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San Antonio ISD Superintendent Doubles Down On Criticism, Highlights ‘Turnaround’ Schools

File Photo | Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

During a presentation to business leaders Wednesday, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez made a point to respond to critics and praise the district’s board of trustees. 

“I am convinced that we have the best school board in the entire nation,” he said, “and so I just want to acknowledge our board.  We have made some tough decisions, and they have stuck with us.”

The annual State of the District event sponsored by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is intended to give employers an update on SAISD.

“Sometimes we get a little bit of criticism of, ‘Well, are you doing some things at the expense of each other?' ” Martinez said a little later, referring to concerns raised by some educators and community members that extra resources are being allocated to the district’s new specialty schools, leaving neighborhood schools behind.

“They’re not happening at the expense of each other, but they’re both needed.”

The Texas Tribunehighlighted those concerns in a recent series on school segregation.

As he often does when defending the district’s choice to expand specialty schools, like the Advanced Learning Academy and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Martinez said giving families options helps SAISD compete with charter schools.

Like charter schools, families are required to apply to SAISD’s specialty schools. Students are selected through a lottery system.

“We have the highest penetration of outside charter seats of any district in Bexar County. I haven’t compared it to other cities in Texas, but we’re definitely one of the highest,” Martinez said.  “This is what I call my offense.”

But, Martinez said, the district was also dedicating resources and attention to turn around low-performing neighborhood schools.

“Our neighborhood schools, for the first time, are now starting to outperform their competition,” Martinez told the audience eating breakfast at The Pearl Stable. “The superintendent of IDEA (charter schools) told me..., ‘Pedro, we’re having the hardest time filling our seats now in San Antonio (out of all the cities with IDEA schools across Texas).’ … This is why.”

Kayla John's students vote for the group they think did the best job reading poems aloud together on Jan. 25, 2019.
Credit File Photo Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
Gates Elementary has 10 teachers participating in the district's Master Teacher Initiative, intended to help attract and retain strong teachers.

Martinez highlighted five charter schools with low academic accountability ratings from the Texas Education Agency: IDEA Eastside Academy, Jubilee-Highland Hills, Jubilee-Highland Park, KIPP Esperanza Dual Language and Bexar County Academy. He compared them to nearby SAISD neighborhood schools with higher ratings.

For example, IDEA Eastside Academy received the equivalent of a D, while Gates Elementary earned an A and Smith Elementary scored a B.

However, IDEA Eastside Academy was the only IDEA campus to receive a D in San Antonio. Out of 17 rated schools in San Antonio, 13 IDEA campuses earned an A or B. As a district, IDEA earned an A, while SAISD received a C.

Martinez said he focused the district’s turnaround efforts first on finding good principals and retaining strong teachers, and then built on that through a push for college and early childhood education.

At the end of the event, San Antonio Chamber President Richard Perez encouraged the audience to give the board of trustees a round of applause.

“None of this could happen without the support (of the board) because this is real change that takes a lot of intestinal fortitude,” Perez said.

The SAISD board made several controversial decisions last year, including handing oversight of Stewart Elementary to an outside charter network.

Board President Patti Radle and District 6 trustee Christina Martinez are both running for re-election in May.

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

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. 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.