The Harlandale Independent School District board wrapped up a year marked by leadership changes and questions about Texas Education Agency intervention Monday night when trustees voted unanimously to formally promote Gerardo Soto, the district’s executive director of operations, to superintendent.
The board voted to offer Soto an annual salary of $207,000. The contract, which was still being drawn up, will last 3 1/2 years, Soto said.
“I would like to thank the Harlandale ISD board of trustees for giving me this opportunity in leading this wonderful district,” Soto told the six trustees in attendance following their vote. “Our students are exceptional and deserve nothing but the best to excel in all they do. … Now we have to continue to celebrate our successes and face our challenges and will do so together.”
The board first voted to name Soto the lone finalist for the superintendent position in early December, but state law requires trustees wait 21 days before finalizing contracts. Soto will replace Samantha Gallegos, who acted as interim superintendent after the board severed ties with longtime district leader Rey Madrigal.
Trustees moved to fire Madrigal shortly after the State called for the replacement of the elected board with an appointed board of managers and a potential superintendent replacement. The move followed an investigation that found issues with the district’s procurement practices, board dysfunction, and financial mismanagement. The board ultimately approved Madrigal’s voluntary retirement and resignation about a month later.
Soto has worked in public education for 25 years, starting his career at South San ISD’s Athens Elementary as a teacher’s assistant. Later, he became a certified classroom teacher, coach, vice principal, and principal. He worked in South San, Judson, and Medina Valley ISDs before coming to Harlandale 17 years ago.
“I’m from the neighborhood, just the other side of the tracks, the South San area,” Soto said. “I always wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives … so I started as a teacher, and just seeing the difference that you do have as a teacher, it makes you humble. And then just moving up the ranks, you can make a bigger difference the higher you move up. You have more kids under your umbrella.”
Soto will start as the district’s leader in the middle of the 2019-20 school year. He told the Rivard Report he plans to begin meeting with district leaders and staff in the new year to collect feedback.
“We want to be transparent, we want to communicate, we want to build the trust of the community with the admin team,” Soto said. “We want to be visual, we want to be out and about.”
Specifically, Soto mentioned an interest in bolstering mental health services and access to technology for Harlandale’s families.
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In late June, TEA officials notified Harlandale the agency intended to replace the elected board with an appointed board of managers. Harlandale officials appealed the announced sanctions in August, just days after Madrigal announced his retirement, but the district is still waiting to learn the result of its appeal.