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School Board Elections: San Antonio 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.


Sarah L. Sorensen: District No. 1

What is your current or most recent occupation?

COVID-19 Case Investigator/Contact Tracer

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

C. SAISD did a great job getting devices and hot spots to students who needed them when schools first shifted to remote learning. The district has arguably had the most cautious reopening plan in the city at the insistence of families, students and school workers but the district has not fully followed the Metro Health guidance for schools. District leaders refused to go to fully remote instruction, as advised by Metro Health, during the surge this winter.

District leadership has chosen to focus on standardized testing over the well-being of students and school workers. Elementary students have had to take computerized MAP assessments throughout this year even though it is not a state requirement. Also, district administrators have advised teachers to encourage remote students to return to campus for STAAR testing even though TEA has exempted most of them from STAAR testing requirements. Families have not been told that they do not have to send their students to campus to take the STAAR. This means the first experience back on campus this year for many remote students has been taking the STAAR exam.

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

Our district needs to move away from a focus on standardized testing and computerized assessments. Starting in kindergarten, our students spend weeks of valuable instruction time taking the computerized MAP assessment. Unlike STAAR, this is not a state requirement but a choice that our district leaders have made to prioritize assessment tools over instruction. We need to move away from these types of assessments. Instead we should invest in making sure every student has access to rigorous, culturally relevant and sustaining instruction, and that Ethnic Studies are offered in every school.

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

No, the most egregious example of poor treatment was the 2018 Reduction In Force (RIF). In response to declining enrollment, district leaders determined it was necessary to lay off 132 teachers and 31 administrators. District leadership could have prevented such a large layoff. They could have preserved over 25% of those positions by not allowing the Democracy Prep charter network to hire non-district teachers when it was given control of Stewart Elementary. Additionally, district leadership could have offered early retirement incentives to encourage some teachers to voluntary leave the district. Instead of being thoughtful and handling the lay offs as humanely as possible, our leadership chose to foster an environment of fear among our teachers and staff that persists to this day.

Most recently, our support personnel and teachers have taken on additional responsibilities and risk during the pandemic without hazard pay.

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 interested in adopting a participatory budgeting process so that our community has the opportunity to determine the budget priorities for our schools and our district.

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

STAAR is not an accurate measure of student learning. We should be advocating to ultimately abolish standardized testing. Standardized tests are rooted in preserving a racial hierarchy and are a more accurate measure of a student's race and economic status then their knowledge or abilities. While STAAR is here to stay in the near future, we can de-emphasize it's role in our students classroom experience and we must stop using computerized assessments like MAP which are stressful for students and take away from instruction time.

What is your stance on charter schools?

I believe that public education is a public good and must remain under democratic control. Similar to entities like ERCOT, charter schools take public tax dollars to provide a public good but do not have the same level of transparency or democratic control as traditional public schools.

I am very concerned about the decision of district leadership to enter into SB1882 partnerships (without any community input) that will effectively turn our public district into a network of charter schools. While our current leadership has stated otherwise, the TEA guidance on these program explicitly says that the 1882 program gives the authorized partners "sole responsibility over personnel, including hiring, firing and managing staff, as well as sole authority over decisions related to curriculum, calendar, and assessments." It is important that our community understand the full ramifications of this policy and have the opportunity to have a say in whether or not we pursue these contracts.

Steve Lecholop: District No. 1

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Lawyer

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

B+. SAISD took the most cautious approach of any district in Bexar County when asking teachers to to return to school buildings and allowing students to return to in-person instruction. We consistently provided food to our families, even utilizing school buses for food delivery. SAISD partnered with Community Labs to provide COVID testing at every school every week, and successfully obtained an allocation of vaccines for every staff member.

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

Yes. Over the last five years, SAISD has improved from an F-rated district to a B under the state's accountability ratings. Five years ago, 38,000 students attended an F-rated school, and now that number is down to 7,000. We're on the right path, but our work is not done. SAISD must continue focusing on the improvement of every campus while expanding opportunities for students to receive high-level instruction and access to high-quality programs.

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

Yes. SAISD has focused on empowering teachers and principals while also increasing their compensation. We've implemented a master teacher initiative and will soon provide teachers the ability to dramatically increase their pay through the new "teacher incentive allotment" program recently approved by the Texas legislature. SAISD was the first (and, to my knowledge, only) school district to increase the minimum wage for hourly employees to $15.00/hour, with a commitment to further increase that rate.

