The headlines coming out of San Antonio ISD lately have been alarming: “Teacher Layoffs,” “Making Cuts to Teaching Staff,” and more. Superintendent Pedro Martinez is facing strong criticism. But I want to assure families and people who care about the long-term success of San Antonio ISD that this difficult passage is a necessary step along the way to a brighter future for the district. It takes courageous leadership to make tough decisions. Parents in San Antonio ISD should be showing their support for Superintendent Martinez and the board so the overall positive trend can continue.
San Antonio ISD is in the process of becoming a 21st century school system. This transformation involves a set of changes that will help students find best-fit schools and will make sure that low-income families have access to high quality schools, too. In the past few years, as new schools of choice have opened, families have already started to see the benefits.
San Antonio ISD Is Becoming a System of Great Schools
Pedro Martinez joined San Antonio ISD as Superintendent in 2015. He announced a set of five-year goals and a plan for getting there, called Blueprint for Excellent: Target 2020. Martinez presented the most recent iteration of the plan at the State of the District 2018. The most visible changes have been in the areas of new in-district charter schools, district-charter partnerships, and lab schools.
The first big change that I noticed was an explosion of new schools of choice within San Antonio ISD. The San Antonio Charter Moms discussion group has been buzzing with questions about these new school models and how to apply. Here are some examples of new in-district charter schools in San Antonio ISD that parents are excited about:
- Advanced Learning Academy (opened 2016) lets students collaborate and dive deep into projects; a great place for students who need to stretch beyond what’s typical for their grade level.
- Steele Montessori Academy (opened 2017) is the only public Montessori school in the San Antonio area.
- Twain Dual Language Academy (opened 2017) offers dual language education in English and Spanish. Native English speakers and native Spanish speakers learn side-by-side and get the cognitive benefits of being bilingual. This model will be expanded to Irving Dual Language Academy in 2018.
District-charter partnerships are a way to bring expertise from successful charter school operators into the San Antonio ISD community. Here are examples of district-charter partnerships in San Antonio ISD:
- Braination at Brewer Academy opened in 2017 to serve special education students with emotional or behavioral problems; read more here.
- Democracy Prep at Stewart Elementary will open in 2018 with a goal of raising achievement among the students who are zoned for Stewart, a traditionally underserved population; read more in this earlier post.
- Texans Can Academy at Highlands High School will operate a school-within-a-school starting in 2018 to support students who are above-age and under-credited, and at risk of dropping out; read more in this earlier post.
Lab schools are campuses that host teacher-training programs. They have a dual purpose of offering high-quality education to current students and developing great teachers and school leaders for the future. Here are examples of lab schools within San Antonio ISD:
- Relay Graduate School of Education, with a teaching residency model, began operating as a lab school at Ogden Elementary in 2017 and will expand to Storm Elementary in 2018.
- Trinity University’s Department of Education works with Advanced Learning Academy and Lamar Elementary.
These new programs—schools of choice, district-charter partnerships, and lab schools—are moving San Antonio ISD in the direction of meeting the 2020 goals.
Temporary Reduction in Force; Long-Term Vision for Talent Management
The 2016 Blueprint for Excellence highlighted five Pillars of Success, including Talent Management, which is defined as the process of “creat[ing] an innovative learning culture for SAISD by attracting, recruiting, and retaining top instructional and leadership talent,” in the words of Deputy Superintendent Matthew Weber.
The Blueprint document outlined talent management strategies like leadership pathways, teaching residency programs, and laboratory schools. The overall message is that the school district’s culture is changing:
Our ambitious plans for talent management, and all other components of this blueprint, hinge
on our ability to build a systemic culture of high expectations and consistent accountability, for
students and for staff. Shifting culture is an on-going process that will take years to achieve,
but we are all in. Our rigorous 5-year goals for academic excellence throughout SAISD are a
testament to our commitment.
In 2018, San Antonio ISD is in a tough situation. Student enrollment is still falling, and there is a significant budget gap. As Texas Public Radio explained:
District officials said the cuts are necessary because it’s expecting $31 million less in state revenue next school year. The district budgeted for a slight increase this school year, but instead saw its greatest drop in recent memory: a loss of more than 2,000 students. Next year, it expects to lose about 800 more students for a total enrollment of 49,969.
Falling enrollment and the resulting budget shortfall has made it necessary for the district to lay off teachers and cut central office staff. The teachers’ union, the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, is campaigning on social media (and elsewhere) against the layoffs. This controversy is heating up in preparation for the May 14 board meeting, when the board will vote on the list of teachers who were asked to resign but declined to do so.
The current reduction in force is a painful but necessary step for San Antonio ISD to act in a financially responsible way during a period of declining student enrollment. The vision of the Talent Management pillar, as part of the overall blueprint for a system of great schools, is optimistic: building a community of great teachers and school leaders who want to educate and lift up every student, including the ones from underserved backgrounds who have traditionally been left behind.
San Antonio ISD Parents Support Superintendent Pedro Martinez
San Antonio ISD parents need to speak up and show their support for Superintendent Martinez. Under his leadership, San Antonio ISD is already becoming a system of great schools, with many new schools of choice that offer unique models that appeal to parents, and are designed to integrate students of many different backgrounds.
As I said in my March 19 op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News, the Superintendent and the board of trustees are acting courageously and making tough decisions. I’m sure it’s not easy for district staff to ask a group of teachers to resign, or for board members to vote to terminate contracts. It’s important not to let this difficult period distract from the overall trend of improvement in the district.
San Antonio ISD is going through a period of dramatic change. These improvements are already benefitting students and families through new schools of choice, offering a range of options so that families can find the best-fit schools for their children.
Now is the time for parents to speak up and let Martinez and the board know that we appreciate the changes that the district has made already, and we want the improvements to continue under Martinez’s leadership. I encourage you to use your personal social media accounts to spread that message (look for posts tagged #ParentsforPedro) and to attend the May 14 board meeting. Looking for more guidance or inspiration? Ask to join the San Antonio Charter Moms discussion group.
- “Facing enrollment decline, SAISD begins teacher layoffs,” Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, May 9, 2018
- “SAISD Could Lay Off as Many as 60 Teachers,” Emily Donaldson, Rivard Report, May 9, 2018
- “San Antonio ISD To Terminate 60 Teacher Contracts,” Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio, May 9, 2018
- “More job cuts possible at local school district,” Renee Santos, News 4 San Antonio, May 9, 2018
- “SAISD cutting back on teachers following low enrollment, $31 million shortfall,” KENS 5, May 9, 2018
- “SAISD making cuts to teaching staff due to decrease in enrollment,” KSAT, May 8, 2018
- “Teachers union announces suit against SAISD over charter school partnership,” Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, May 4, 2018
- “Posters Knocking SAISD Superintendent a Visible Sign of Tension Over Charter,” Emily Donaldson, Rivard Report, April 30, 2018
- “SAISD Board Gives Initial Approval For Trimming Staff Based On Performance,” Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio, April 17, 2018
- “Texas Has Ambitious Plans to Transform Urban Schools,” David Osborne & Emily Langhorne, U.S. News & World Report, April 13, 2018
- “SAISD board approves charter agreement,” Alia Malik, San Antonio Express-News, March 19, 2018
- “Charter school plan merits OK,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Express-News, March 15, 2018
- “San Antonio ISD’s District-Charter Partnership with Democracy Prep at Stewart Elementary,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, January 20, 2018
- “21st Century Education System: A Discussion in San Antonio with David Osborne on Reinventing America’s Schools,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, December 5, 2017