More than 50 people attended the forum at The Garage at Pearl. The event was organized by Teach For America, a nonpartisan organization that recruits high-potential leaders to work closely with students, educators, and families as teachers in marginalized communities. Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard moderated the forum.
More than a week away from the start of early voting for the May 4 elections, campaigns for the school board have become tense, focusing on district controversies, such as SAISD’s decision to contract with nonprofit partners to manage 18 campuses.
Teach For America invited candidates in contested races. Three candidates — Alicia Perry of District 2, Janell Rubio of District 5, and Chris Castro of District 6 – were no-shows. Rubio had RSVP’d before withdrawing, and Castro was tending to a family emergency, Rivard noted.
Rivard read prepared statements from Perry and Rubio, and the attending candidates also got to introduce themselves to the audience.
“As the parent of six children and as a community activist, I believe all children in San Antonio deserve to attend a great neighborhood public school,” Perry’s statement read. “As a board member I will fight for fully funded schools and the resources we need to improve teaching conditions.”
Rubio, a District 5 candidate, is an SAISD alum and parent. According to her statement, she and other community members feel ignored by the district regarding crucial decisions.
“I felt like decisions are being made without community input,” she said. “The decision to close Rodriguez Elementary School is an example of a decision being made behind closed doors without any input from parents or the community.”
Chris Green, a Rhodes Middle School teacher running for District 2, said it takes a lot of things for teachers and students to be successful in and out of the classroom.
“I thought how can I become more involved outside of just being a middle school English teacher,” said Green, who has co-founded a community organization that aims to address educational equity. “I’ve taken action with parents, students and families to improve outcomes for students.”
District 2 candidate Darrell “The Voice” Boyce, a pastor and Eastside community activist, said furthering progress in the community begins by providing youth a quality education.
“The only way we’re going to have the best education possible is to have someone in that (board) seat who will fight for what’s due to our students in our community,” Boyce added.
District 2 candidate Royce Sullivan, a home health care companion, said he can effectively represent the community on the school board.
“I have a responsibility to bring that voice back to the table and have that communicated back to the classroom, the living room, the neighborhood,” he added.
School board President Patti Radle, the District 5 representative, said she wants re-election to continue work “that we feel is very progressive, promising, effective, and creative for the sake of the academic success of our students.”
Radle stressed her credentials as a longtime Westside community activist who has helped to serve at-risk youth and families. She said she regularly visits SAISD schools.
District 6 trustee Christina Martinez said she brings to the board multiple perspectives: those of a working parent, an associate at a local nonprofit partner, and a mentoring advocate.
“We want to walk into a high-quality school, whether that be a neighborhood school across the street or a choice school with a single-gender program on the Eastside,” Martinez added.
District 6 candidate Eduardo Torres, a recent Edison High School graduate, said the district overlooks the most important stakeholder, the student, and that must change.
“A teacher’s working conditions are a student’s learning conditions, and they have an equal voice in what goes on in those classrooms,” added Torres.
Candidates were asked how they would work with Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
Boyce said he would be willing to hear out Martinez’s vision for the district before offering critiques. Green said he could help Martinez better relate to teachers and students. Sullivan said he would urge Martinez to do a better job explaining his goals and rationale to district residents.
Radle and Christina Martinez agreed Pedro Martinez is passionate about providing a quality education in creative ways and that he and the board should have a partnership, not an adversarial relationship.
But Torres said the decision by district leadership to have nonprofits operate 18 schools has further divided the community over the influx of charter school organizations.
“The superintendent is a visionary, but his vision and my vision are different,” he added.
As for how the district deals with low-performing schools and charter organizations, all the attending candidates said the performance of all SAISD schools must be raised.
Candidates such as Martinez and Radle said it was not fair for others to disparage the presence of charter campuses and choice schools or the parents who send their children to those facilities.
“I’m tired of (people) vilifying parents for making the best decision for their kids,” Martinez added.
Sullivan said nonprofit partners are coming in “to make sure we don’t have those gaps” in educational efforts across the district. Green said “we need to partner with as many people as possible to ensure better outcomes.”
Boyce had to leave before the forum ended, citing a health issue.