College fund for Layla's children

Layla Adriana Avila passed away on November 2nd after a valiant fight against stomach cancer. She leaves behind a loving husband, Manuel Romero, and two wonderful children, Cati (7) and Max (5) who will miss her every day. 

She also leaves behind all of us whose lives she made better by being in it - all of us who are now left wondering how this could possibly be.  What Layla cared most about was education, and so we thought one small thing we could do was to start a college fund for her two young children.

Though small in stature, Layla was a giant of a woman.  Fiercely loyal.  Whip smart. Unwaveringly committed.  Justice driven. Incredible mother. Dedicated wife.  Words cannot do justice to the impact that she had on those she worked with and loved.  The world lost one of its best today, but it remains a better place because of her.  

Layla's Story

Though only 47 years old, she accomplished more than most of us ever will.  Her story is an incredible one that will always be remembered.  Born in Boyle Heights to a single mother, Layla had to grow up fast.  Her mother was diagnosed with MS when Layla was in elementary school.  She took on adult responsibilities as she navigated her way through everything from her mother’s doctors appointments to helping to bathe her. 

In middle school, a teacher saw tremendous potential in Layla and helped her apply to A Better Chance, which placed her in an elite boarding high school in Colorado Springs, CO.  She went on to attend Columbia University and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, excelling at both institutions. She then decided to join Teach for America and was placed as a first grade teacher in Compton, CA.  People watched her classroom in amazement as she expertly maneuvered the kids through the instructional day with the deftness of a veteran.  It made her an immediate favorite amongst students, families and the staff at Mayo Elementary where she was asked, as a new teacher, to serve on the Leadership Team.

Layla left the classroom to have a broader impact in education and was hired to  run “Compton Teaching Fellows” , a program of The New Teacher Project (TNTP) with the Compton Unified School District.  As with everything in her life, she was amazing at her job and quickly won the respect of Randy Ward, the then-State appointed Superintendent who was a tough critic by any measure.  

For the next two decades she moved into increasingly challenging roles at TNTP, helping to lead the organization to become what it is today.  She gained broad based respect as someone who spoke directly, could never be rattled, solved the most complex problems in practical ways and simply got things done.

A few years ago, Layla was recruited to become the founding CEO of EdLOC, a national organization focused on developing and supporting leaders of color to drive the education reform movement.  Of course, she has built a tremendous new organization and gained legions of new fans and supporters.  Layla’s goal for her work in education has always been clear.  She wanted to ensure that the world became a place where kids who looked like her would be able to excel without having to have the lucky breaks she did.  She wanted to create a world in which kids like her would be able to enter a school or workplace and feel like they belonged, set up for success, instead of being viewed with skepticism.

Somehow, between all of her incredible work accomplishments, Layla managed to run for and win a position on the Whittier School Board and serve on the boards of various nonprofit organizations.

But most importantly, Layla built an amazing family with her husband, Manuel Romero.  “Bear” and “Bunny”,  as they affectionately referred to each other, were soulmates from the start.  The reserved and private Layla was balanced out perfectly by Manuel, the gregarious extrovert.  The two of them built a wonderful family including their brilliant, talented daughter Catarina Rose (Cati, 7) and their charming and loving son Maximiliano Noe (Max, 5).  Layla was the mother who was at every single school event, chaperoning every field trip, and making sure her kids always had the best of everything. That was Layla in a nutshell.  This beautiful family was the kind of bright light that our world needs today.

Michelle, Liz and Ari
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Ariela Rozman 
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