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School Board Elections: Harlandale ISD

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Note: Names are listed in order of appearance on the ballot according to the city clerks' office. Answers from candidates have not been edited or fact-checked.

For TPR's full Voter Guide, click here.


Juan Mancha: District No. 1

Candidate ran unopposed; declared elected.


Christine A. Carrillo: District No. 2

Did not respond.*

Orlando Salazar: District No. 2

Did not respond.*


Esequiel (Zeke) Mendoza: District No. 3

Deceased.

Lillian Zapata: District No. 3

Declared ineligible due to residency issue.

Louie G. Luna: District No. 3

What is your current or most recent occupation?

I am a Certified Bilingual/ Monolingual Teacher

What grade on an A-F scale would you give your district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Why?

B+, I think the district’s response was more conservative and safety driven than other state districts. Hence, the district seems to have a lower positivity rate than other districts. I personally felt safe enough to return back to the classroom after these measures were taken by the district.

Do you think your district is doing a good job educating its students? Why or why not? What could it be doing better?

Overall, I think the district is providing an excellent education for our students. Yes, there are areas we need to improve and with implementing the "best " practices for instructional programs, reaching out to the parents when their child(ren) are struggling and providing teachers with adequate resources and professional training, and consequently meeting the needs of our students, that this will have a positive effect on their learning experience.

Do you think your district treats its teachers, principals and support personnel well? Why or why not?

Overall, I think that the district is being successful in managing its personnel, but like other organizations, there is usually room for improvement and continuing development in whatever capacity that they work for the district.

One of the school board’s primary responsibilities is to approve a budget. What experience do you have making financial decisions? How would you / do you decide whether or not to approve the budget recommended to you by district administration?

I have had various experiences with various institutions and associations in deciding on budget items. For instance, I was the local treasurer for the local teacher association where I participated in the budget process and submitting the operating financial plan along with submitting the annual financial report. I was also in the TSTA Board of Directors and I am a locally certified tour guide for the Professional Tour Guide Association of San Antonio where we approve and plan their budgets. I have also been elected to the both the CPERC and DPERC educational advisory committees in the district in which again budgets are planned and approved. One of the driving ideas to come to mind in this process is basically if the budget item is going to improve the instructional learning of our students, provides a safe, clean working environment, maintains the level of support needed for each division and finally if it is financially sound.

What is your stance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests?

I think that it is necessary to obtain the educational data that these assessments may provide, but at the same time, other means of obtaining other learning must be utilized so that a better understanding of the student’s education is determined. Also realize that assessments like the STAAR cost millions of tax dollars. "Let's close the learning gap, not enrich the testing companies."

What is your stance on charter schools?

Charter schools do not perform any better than traditional "real" public schools, and some perform much worse. Yet, encouraged by education commissioner and the state board, charter mania will continue to inflict severe financial damage to Texas public, creating a dual education system that Texas doesn't need and taxpayers cant afford and shouldn't drastically fund. Charters already take $3 billion a year from the public schools, where the vast majority of Texas children are educated, and much of this money is flowing to out-of-state charter operators. " We should fully fund our Public Schools before funding For- Profit charter schools."

Harlandale recently narrowly avoided a state takeover and remains under the supervision of a state conservator. How would you grade the district’s response (on an A-F scale) to the Texas Education Agency’s investigation? What do you believe the school board’s role should be going forward?

I grade the current board as a B+. It appears that the functioning of the board and the relationship with the superintendent has greatly improved, but as was mentioned by some board members in the press and in recent board meetings that there are a few items that still need to be worked on. I hope to be a part of the resurgence of the HISD School Board as a self-governing body that TEA will see as a model for other school boards. The School Board’s role forward is to continue its due course that they have implemented thus far and continue to assess the district's needs and their functionality to improve the accountability and trust of the mission they are sworn to achieve.


David Abundis: District No. 4

Did not respond.*

Norma Cavazos: District No. 4

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Program Assistant - Bexar County Family Violence Prevention Program

What grade on an A-F scale would you give your district’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Why?

The grade of an "A" to me represents excellence and as we all know, no one school district anywhere is perfect. Therefore, B is what grade I give Harlandale ISD.

Our district did an outstanding job during the pandemic! One day we were watching the news of this chaos happening on the other side of the continent, we went to bed, fell asleep and the next morning that same chaos had arrived in our backyard.

