Rising star Rey Saldaña talked to me about teaming up with KIPP San Antonio, a group of high-performing charter schools in San Antonio, to attack poverty and improve education. Talking to Saldaña made me feel old, but that’s OK, because I’m glad that he has so much energy and so many good ideas.
District 4 elected Saldaña to the San Antonio City Council in 2011. (Here is Saldaña’s campaign site; here is an earlier post mentioning his 2013 reelection.) He grew up on the South Side, graduated from South San Antonio High School, and earned degrees from Stanford, including a master’s degree in education policy. Saldaña has served on the board of KIPP San Antonio since 2013, and recently joined the central office staff as Chief Engagement Officer.
On a recent afternoon, Saldaña met my kids and me at the Pearl to talk about his expanded role at KIPP. My goal was to interview him, but he was curious about what I am doing (blogging, homeschooling, etc.), so I did about half of the talking.
Saldaña was curious about how I got on the path to blogging about education. Back in 1992, I wrote my first college term paper about public school choice, one of the new ideas in Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. We both nodded in admiration at Clinton’s foresight and policy acumen. It occurred to me that I was already in college when Clinton was elected president, and that made me feel old. But that’s OK.
Saldaña also asked about homeschooling my son, F.T., so I talked about our routine for math and reading. Just the day before, my kids and I had gone to the San Antonio Museum of Art for a gallery tour, story time, and crafts; then, in the afternoon, we visited the San Antonio Zoo. Saldaña’s reaction: “That sounds just about ideal.”
While we talked, my kids ran around the grassy square at the Pearl, climbed on the chairs and tables, lay down on the benches, jumped on my lap, and so on. Saldaña was a good sport about keeping up a conversation around my high-energy kids, and he let F.T. scrutinize the pattern on his tie. He asked me a question about “their father.” Very tactful. I tend to assume that two adults who are raising children together are married. I believe that, whenever possible, a household with two adults in a committed relationship is the best environment for raising children. But, these days, many children are being born outside of marriage. “Tie the Knot: Why are so many twentysomethings having children before getting married?”, W. Bradford Wilcox, Slate, March 25, 2013. Saldaña’s judicious speech patterns are in keeping with the times. Yes, it made me feel old. But that’s OK, because it helped me see things from a different perspective.
Saldaña and I were surprised to discover an area of common interest: computer games. I used to play World of Warcraft, and Saldaña used to be an avid Starcraft player. We both agreed that online computer games are so much fun that they make it hard to get anything else done.
Even though I don’t play Warcraft any more, some of the mental habits of the game are still with me. To have fun in Warcraft, it helps to join a good guild. You can depend on your guild mates to help with crafting items and forming larger groups to complete quests. Now, I have two real-life guilds: the community of mom bloggers in San Antonio, and the charter school community.
I wonder if Saldaña carried some of the mental habits of Starcraft with him into real life, too. When you log in to Starcraft, the server sends you into battle against an opposing player or team, either 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3. In 2v2 or 3v3 modes, the classic strategy is for the team to concentrate their attacks on one member of the opposing team, while working together to defend their teammate who is under attack.
In real life, Saldaña is focusing his attacks on the greatest challenge facing his constituents: poverty. During our conversation, Saldaña mentioned the documentary Hunger in America, broadcast on CBS in 1968, which visited the 78207 zip code, just west of downtown San Antonio. The painful truth is that, decades later, food deprivation is still happening there. “Yes, deprivation still exists in SA”, San Antonio Express-News, March 19, 2013; also, “San Antonio, Let’s Have a Conversation About Poverty”, Robert Rivard, Rivard Report, January 8, 2014 and “Alamo City gains international fame for poverty”, Scott Andrews, San Antonio Current, August 31, 2011. (No, I did not watch Hunger in America on TV in 1968. I’m not that old.)
Saldaña has found a teammate, KIPP San Antonio, to help him attack poverty. Saldaña wants to keep KIPP true to its mission of helping the neediest children. During the recent recruiting season, outlined in this earlier post, Saldaña went blockwalking in 78207 to help families learn about the opportunity for their children to go to KIPP. Education is the way out of poverty, and KIPP gets students ready for college. If you want to get a closer look at KIPP San Antonio, come to the First Friday Breakfast on May 2, 2014 at 7:45 a.m. at KIPP Aspire Academy, 735 Fredericksburg Rd., San Antonio, Texas 78201 (map); find more details and the complete schedule in this earlier post.
Another path to success is STEM education. Saldaña is proud of the South San Antonio High School FIRST robotics team, the Grease Monkeys, Team 457, winners of the Dallas regional. (Learn more at Alamo-FIRST.) Another school in Saldaña’s part of town, Southwest High School, won recognition for its successful CyberPatriot teams. (My husband is one of their mentors.) Students who participate in STEM programs like robotics and cybersecurity are a step closer to finding good jobs in technology.
I am grateful that Saldaña took a moment to meet with me, and didn’t seem bothered by the interruptions from my rambunctious kids. He is a good listener and was curious about what I am doing with homeschooling and blogging. I am young enough to like computer games and to appreciate the value of STEM programs like robotics. But, I am also kind of old, because I remember Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign unfolding in real time, and I tend to assume that people get married before having children. The upside of being middle-aged, though, is having enough humility and life experience to be helpful: I can support Saldaña in his mission of connecting KIPP with the community and fulfilling the commitment to alleviate poverty through education.