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?

During my eight years on the school board, I have developed a deep knowledge of school finance and district budgeting. I earned a certificate in school finance from Georgetown University, which has informed my budgetary decision making. Every year during my board tenure, SAISD has passed a balanced budget. The primary consideration I use for every budget recommendation is its impact on students and student achievement.

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

Administration of the STAAR test is required by the state, but school districts should not be "teaching to the test." I believe that students will succeed on the STAAR test if they receive effective instruction of grade-level content, and I don't believe in extreme "test prep" or "cramming" for the STAAR test. In SAISD, we have focused on providing teachers with sufficient resources, support, and training to provide the high-quality instruction that student need to succeed on the STAAR test and beyond.

What is your stance on charter schools?

In addition to building up our neighborhood schools, SAISD has created a number of in-district charter schools with specialized programs that allow every SAISD student and family additional options to find their best-fit school. I believe that we should give all families high-quality choices within the district.


Leticia Ozuna: District No. 3

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Senior Principal Engineer/Technical Advisor US Space Force

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

I would give the district an A - the infection rate which has been tracked and is publicly available is consistently lower than all local, state and national benchmarks for recommended school safety. The district has utilized the operating budget, which has not yet been augmented with any state or federal emergency aid dollars, to obtain PPP supplies for campus safety. The superintendent is prioritizing a return to the classroom in tandem with a partnership strategy to obtain vaccines for all eligible school staff. In addition, district leadership has been prioritizing vaccination opportunities for eligible students and their families. SAISD should be commended for continuing to provide food distribution to students and their families during the pandemic.

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

I believe that the district is providing a quality education to the students. My daughter recently graduated from an SAISD High School and was accepted into a very competitive private college. In my observation, campus administration is providing outstanding academic support for the students in the area of college readiness. I would support the district in maturing the technical outreach programs that were put into existence as a part of the COVID response. I would also like to see more trials of technology outreach and technology focused opportunities for students.

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

SAISD has a superintendent and board aligned to support autonomous campus leadership. The current district leadership prioritized creating a $15 minimum wage for eligible school staff well before it became a national issue. Teacher safety has been prioritized during COVID and the reinforcement of sanitation protocols have assured a very low transmission rate of infection among staff.

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 former City Councilwoman with experience in passing a budget in the public eye with multiple competing stakeholders at the table. I have project management and small business ownership experience as well. Ideally, staff budget recommendations have been vetted in committee and working group sessions for suitability to bring to the board. In addition, new budget items or changes to existing budget items introduced by the board should also be vetted in committee and working groups with the goal of assuring that there are no unexpected consequences or impacts.

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

The STAAR test is an imperfect tool to allow us to measure the state of student academic preparation across socio-economic boundaries. The STAAR test is mandated at the state level and public schools are compelled to administer the test under the mandate. Compulsory exams are a part of entry and progression within a majority of professions.

What is your stance on charter schools?

Charter schools are one of the many choices parents have in seeking an education for their children. Charter schools have brought competition which activated district leadership to be flexible in creating campuses that fit the demographic of the neighborhood as well as creating new educational options. Parents today demand options for educational opportunities for their children and the district should be enabled to be flexible in providing choices.

Judit Vega: District No. 3

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Director of Maternal Child Health Collective Impact, March of Dimes

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

I would give the District a C. I was very satisfied with the initial response that the District took at the beginning of the pandemic in closing down schools and being very cautious and deliberate in the reopening plans at the beginning of the school year in Fall 2020. However, as the Fall positive COVID cases went up, the District leadership continued to push for increased in- person attendance in conflict with the initial guidance of Metro Health. The District has continued to pressure remote students to come in person to take the STAAR test, despite the state not requiring it for students who are not junior or seniors in high school. While providing food assistance during the pandemic, the District has not addressed the myriad of other issues our families have experienced during the pandemic- including increasing violence, housing instability, family illness, death, and economic insecurity.

