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Education Forum Highlights Recent Achievements, Challenges Ahead

Local and state leaders in education met at the Pearl Stable in San Antonio on Thursday, April 21 for a forum on educational initiatives, issues and the quest for student success in the San Antonio area. The sold-out event was hosted by the San Antonio Area Foundation and the San Antonio Clean Technology Forum. You can download and listen to the audio of the panel through the SoundCloud link at the bottom of this page.

Opening the forum, David Robinson, founder of the Carver Academy, expressed his hope for all of San Antonio’s youth: “I want them to hit a target when they go out in that world [after high school]. I don’t want them to drift aimlessly.”

Topics touched on in the forum include the economic segregation of San Antonio, funding for education, Pre-K, and the inclusion of arts as part of a well-balanced education for public school students.

Some highlights:

Panelists agreed that much has changed in the city over the past decade-plus, but some things remain the same. Mark Larson, founder of KIPP San Antonio, said “my hunch is that we have quite a few people moving here to San Antonio to teach, and to lead…in a way that never existed before. There’s [also] been a charter influx.” But SAISD superintendent Pedro Martinez also noted the ingrained economic segregation in the city, something that has been a part of Bexar County for decades. “When I came here with my family [from Nevada], we really saw that.”

Elaine Mendoza, chair of Pre-K 4 SA, shared some of the program's successes and challenges, their hopes for expansion, and touted their new partnership with Wolf Trap that brings the arts into early childhood education.

Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Education, spoke forcefully about changing the public’s attitude toward teachers and education:

"Our cliché, our view of teaching, is ‘those who can, do, those who can’t, teach,’" Morath said. "That is a tremendously broken view of what the teaching profession is, which is one of the most cognitively demanding professions on earth. It is up there with neurosurgery. And yet we have this very sort of base view—‘oh, thank you for your service, but you probably aren’t up to en engineer’s quality.’ Our mindset should be with young people, ‘you know, you are pretty sharp as a kid. You should consider a career as an engineer, but I’m not sure you’re cut out to be a teacher.’ That’s the mindset that we need to have.”

“Why don’t we pay them more, then?” asked moderator Robert Rivard.

“Well in Dallas we’re paying our top teachers $90,000 a year,” Morath said, as the crowd oohed and ahhed. “The issue is how do we get there? It’s pretty clear that we’ll bankrupt the system if we pay $90,000 a year overnight, so you’re going to have to build some sort of differentiation into that.”

Even if the financial problem were solved, Morath continued, “we have a standards driven instructional system focused on English, math, social studies. This is important, but a lot of my life has to do with other things. It has to do with looking a man in the eye and shaking his hand, it has to do with keeping my word, and taking care of my family, and when I stumble, pick myself up, dust myself off, and try, try again. This is a key part of the educational system and our teachers know this, but our system doesn’t necessarily reinforce this.” 

Opening remarks:
Ivy Taylor, Mayor, City of San Antonio
David Robinson, Founder, Carver Academy

Moderator:
Robert Rivard, Founder, Rivard Report

Panelists:
Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Education
Mark Larson, Founder/CEO, KIPP San Antonio
Elaine Mendoza, Chair, Pre-K 4 SA, Texas A&M Board of Regents
Tom Torkelson, Founder/CEO, IDEA Public Schools
Pedro Martinez, Superintendent, San Antonio ISD
Robert Blount, Jr. , Board Trustee, District 4, NorthsideISD