There was no policy, handbook or plan written prior and set in place that read, "In case of the Covid-19 Pandemic". We hired a new Superintendent on Dec 30, 2019 and within a few short months, he was leading our district through the choppy waters of the unknown situation. We did not stand still nor freeze and just watched what other districts within our city or across the country were doing or not doing. We acted quickly with confidence and great speed. The lines of communications were open wider than ever, allowing administration, teachers, staff, students, families and our entire community, so that they would have full knowledge of what the district was doing, purchasing and setting in place. We made sure we left no one behind and that we were all fully informed.

Our teachers became even more creative than they already were! They are the true soldiers and gems of our district and they proved, yet again to us and the community, that their light was shining strong and bright. Social media became their best friend -- helping them stay in constant communication with their students and families as they continued with their daily lessons, keeping them engaged and exploring the world around them (although virtually) in every aspect of their lessons.

Our district purchased technology devices for all the students to have in their home, wifi transmitters and routers, to ensure that there were little to no hiccups during any one day of virtual learning, and each student was given access to our district's WiFi to use while learning from home.

Meals were provided to all our students via curbside delivery at different campuses in our district. Our Child Nutrition Department made sure that every child had breakfast and lunch in their home, to help create a better learners.

Our district's constant phrases during the pandemic were, "What do our teachers, students, and community need? Buy as much as we need to make sure everyone is taken care of. What's next --- what else can we do to improve?"

Harlandale ISD did not just sit back and observe and waited for this chaos of a pandemic to pass us by. We took off running at full speed ahead -- only focusing on the needs of our students. We looked forward, forward, forward --- never back. Continuing on our path of Success for our Children's Future!

Could we have done better? Yes, of course. There is always room for improvement, growth and self evaluation, but with what we were forced to face with (COVID-19), our district did extremely and undoubtedly well.

Do you think your district is doing a good job educating its students? Why or why not? What could it be doing better?

We certainly are! Going into the unknown and unchartered waters of this pandemic, we were forced to implement virtual learning. Teachers were not the only ones that were forced to re-create themselves in their profession. Students and their families were in the same boat.

Most of our students come from homes where Spanish is the only language spoken in their home. We not only set on a course to elevate the style of learning for our students by providing them with WiFi, technology devices and using social media top keep them engaged and exploring the world around them, this elevation of learning provided by our district extended to their parents and/or caretakers.

We realized almost immediately, that our families would also become their at-home teacher(s) during their virtual learning. The district found a way to enable and provide instructional learning and its necessary resources to parents and caretakers -- both in English and in Spanish. All of the information on our district and campuses website, social media outlets and mass text or voicemail communication were now being provided in both languages (Spanish and English). Helping easing the task of virtual learning to both the students and their families.

We emphasized more than ever to our students, that they were truly worthy of every opportunity this world has to offer each and every one of them. We kept the "norm" of classroom learning by not skipping a beat. Campuses offered, show and tell, spelling bee, P.E., STEM classes, choir, music and other fine arts ---- all virtual. School days were now designated as "show me a photo of your classroom setting at home", "dress up as your favorite author or book character, and share a photo with the class", etc. Each class day featured a particular and innovative lesson.

Not only were the technology devices and resources, which Harlandale ISD made available to our students, allow them to continue on their strong foundation and path of education, but our district made sure that their physical and mental being were also taken care of. We created, funded and opened the door to our district's own Care Center, offering free counseling and support to our students, parents and staff.

Do you think your district treats its teachers, principals and support personnel well? Why or why not?

Yes, most definitely. Our district has a low ratio of teacher turnover. Most first-time educators seek Harlandale ISD to begin their professional journey with. We support and encourage Professional Development Training and Learning and provide our teachers with mentors within our district and community. Our teachers and staff have access to our HISD Care Center which provides them with free counseling, resources and education on how to continue on their path of mental well-being. Each campus has a staff committee which meets monthly with our Superintendent to discuss their questions, concerns, and/or issues and to find resolution to these.

We make sure to show our teachers how truly appreciate they are, by treating them to special meals, goodies and festivities through out the year --- anything to show and remind them of their worth!

In the last few years, we have added: incentives for teachers who want to seek a Masters or Doctorate degree, bi-yearly stipends and additional classroom funding, resources and technology to help them excel in greater lengths in their profession.