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

As a parent, I had initially appreciated the additional educational options that Choice schools had provided to my students. However, I soon recognized that it was an effort that benefitted some of our students from some neighborhood schools, and not most. The charterization of our schools does not provide for an equitable distribution of our public resources, and vulnerable students and families such as those in special education or English Language Learners are not being fairly served. Also, many decisions in the District were being made without the inclusive participation of our students, families, community members and school workers. I believe the District should implement a community schools model at all campuses that ensures democratic decision making, and a holistic approach to educate our diverse student population while serving their basic needs and social and emotional health during a global pandemic. I also take issue with the District’s overemphasis on standardized testing and the A- F rating system as accurate measurements of academic success. I think our students deserve more holistic and accurate measurements of learning.

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

I do not feel that our teachers and support personnel are treated well, as throughout the pandemic our school workers have had to deal with tremendous stress in reopening the schools, having to learn new technology, and having to adapt to teaching remote learners and in person students simultaneously. The District has not provided the teachers with retention bonuses during the pandemic as other school districts have, has not provided adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to school workers, has had lapses in alerting educators when they have been exposed to positive COVID cases at their campus, and has only recently approved a salary increase for support personnel. In addition, the District routinely makes decisions that affect the workload and working conditions of school workers without their input.

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?

In my prior role as a public health professional at the health department, I managed several grant budgets ranging from $100,000 to 2.5 million dollars. I feel that it is the role of elected officials to be responsible stewards of public funds, and I would thoroughly study and analyze the budgets put forth by staff before making fiscally sound decisions that would provide maximum and equitable benefit for our students, school staff, and facilities. Budgetary decisions should center students, school workers, and parents- not the various private entities and developers that seek to profit from our inner city public schools.

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

While I understand that the STAAR test is mandated by the state, I don’t believe that our school district has advocated for the wellbeing and health of our students during the pandemic by not working with other districts and stakeholders to demand that the state cancel the STAAR this year. In addition, although TEA changed course (largely in response to the organizing effort of parents and students across the state) in requiring remote students to take the test in person, SAISD has continued to push students and families to come in to take the test despite not being required to do so. I also believe that the District and state put too much emphasis on standardized testing and need to recognize and develop other holistic standards in measuring academic success. This emphasis adversely affects poor students of color most, whereby the challenges posed by the complexity of living in poverty are reduced to a value judgement based upon an arbitrary test that does not accurately measure learning.

What is your stance on charter schools?

I believe that we must uphold and preserve public education as a public good, and the increasing numbers of private charters that have come into our community take funding away from our public school system without public oversight. The public charters that SAISD have increasingly adopted in the name of innovation and choice, have tended to benefit schools in gentrifying neighborhoods. At the same time, control and oversight of schools deemed as failing have been contracted to outside entities such as Democracy Prep at the expense of democratic decision making and transparency. The District must reexamine the way in which it is attempting to privatize campuses, as it does not benefit all of our children equitably and has limited oversight and accountability to our most vulnerable students and families.


Luke Amphlett: District No. 4

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Teacher, Burbank High School

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

It depends what you mean by “your district” - I think that our district is the thousands of students, educators, and families to whom our schools belong. The response of our community to this pandemic has been outstanding - driven by solidarity and mutual aid. I’d give our community an “A”.

If SAISD is understood instead as the district leadership - a superintendent, seven trustees, and the central office staff who implement their decisions, I’d give SAISD a “D” for its response to the pandemic. The most lauded achievements of our current leaders - the distribution of 1-to-1 technology for students, the cautious school reopening plans - constitute the bare minimum that our leaders should be expected to undertake under the circumstances, and are the products of teacher, student, and community organizing as much as of our leaders’ decisions. That they failed to pay hazard pay to frontline staff throughout the crisis, failed to follow their own plan (and the Metro Health guidelines) for school closures when COVID positivity reached dangerous levels, and have presided over a dangerous district-wide culture of intimidation and threats of retaliation towards educators across the district as they fought for safe reopening plans, demonstrates the vacuousness of their commitment to the district understood as those workers, students and families who they claim to serve.

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

Yes, and no - in terms of passing state assessments and easily-gamed metrics of “college readiness”, there has clearly been considerable growth in recent years (due to the hard work of educators, students, and a relentless focus on state accountability metrics to the detriment of everything else). SAISD leaders have pursued higher ratings in state accountability metrics with a single mindedness and absolute devotion to standardized testing as the central focus on our schools. In so doing, our schools and educators are forced to abandon all that is truly important, enlightening, and even liberatory about education, and to treat students as numbers in spreadsheets rather than full, complex human beings.

