Director of Talent

Mirla Urzua


Mirla Urzua

Ms. Urzua earned a bachelor’s degree in Government from Harvard University. She also holds an MA in Education from Loyola Marymount University and a MBA from the University of Southern California.

Ms. Urzua started her career as an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District. She then transitioned to managing a portfolio of universities on the national recruitment team with Teach for America (TFA). During her time at TFA and also while at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Ms. Urzua worked closely with school leaders to ensure their school staffing needs were met and that all educators had a positive experience from recruitment through on-boarding and beyond.

My Story

Learn more about Mirla.

  • Tell us about yourself.

    I have been in education my entire career. I started off as a second grade teacher in Los Angeles, in the public school system as part of Teach for America. I continued to work for them for six years, really focusing on the talent side of things — recruitment, on-boarding, training, and also the relationship with principals — as well as business development.

    Then, I left Teach for America and went to business school. Most recently, I was working at the largest charter school network in Los Angeles, running the recruitment team, and we had 28 schools.

    Interestingly enough, I was not looking for another job when I began at Higher Ground, but Jane Erickson reached out, and I fell in love with her. She was absolutely extraordinary. I really liked the way she envisioned talent within Higher Ground, so I made the leap to join the team, and I’ve been here as the director of talent a little over 10 months now.

    I focus mostly on hiring school leadership — our heads of schools and assistant heads of schools at Guidepost — and I work closely with Jessica, who oversees the teacher hiring. I have also done some hiring for ATI, but there's something special about Guidepost. There’s this magic around it.

  • What inspires you about education?

    I am inspired by the power that education has in allowing every individual to reach their absolute highest human potential.

    When I was in business school, I was seen as the teacher there — even though I hadn’t taught in over eight years — but I remember trying to explain to people why I cared so much about education, and I had this conversation with a coach who was trying to put it all together for me. She had said to me, “You are somebody who just really believes in the idea of expanding human potential,” and I was like, “Yes! That’s it!”

    When I first started teaching, it was in a low-income public school in south Los Angeles, where my children didn’t have much going for them other than their desire to learn and their parents just wanted them to do better than what they had. Then, I transitioned to a secondary charter school where it was even more complicated with middle and high school students just wanting to make it. And then, finally, I went into leading and managing people myself, but all the while, I had been in this mentor and coach role, and education of the human had been at the core of it. I can’t see a world in which education is not at the core of all that. Montessori has helped me to more clearly see that.

  • How did you discover Montessori?

    When I started at Higher Ground, I was completely new to Montessori. But after I met Jane, she invited me to come visit two of our schools, Alicia and Foothill Ranch. Alicia is a Spanish immersion school, and Spanish is my native language. I remember so well that I walked in and saw what the children were doing at the age of three and I was like, This is it, this is what I have not been able to see anywhere else in all my public school experience.

    Then I went to Foothill Ranch and saw the same thing at an even higher degree because I got to interact with older children. I was just mesmerized! The other turning point for me was participating last winter in a theory course offered by Matt Bateman. The way he talked about content and Maria Montessori, and the way he facilitated the discussions, it was all so great. So, yes, I’m new to Montessori, but I’m a big fan.

  • How does Montessori philosophy inspire your daily life? 

    Montessori gives me the language to explain my thoughts and what I believe in so much more precisely than I had before.

    I’ve always been fascinated by children, and to better understand my new relationship with Montessori, I always like to share this story. I have a dear friend who has a two-year-old daughter. We were all at a restaurant together, and while her Mom was busy, Dani, the two-year-old, told me she wanted some orange juice. It was a buffet, so we went to get orange juice together. We fill it up, I gave her the cup, and she was so excited. It was just like what we see our schools! She drank her orange juice, set it down gently beside her plate and did so great. But then, at some point, her spoon hit the glass, and the juice spilled. Of course, her mom showed up right at the time the juice was on the floor.

    Her mom got so mad. She told her daughter, “You’re not supposed to be drinking from that cup! You’re supposed to use the straw!” And I was sitting there like, “But she did so well! That spill could have happened to anybody!” I remember Dani even looking at me like, “You need to defend me! You’re letting me down here!” I didn’t want to get into a lecture with her mom at that point, but because of what I’m learning at this job, I knew Dani was capable!

  • Do you have a favorite Montessori quote?

    "Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world."

  • What have you learned from your time working at Higher Ground thus far? 

    I have seen what’s possible. On a daily basis, I am amazed by our growth of schools, the beauty of our schools, the amazing people we’re hiring, and how it is all done so well. I have never seen that before in my professional career, and Teach for America was always growing pretty fast!

    Nobody questions the growth here. Everybody is so on board and so excited, and I’m just really fascinated about what else could be next. What’s the next thing?!

  • What do you enjoy most about working with your teammates? 

    They’re amazing. They’re magical. We have a very interesting team. At first, it was just Jessica and I, and both of us were new to Montessori. Then we brought on Caitlin and Emily. Emily is our trained Montessorian, and Caitlin is our entrepreneur, but both of them have this incredible eye for people, and I love that because that's a skill you can't teach.

    Overall, we all believe that anything is possible. They’re really incredible people. I feel so lucky and so blessed to be able to work with them on a daily basis.

  • What are your passions, interests and hobbies?

    I'm very close to my family. Half of them are here in California, but half of them still live in Mexico, so I do end up traveling a lot, but I love traveling. I love traveling through the U.S., but I'm fascinated by discovering more little corners of Mexico.

    I also love dancing. I love all of it! I do formal dancing, informal, Zumba, and everything in between. I think dancing is such a beautiful way to uplift the spirit. Even if you are a horrible dancer — which I don't believe exists — but even if you perceive that you’re not a good dancer, dancing still makes you so happy. I’ve also recently gotten into kickboxing.

    I live in Long Beach, so sometimes it can take me over an hour to get into the office, but I’m very close to the beach, and that’s what’s important! I can walk there!

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