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SAISD Superintendent Wants To Be ‘District That Defies The Odds’

Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, left, shakes hands with Richard Perez, CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking to a room full of San Antonio’s business leaders Friday, Superintendent Pedro Martinez told them he and his staff would make sure the children attending the San Antonio Independent School District are receiving a good education.

But he said he needed the help of the business community to reduce the city’s economic segregation.

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Hispanic of Commerce invited Martinez to update them on the state of the district.

He began by laying out SAISD’s challenges: Nationwide, less than 10 percent of students from poor families earn a college degree by the age of 24, according to the Pell Institute.

And like many Texas districts with schools struggling to improve academic performance, SAISD has a high concentration of poverty. More than half of SAISD families make less than $35,000 a year. The median household income for one out of four families is less than $20,000.

According to a district analysis of census data, 82 percent of the city’s poorest families live in the school districts that make up the urban core: Edgewood, SAISD, Harlandale and South San Antonio.

“Sadly the way economic development has happened in this city has driven much of this,” Martinez said. “I even would wonder how many have ever visited one of my neighborhoods. Cause you don’t have to. So then you don’t have to see it, right? And if you don’t have to see it, you don’t have to do anything about it.”

Martinez said he and his staff are working to boost third grade reading, fifth grade math and participation in advanced classes starting in eighth grade — all with one goal in mind: increasing college graduation rates.

“Do we care about STAAR (state standardized) tests? Absolutely. Do we care about the state accountability system? Absolutely; it drives much of our work. But who we want to be is the district that defies the odds about children attending and graduating from college,” he said.

When Martinez became superintendent in June 2015, just 5 percent of the district’s 2,483 high school graduates scored high enough on the SAT or ACT to be considered ready for college. Last year that number climbed to 9 percent.

He acknowledged the district has a long ways to go, but pointed to positive signs, such as a high level of interest in specialty schools like Advanced Learning Academy and Twain Dual Language Academy.

Martinez also said the district has nearly doubled the number of eighth graders taking ninth grade math and English over the past two years, and more than 90 percent of those students passed.

“If we do the right things; if we work with the community, if we work with the parents, it is amazing what our children will show us,” Martinez said.

Still, he said change will take time, and he asked business leaders for patience and for their help reducing the effects of poverty, such as exposure to lead causing learning disabilities.

“We have thousands of children who have learning disabilities,” Martinez said. “We’ll own education. I can’t own the lead, folks. I can’t own the dilapidated housing. That’s where I need your help.”

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.