We should see education as more than job preparedness and test scores, and our schools as more than testing factories. Our schools should approach the humanization of our students and families with the relentless devotion currently reserved only for STAAR and MAP assessments. We need to engage in a fundamental reordering of our priorities district-wide, especially as we seek to build back from the pandemic. It’s imperative that our school communities seize this opportunity to become more equitable, humane, and humanizing - truly centering students in the collective project of public education in a way they have never been centered before, and certainly aren’t under this administration.

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

No, and thousands of educators across our district agree with me, overwhelmingly opposing the reelection of the incumbents this May. Educators in SAISD are systematically excluded from decision-making, face frozen wages, ever-longer working hours, repeated attacks on their working conditions, and an increasingly authoritarian and anti-union leadership style in our district.

Educators complain of a pervasive culture of intimidation and threats of retaliation from administrators, and many campuses have sent letters like this one, written by the staff at Burbank High School, to campus and district leaders, and have had to go so far as to call on state senators to intervene to protect them from the actions of administrators: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Lfr4pBKU0iGTlgEPQrF1RmLAbn7VChGB/view?usp=sharing

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 extensive experience being excluded from participation in the SAISD budget process, much like students, educators, and community members across the district - and I think this is the most important qualification any of us could have. It’s essential that we reconfigure the budget process in SAISD to be more participatory, democratic, and transparent. No budget should be recommended by district administration, and school boards should not be reduced to a rubber stamp approving the budgets determined by district administrators.

Instead, our communities should be determining priorities together, democratically, and producing a budget that manifests the will of the community as a moral document. It’s time for budget discussions to be taken out of the hands of district bureaucrats, and to be made by the people. The most important qualification for a trustee should be their commitment to engaging in such a process, and ensuring that all stakeholders are able to participate in making budget decisions that will directly impact them.

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

We should cancel STAAR this year, and abolish STAAR in the long-term - transitioning to authentic, student-centered methods for assessment. The STAAR tells us nothing useful about student learning or instruction, and its disappearance would be one of the most beneficial things that could happen for our students and the teachers who serve them.

What is your stance on charter schools?

Their expansion represents a threat to the public school system in our state, and should be stopped. In the short term, charters should be held to the same standards as public schools, and should receive no extra funding from the state. In the long term, charters should be absorbed into a democratically-controlled public school system that guarantees that every child is able to attend a great public school.

Arthur V. Valdez: District No. 4

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Retired - Aircraft Systems Engineer - 43 years

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

B+ - From the time the pandemic started to now, SAISD has learned that the safety processes and testing protocols we have put into place have protected our school environments from being sources of widespread outbreaks. Our pandemic plan has been recognized by the state and nation. We became part of the solution by working with healthcare agencies to access vaccines for all staff, teachers and employees who wanted them and provided the vaccines at a common district site.

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

Yes - SAISD was recognized in 2019 as one of the fastest-improving districts in the state. in almost every grade level, the district either met or outperformed statewide student achievement gains over the past two school years.

Out of the 53 districts in Texas with more than 25,000students, the district had the largest improvement in student achievement and student progress.

The percentage of students graduating college-ready rose from 10 percent in 2015 to 42 percent with more than half of all graduatess now attending 4-year colleges and universities.

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

Teachers - For three of the past four years SAISD teachers have been finalists in the Texas State Teacher of the Year Awards for their innovating classroom practices.

Pincipals - SAISD offers Professional Developement as a requirement for all Principals.

Support Personnel - An increase to $15/Hr living wage has been approved by the board to all support personnel.

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?

As an SAISD board trustee for eight years I have been part of the Finance Committee the entire time. The committee meets twice a month and the Finance Department provides information to us three board members on budgetary issues.

The Finance Department will then hold Budget Workshop presentations to the entire board for discussion on general Budget topics.

The final budget will come to the board in July for approval.

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

I feel that STAAR testing is very stressful for students more so than a college final exam or other high stake situations and it is failing to prepare our students for the real world they will face but school districts have no control over STAAR testing, its required by the state and the federal government. Until the state introduces a better system we have no choice but to deal with it.