One of the school board’s primary responsibilities is to approve a budget. What experience do you have making financial decisions? How would you / do you decide whether or not to approve the budget recommended to you by district administration?

I am a visual learner. I learn better when I can see what is in front of me and when it is presented to me in a clear and structured manner. I have experience in sitting in, taking notes and making statements and suggestions at meetings while in the course of my profession with Bexar County. I do not come unaware of the responsibility that comes with making decisions with taxpayer's money.

Our district has an excellent Finance Department, which Mr. Richard Hernandez and his team have run successfully for more years than I can count with my fingers. He maintains the integrity and superiority of our district's finances and accountabilities on a level, that many find overwhelming. Year after year, TEA has found our Finance Department smudge-free and we are giving high praises and marks for our top rating. Any time I or anyone of my fellow Trustees find ourselves with questions or needing more of a hands-on approach when discussing and making financial decisions for our district, Mr. Hernandez and his team are just a phone call away. Also willing and accessible to making time for us to meet and have it all explained to us.

Any and all financial decisions, that I vote on, are purely done with peace and confidence, knowing that I crossed all my "T's" and dotted all my "i's", obtaining answers, data and education on any and all of my questions, concerns or issues.

What is your stance on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests?

I am not a supporter of STAAR testing. I completely understand the high stakes involved in said test, but when teachers spend their valuable time having to teach an assessment test like this ---they find themselves with little or not time educating the students on real learning, which is a world of information to explore that is not on this test.

This test may have its good points but it is my strong belief that there is more to a child's education than just one test. Those looking at the test scores fail to see clearly how much a student has grown and evolved throughout the year, the student's attitude toward learning and whether or not a student learns better when using a different tool, rather than a standardized test.

Stress is such a factor to the teachers, students and their families when it comes to the STAAR test. We all know that there are some of us that do not function well when in a stressed out situation. Not to mention other hidden or not well-known factors, such as whether or not the student had a good night's rest, has been ill and/or not feeling well, or there is a situation at home that is preventing the student from fully concentrating on the STAAR test.

What is your stance on charter schools?

I do not approve of or support charter schools. They are known to make a lot or promises to students and their families which they cannot keep. They are not properly sourced or have experienced staff to attend the educational needs of students with disabilities. Students with disabilities are quickly dismissed and turned away from charter schools.

There are numerous studies on the effect of charter schools on its students' academic progress/performance. In most cases, these studies have consistently found two things: charter schools didn't have much of an academic impact of their students or there was only a slight increase of test scores compared to those of nearby public school districts.

Charter schools do not require their teachers to be certified by the State of Texas. Our public school system at Harlandale ISD will not extend a contract to or keep any educator who has not passed the our state's certification exam.

Harlandale recently narrowly avoided a state takeover and remains under the supervision of a state conservator. How would you grade the district’s response (on an A-F scale) to the Texas Education Agency’s investigation? What do you believe the school board’s role should be going forward?

The grade of an "A" to me represents excellence and as we all know, no one school district anywhere is perfect. Therefore, B is the grade that I give Harlandale ISD.

For many years, as a resident and community member of HISD, it was apparent that things may not be as they should have been. It is my belief that TEA needed to come in and shake some things about. The former HISD D4 Trustee (David Abundis) abruptly resigned from his seat during the middle of the ongoing TEA investigation. During that same TEA investigation, I applied for, was interviewed and was unanimously appointed to the vacant seat that Mr. Abundis left behind. I was the only person to apply to take on the responsibility of the D4 vacant seat.

I did not hesitate on the chance to help the remaining Board regain the trust of the students, teachers and community as a whole. It was imperative for me to help ensure that the Board still had the drive and force to steer on the path of success for all its students and that their educational outcome was the district's top priority.

Some times, it takes a hard shake up (hence the TEA investigation) to shake the leaves off a tree that are no longer thriving and being fruitful. TEA needed to come in and relieve us of anything that was not in the best interest of our district and community. This post-TEA investigation Board and it's new Superintendent, has kept on the path of success. It has evolved as a Board, regained the trust of the students, teachers and its entire community. This Board understands truly and precisely what its role is and accepts the responsibility completely and with full force.

This Board is determined to lead with integrity, accountability, transparency and professionalism. Always with its eyes wide open looking forward, forward, forward -- never back and whole-heartedly committed to Success for Our Children's Future!


* denotes candidates who did not respond to survey requests sent via email and/or phone calls by time of publication.

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