fort Worth weeks after getting married, she wasn’t planning on making a home here—it was supposed to be merely a stopover en route to living overseas. But the couple fell in love with the city, and their temporary home in Texas became a permanent place to plant their family.
“I see a lot of value in having roots,” says Paz, who moved around a lot in her formative years. “I can’t imagine picking my kids up and taking them anywhere else.”
In the 12 years since moving here, they’ve made a point to give back to their adopted hometown, specifically their historic neighborhood of Fairmount—“Coach Eric” is a familiar figure on the soccer field, and in 2013 Paz ran for a place on the Fort Worth Independent School District Board of Education. Now in her second four-year term as trustee for District 9 (an unpaid role) she’s also executive director of the Woman’s Club of Fort Worth, a nearly century-old organization with roots in volunteerism. In both her elected position and her full-time job, the mom of two does her best to uplift her fellow community members and set an example of service for her daughters.
You have a history in community advocacy. What prompted you to run for the Fort Worth ISD school board?
At the time, my oldest daughter was going into kindergarten. I had been involved in the neighborhood, and I wasn’t happy with the representation that we had. And not just within our district or with our own trustee—I was frustrated with the school board at large. I felt like I could help, if not change, the infighting that was happening. You are always going to have disagreements, but I wanted to bring some civility to the disagreements. I can’t say that I have been successful in that, but we have at the very least been able to bring that out of the back room into the forefront so that there is more transparency.
“I think that’s important for my kids to see their mom and dad, their parents, step up and fight for the little guy”
Another reason I felt compelled to run was the idea that there needed to be a concerted effort to support our neighborhood schools. We did get into Daggett Montessori—it’s one of the best schools in Fort Worth ISD. [But] I still maintained my support for all our neighborhood schools. And now De Zavala [Elementary], Daggett Elementary, and Daggett Middle School are all very well-performing. They have come leaps and bounds through the years—not just those schools, but schools all over District 9. There needed to be someone on the school board that was going to be vocal about that.
When you decided to run for the school board and be that voice, did your decision have anything to do with your daughters?
My daughters are biracial: half Filipino, half white. The narrative about our neighborhood schools is this, “I don’t want my kid to be the only white kid.” This is what other people would say: “I want my kids to be around other kids like them.” There is such a low Filipino population in Fort Worth that my daughters are always going to be a minority. There were a lot of racial undertones around the narrative of the neighborhood schools. That was the crux for me. I saw a need for a change, and I stepped up to the plate.
What do you hope your daughters get from seeing Mom step up to the plate?
I want them to see it’s OK to have a voice. When I was growing up, I was always told to be quiet, listen and keep my opinions to myself. Keep your mouth shut, and don’t stir up trouble. But I want my daughters to know it’s OK to do that when there are true injustices happening. My oldest daughter is now in the fifth grade. She has never been overly social or outgoing. We never thought she’d be the one doing the student council thing, but she has. She is her class representative on her school’s student council. … She’s also on her school’s INOK committee, which stands for “It’s not OK.” They talk about bullying and social issues that kids face at school. They try to work through those issues from a community perspective. She’s continuously stepping up for these things. She’s using her voice, and she’s speaking up and articulates things in a way I never imagined my 10-year-old doing.
By the sound of it, you stay busy. Do you make time to relax?
When I first started on the school board, I did everything that I could: going to all of the lunches, all of the dinners, everything. I felt like so much of my job was to be out and available in the community. And it still is, but I have learned how to say no. We spend a lot more time at home, especially now that my daughters are older, just being boring—working on homework, reading books together, spending time as a family as much as we can. I do have a very high-profile job that is very demanding of my time. Finding that balance has definitely been difficult, but you make time for the things that are important to you. I focus more on the quality of engagement I have. Instead of going to the big events where all the people are, I try to have small group interactions so that I can have more meaningful conversations with people out in the community.
Is it hard to make time for date nights with your husband, or time for yourselves?
Every three months or so we try to have a nice date night. We go to a nice restaurant or concert. We do something that’s just the two of us. … We [also] have our time after the girls go to bed. We read together or binge-watch shows we can only watch together. We really make the most out of that little hour after the kids go to bed because it is so important for us to have conversations and check in with each other.
I have to know: With your event planning background, is it hard to host simple birthday parties for your girls?
You know the term, “The cobbler’s kids have no shoes”? I’m always planning my kids’ birthday parties a week before—if they are lucky.
We are a slumber party family. All [my daughters’] friends know we’re the house that has the big slumber parties—karaoke dance parties, glow-in-the-dark dance parties where they have glow sticks and things. We make “surprise popcorn,” with candy mixed in, and then they brush their teeth and go to bed. That’s become a tradition for us.