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Edgewood ISD becomes the fourth San Antonio school district to approve school closures in 2023

An elementary student speaks at a podium as classmates hold up signs in support of Winston behind him.
Camille Phillips
Winston Elementary student Timothy Cortez tells the Edgewood school board in Spanish why he likes his school and thinks it should stay open ahead of a vote to close Winston and Wrenn Middle School November 14, 2023.

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The Edgewood Independent School District trustees approved a district recommendation to close two schools Tuesday evening in a 5 to 1 vote. Winston Elementary and Wrenn Middle School will cease operations at the end of the school year.

Families and staff from the affected schools filled the board room to watch the board decide their fate and call on them to reconsider.

Kristen Cortez said at least one of her children has been enrolled at Winston for almost a decade.

“Our school is the best school for our community,” Cortez said. “I have two kids that have been in special needs classes, and these teachers have so much patience with these students versus these charter schools.”

“I had to [enroll my kids in] three different schools when y'all decided to take away kindergarten to second grade,” Cortez said. “It was hard being a single parent, but I did it and I still brought my kids back.”

A woman in a Winston t-shirt holds her toddler in one hand and gestures with the other while speaking at a podium.
Camille Phillips
Winston Elementary mom Alma Lopez speaks to the Edgewood school board November 14, 2023.

Winston is the only Edgewood elementary school south of Highway 90, and many of the public speakers expressed concern that moving schools would make it harder for parents without cars to participate in their children’s education. Several speakers also mentioned that changes to grade configurations and school models in recent years had already affected Winston students.

Edgewood partnered with Pre-K 4 SA to operate the Gardendale Early Learning Program in 2019. Two years later, Edgewood partnered with Texas A&M University-San Antonio to operate Winston and converted it from a traditional elementary school into a 3rd-5th grade intermediate school.

Lost memories

Edgewood also partnered with the Texas Council for International Studies in 2021 to operate Las Palmas and Roy Cisneros, converting them to single-gender schools studying the International Baccalaureate model.

“My son Ryan attended Las Palmas for kindergarten. The following year, we were told by the district that they were turning Las Palmas into an all-girls school, so my children had to attend Winston. He attended Winston for first grade, but again was told by EISD that he had to go to Gardendale because Winston was turning into a third to fifth grade school,” Valerie Lozano told the board.

“I get that school closures are inevitable. But hasn't the community around Winston been through enough?” she asked. “As many of us EISD alumni can tell you, we have made lifelong friends from kids we went to school with from elementary to high school. But, unfortunately, my son Ryan may not have those same memories.”

A woman in a cream shirt and ponytail speaks at the podium with her son standing next to her.
Camille Phillips
Valerie Lozano speaks to the board about how many times her son Ryan has had to move schools already.

A task force of parents, staff and board members originally came up with 11 ideas to consolidate schools. But after holding three public meetings, the district announced the final recommendation would be to close Winston and Wrenn.

Michael Valdez, the board’s youngest trustee, had several questions Tuesday evening about how the district landed on the final recommendation and how the closures would impact the Winston and Wrenn communities.

Edgewood leaders answered some of the questions, but Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez told Valdez some of the answers to his questions could have been discovered on his own or would take more time to answer.

“So, what I'm hearing is you don't have any answers right now,” Valdez said. “And it really alarms me as the superintendent, the top executive that the school board hires, does not have any answers today.”

“I think in all fairness, I don't think there's any one individual that would be able to recall every bit of information,” Hernandez replied. “Again, ladies and gentlemen, I will ask you to recall the information that we have available on our website. And it has been available to the board and trustees.”

Six men sit at a dias with the Edgewood ISD emblem above it.
Camille Phillips
From left, trustees Richard Santoyo and Michael Valdez and superintendent Eduardo Hernandez listen to public comments during the November 14, 2023 school board meeting. Board President Martha Castilla, the only woman on the board, was absent.

'We started too late'

District leadership presented the rationale for the school closures at the three community meetings but did not make a final presentation on the recommendations at the board meeting Tuesday — leaving families to look up facts on their own if they were only tuning in for the final vote.

According to the district, enrollment has dropped 22% over the last five years and is projected to drop to 7,300 students by 2033. Like other San Antonio districts that have closed schools recently, Edgewood is reducing the number of schools it operates to make better use of their financial resources amid declining enrollment. San Antonio ISD voted to close 15 schools on Monday, and Harlandale and South San Antonio closed schools at the end of last school year.

Assistant Superintendent Myrna Martinez said Tuesday Edgewood currently has a $13 million budget deficit.

We are required by state law to keep at least two and a half month operating expenses, which is about $21.7 million. At the rate we operate, we can sustain operations as usual for only a year,” Martinez said.

One of the questions Valdez wanted answered was how many parents on the task force participated in the meeting that made the final closure recommendations.

Hernandez said he didn’t know, but trustee Richard Santoyo, who co-chaired the task force, did.

“Fifty people showed up first meeting. After that, it started to dwindle. I can't tell you how many attended the second meeting, third meeting, fourth meeting. The fifth meeting [when the final recommendation was made] was primarily staff,” Santoyo said.

“For those who believe this process was moving too fast, personally, I believe we started too late,” Santoyo added. “Honestly, unless things change very soon, this may be an ongoing process in the near future.”

A student in khakis and a green polo speaks at the podium as the audience looks on.
Camille Phillips
Wrenn Middle School student Jacob Gallegos says most of his classmates live within walking distance of Wrenn.

'A grieving process'

Valdez tried to amend the proposal to instead consolidate other schools that were on the original list of 11 ideas proposed by the task force, but no other trustee supported the amendment.

He said merging Gardendale with Winston to return Winston to a traditional elementary school and co-locating the single-gender schools in one building would have less of an impact on students.

However, Hernandez took issue with the way Valdez spoke about Gardendale’s partnership with Pre-K 4 SA.

We don't need to lose respect for one another in this conversation,” Hernandez said.

“Conversations like this, we don't prioritize partners. We prioritize students because we're advocates for all of our students,” Valdez replied to applause from the audience.

Hernandez also said he understood the emotion caused by closing schools and promised that the people that make the schools great — teachers, principals and other staff — would not lose their jobs.

This is the start of a grieving process. We completely respect that because people are losing something in the community,” Hernandez said. “But let's also make sure that we take care of the people that are in the school — the students.”

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

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.