What is your stance on charter schools?

Charter schools are moving in our areas where our public schools are and SAISD is not too worried about that since we try to work with them. But at same time the main problem for us is that charter schools and our district directly compete for state funding and that undermines us somewhat.


Ed Garza: District No. 7

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Consultant JL Powers & Assoc.

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

A- SAISD has been the most cautious with the number of students learning in-person, and in phasing students to return. In addition, SAISD was the most responsive to remote learning with the purchase of technology, devices and hotspots; along with curbside meals, transportation accessibility, COVID testing and the distribution of the vaccine.

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

SAISD's latest accountability rating by the TEA was a "B" rating. This above average rating is one benchmark in the measurement of educating students. The commitment by SAISD is to transform into a National Model ("A" rated)district where all students graduate and become contributing members of our community. While we are not there yet, we are laser focused on the destination.

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

With nearly 7,000 employees in nearly 100 campuses, there will always be a deviation between the treatment of employees. However, I believe SAISD has transformed the culture from one of low student achievement to one of high student academic results. SAISD has elevated all levels of pay and provides one of the best retirement benefits package of any district in Texas.

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?

My experience managing and passing balanced budgets for multi-million dollar public agencies includes over twenty years at the city and school district level. In deciding whether or not to approve staff budget recommendations I first engage with campus stakeholders throughout the year listening to their needs and priorities. Through forums, chats and by attending school events, I engage staff with questions and request information to better understand the funding needs at all levels.

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

Standardized testing has been in place since before I attended SAISD school (1970's). The need for student performance benchmarking is critical to measure academic growth. However, I do not believe any standardized test like STAAR, should prevent any student from advancing to the next grade level or to graduate from high school.

What is your stance on charter schools?

First off, I'm against any form of voucher where public funds are used for private schools. External charter schools should be held to the same standard and have the same admissions policy as any public school. Internal Charter schools should also adhere to these same standards. I believe SAISD can compete with any external charter school.

Yasmín Parra Codina: District No. 7

What is your current or most recent occupation?

Employee at UTSA

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

I would give the district’s response to COVID-19 a C. The cautious COVID reopening plan outlined by the district was a result of teacher, school worker, student and family advocacy. The district should have followed Metro Health guidance during the height of the winter surge. Decisions on reopening should center the health, mental health, and safety of students, teachers, and all school personnel and staff. Prioritizing STAAR was not centering the health of students or educators.

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

As an SAISD alum, I know how great our schools in our district are. I also know many dedicated and committed educators and school staff that love what they do. The district needs to center student voices because they have been left out of decision making that directly impacts their needs and concerns.

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

First off, I cannot speak for others' experiences, however I know we can do better as an education community in how we treat and center the needs and concerns of our teachers, principals, and support personnel.

There’s been numerous recent instances of educators being put on leave for speaking out and advocating bringing attention to issues affecting their campus and their students. What message are we sending our students and families when that is the district’s response?

Secondly, frontline workers should have received a retention bonus pay throughout the pandemic.

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 will decide on approving budgets democratically and transparently. I will draw on current trending data, research, and experts in the field to form a critical analysis of how budget decisions will impact our diverse students, families, teachers, school staff, and community. My experience includes working with several organizations and financial committees as a board member, and directing an education organization’s budget and programs under a local government agency.

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

Our communities were pleading to cancel STAAR for this year, and I stand with them. Since we care about our students' health and safety, since we care about our teachers and families we have to move away from prioritizing standardized testing. We have suffered during the worst health and economic crisis of our lifetime, as well as a winter storm which we were all unprepared for. Lives have been lost and ruined, and hardest hit has been communities of color. This is an opportunity to focus on cultural curriculum to connect to our students, and to show compassion and healing in our public schools. Standardized testing does not reflect the complexity of the students. Prioritizing STAAR was not centering the health of students or educators.

What is your stance on charter schools?

While some charter schools work well for some students and families, I am concerned that a public school district has numerous contracts with charters. SAISD must prioritize neighborhood schools and the equitable distribution of resources, especially for our large population of communities of color, English language learners, and students who need individualized instruction. In addition, any complex agreements made with charter schools and every partnership, must be analyzed individually and held accountable throughout their agreement terms.


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

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