Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Since the San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees voted to turn over operations of Stewart Elementary School to New York-based charter operator Democracy Prep, relations have been tense between district officials and both community members and SAISD’s teachers union.
Tangible evidence of the strain was apparent last week as posters and notecards criticizing Superintendent Pedro Martinez appeared throughout the district’s boundaries, posted on telephone poles along Fiesta parade routes and tucked under the windshield wipers of parked cars.
The posters criticized Martinez’s work experience and the school board’s vote to partner with Democracy Prep. Some used the hashtag “#byepedro” and “#SAISDkidsdeservebetter.”
Board President Patti Radle called the posters “disturbing” and said she doesn’t know who printed or posted them. However, she said, some of the language used in the printed materials mirrors the language used by members of the Alliance during public comment periods at board meetings.
Martinez declined to comment on the posters.
“This feels like somehow connected to those people who have come down and spoken [at meetings] and many of them have been members of the Alliance,” Radle told the Rivard Report. “But I certainly didn’t want to believe that the Alliance would take such action.”
Radle said she called Alliance President Shelley Potter last week to ask her to denounce the anti-Martinez posters. Radle said Potter told her that she hadn’t seen the posters and didn’t respond to requests to denounce them.
Several of the posters mention Stewart Elementary as a point of contention. Stewart is one of several schools that the state’s accountability system deemed failing for five years in a row. A new law allows districts to partner with a nonprofit, governmental entity, institution of higher education, or charter to take over operations on those perpetually failing campuses and pause the accountability system for two years. SAISD chose to partner with Democracy Prep at Stewart.
Like many other districts around the state, SAISD has received criticism for pursuing partnerships with charters.
The Alliance blasted the district for its lack of transparency in the process, saying Stewart’s parents and teachers were told of the partnership less than a week before the board vote. Emails obtained by the Alliance from SAISD Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury indicate the district has been in contact with Democracy Prep since July.
Potter told the Rivard Report that she didn’t know who distributed the posters. However, she welcomed input from the community on the challenges facing SAISD.
“The conversation should not be a conversation between our union and the district administration or our union and the board,” Potter said. “The conversation has to include the community and has to include the parents. And so if there are members of the community that feel however they feel, they certainly have a right to be in the conversation.”
Potter characterized the current nature of the relationship between the district and Alliance as “very, very different” from her experience in the previous three decades. She noted, however, that SAISD serves its students best when the Alliance and district are working together.
“When we have all of us together, that is how we will be the strongest,” Potter said. “That is how we will best meet the needs of our students and the community that we serve. Any time that there are disagreements over issues, part of what we have to be able to do is still be able to look at how we work together on areas of common interest.”
Potter mentioned a few areas where the district and Alliance can come together to support students: school safety, a community schools model, and scientifically based reading instruction.
She hopes she will be able to add one more to that list – turning around failing campuses.
The Alliance president said she would like to see a different approach to failing schools in future years. Potter cited Austin ISD’s approach to one of its own failing campuses as a “blueprint for how to do it right.”
AISD requested proposals from willing partners at chronically failing Mendez Middle School. Two groups ultimately submitted proposals, and the district’s trustees are expected to vote Monday night to choose Communities in Schools of Central Texas as the official partner organization for Mendez.
Communities in Schools of Central Texas, an Austin-area nonprofit, plans to team up with the University of Texas at Tyler’s Texas STEM Academy to operate Mendez as an in-district charter.
To address community concerns, Radle indicated the district could change its approach in the future.
“I think that we need to come up with some creative solutions that involve our own relationships with organizations, nonprofits, or institutions of higher learning who are allowed to handle [turnarounds,]” Radle told the Rivard Report.