Edgewood ISD has a new district superintendent, one who didn’t have to travel far to take up his duties. Emilio Castro, the former deputy superintendent of administration and operations at San Antonio ISD, was hired by the board of managers currently overseeing the troubled Westside school district.
Castro will be an inspiration to the district’s students and their families. He was the first in his family of 11 to attend college and started his teaching career as a bilingual teacher in Dallas ISD, where he was eventually named Teacher of the Year. At that time he was the youngest honoree and first Hispanic teacher to receive the award. He left Dallas ISD as an area superintendent to serve as superintendent of Kingsville ISD in South Texas.
He is not related to San Antonio’s high-profile Castro family that has produced HUD Secretary Julián and U.S. Rep. Joaquín.
“As we move forward in Edgewood ISD, my intention is to take what I learned from SAISD, and Dallas, and Kingsville, but also to look at the particularities of Edgewood,” Castro said.
One of the challenges, he said, is the district’s size. He plans to capitalize on what he learned about public-private partnerships in SAISD.
“We have an opportunity to expand our partnerships with the business community,” he added.
Introducing coding curriculum will be a major initiative for Castro, as he directs the district and its students toward new opportunities. Few Edgewood families see tech-oriented studies as a viable avenue for their children. Castro recalled hearing Graham Weston, chairman and co-founder of Rackspace and Geekdom, say that the cities that produce the greatest number of coders are going to win the economic battle for smart workers and their families.
He, therefore, intends to make Edgewood part of that winning team.
Edgewood, with only 12,000 students, has seen the district’s modest size prevent it from leveraging such partnerships. Castro intends to reverse that mindset. He believes the flexibility and nimbleness of a small district can make it a great partner for businesses and initiatives like U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s computer science teaching partnership with the University of Texas. Castro plans to partner with businesses like Accenture to align computer training with the evolving job market.
All of this will happen in the context of Edgewood’s tight-knit community, which, according to Castro, is the district’s greatest strength.
“The community feel, the family feel, is even more so than it is in SAISD,” he said.
He chuckles that after a mere 10 days on the job, he’s visited half the schools in the district. After the holiday break, Castro intends on completing his listening tour by visiting every single Edgewood campus.
Castro said residents take strong ownership of schools, and have been deeply hurt by the mismanagement that led to State takeover of the school board in May.
Edgewood, in fact, is one of the named plaintiffs in the ongoing series of lawsuits against the State for inequitable public school funding.
“The fact that Edgewood is named in all those lawsuits shows that people here are willing to fight,” Castro said. “They will not go gentle into that good night.”
He has seen this same attitude through his work on the Westside Development Corporation board and is no stranger to the needs of the community, as well as the infrastructure and public services that lag behind other parts of the city.
The community is also not new to the fight for equity. People in Edgewood ISD have shown that they will come together “in a hurry” when asked, he added. This bodes well, as he plans to rally support for needed change.
While at SAISD, Castro participated in the exciting changes brought about under Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
“There are so many things that are happening there that are just the right thing at the right time,” he said.
For Castro, now is the “right time” for Edgewood.
He plans to place high priority on supporting teachers in the classroom. It will require restructuring at the administrative level and investing in high-quality professional development for teachers throughout the district. Castro wants to put in place campus-based instructional coaches to ensure that teachers have a team of support for classroom management, content, and pedagogy.
All in all, better support for teachers will mean more valuable teaching time. Castro is concerned about the number of Edgewood students who are not reading on grade level, particularly in 3rd grade. Literacy rates, therefore, will be one of his first focus points.
Attendance will be another priority. Right now Edgewood’s district attendance rate hovers just shy of 92%. Castro plans to work with families to emphasize that students need to be at school every day. While we were speaking, a team of parent-family liaisons was knocking on doors, talking to parents about student attendance.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that Edgewood is still under State management.
“Working with the board of managers is the most important thing as far as leadership right now,” Castro said.
The board of managers has shown robust commitment to the district, he added. They have met 35 times since May, about three times the standard number of school board meetings. They have worked with the community, with parents, and with students involved in setting a course to develop a strategic plan.
Castro’s job will be to carry out that plan.
The strategic plan calls for increased opportunities, improved academic performance, and other aspirational changes. To accomplish these goals, Castro anticipates opening two early college high schools and fortifying services aimed at early childhood literacy
“These are the monikers of how we’re changing,” Castro said.