Posters Knocking SAISD Superintendent a Visible Sign of Tension Over Charter

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A Rivard Report photograph of Superintendent Pedro Martinez is stapled to a powerline post in the King William Neighborhood.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A poster bearing a photo of San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez is stapled to a utility post in the King William neighborhood.

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.


34 thoughts on “Posters Knocking SAISD Superintendent a Visible Sign of Tension Over Charter

  1. We should be shifting the conversation away from this nonsense and talk about the importance of having a school board that answers to the community-that not just gives them a voice but listens! Are you listening? Our kids need advocates that are 110% behind them!

  2. I would like to point our that your statement of SAISD making the decision to do with DemPrep is somewhat flawed. SAISD is comprised of more than our superintendent, board, or staff. Many parents and community members and parents have spoken against this move at multiple board meetings. I notice you have spoken to Patty Radle and Shelly Potter but have you spoken to a wide selection of SAISD families, especially those most affected by the board’s one-sided decisions? The Alliance has held several meetings with the community and families to share a wide variety of undiluted knowledge and discuss what they want for THEIR district. I feel the inclusion of all is why the same message is being spread throughout the city. Afterall, we remember information best when it hits close to home and we take it to heart. It is not uncommon for people to take to the wider public via social media tags when they feel an issue is not getting its due attention. Perhaps the best solution to this issue is talking to the families of the district on their terms with direct answers and evidence in district decisions that the community responses were used.

  3. The union is right. “The conversation has to include the community and has to include the parents.” And that has not happened. Therein lies the problem.

  4. Pointing out tensions does nothing to solve them. Tensions come from misses. Misinformation, misdirection, misrepresentation. All of which could be changed with clear and frequent conversation and team work. Right now the district has been giving excuses after the fact. We constantly hear these actions are what’s best for our students and neighboorhoods. Wouldn’t it be nice if you talked to us and let us tell you for ourselves?

  5. We need less focus on the district’s dissatisfaction and more focus on communication. It’s not too late. We should be moving forward and learning from the past. Talk, listen, work together. Give us all the facts up front and let us decide. Explore all choices, not just the easy ones that make money. Where is the transparency from beginning to end?

  6. There is a lot of misinformation here in the comments. First, SAISD is likely making between $1300 and $1404 per pupil in additional state funds by entering into an SB 1882 partnership. Those are valuable funds for a district facing budget cuts, and they will benefit SAISD kids.

    Over the last two months, SAISD has approved 4 SB 1882 partnerships with Democracy Prep, Relay, CAST, and Texan CAN Academy. Democracy Prep at Stewart will remain a neighborhood school that is part of SAISD. It will serve English Language Learners, Special Education students, and any other student from the neighborhood that wants to attend. If the attendance zone does not fill the school, then other families from the district and beyond can enroll at the campus. Hopefully, Democracy Prep will host more community meetings in the near future, so everyone in the Stewart and SAISD community can get to know them. My gut is that people will be pleasantly impressed with their model emphasizing civics education once seeing the school in action.

    Finally, all of the SAISD school board members are open to hearing your feedback. If you have specific concerns, email your school board member.

    • Democracy Prep is well known for expelling students who don’t fit their criteria. That it’s “open” to neighborhood kids only applies as long as those kids fit the charter’s strict disciplinary codes.

      Democracy Prep does NOT have a bilingual program for ELLs currently, and won’t until 2020.

      Bottom line – the school board ISN’T listening. Parents have called, emailed, demanded transparency and communication. Instead, parents have been dismissed, talked down to, treated like they’re peasants and the district admin know what’s best.

      • It has been a while since these posts came out, so I would like to give updated information:
        1. Democracy Prep is open to every student in the neighborhood. Yes, discipline is more strict. No, they will not simply throw students out for Mom-compliance.
        2. DP Stewart absolutely WILL have a bilingual program beginning it’s first year. Staff has been hired and parents have been notified.
        3. Even if you feel the school board is not listening, you can be assured that DP is. They have changed their framework to accommodate school hours that work for our city. They have adopted additional resources to serve their first bilingual school. They have reached out to community leaders to know what is going on in the area and how they can work with the people already in the community. They have given time and resources to love students they have yet to meet.
        The frustration with SAISD is valid; as a teacher, I know first-hand. Please do not take it out on the students or on DP.
        We should be asking ourselves how we can make sure transparency is achieved in the future, and what part we can play in it.

    • Why didn’t the school board involve the community like Austin School District did? They ended up partnering with a university and Communities in Schools, not a charter, for their school that was in the same situation as Stewart.

    • It is difficult to email board members about a concern before you know there is a concern (this is called transparency)! Citizens are not supposed to provide “feedback.” They are supposed to be a part of the decision-making process. My “gut” tells me that because this decision was made without community input, there was a real expectation on the part of the board and Mr. Martinez that the community will not find Democracy Prep to be a pleasant experience.

  7. Under the performance management agreement, Democracy Prep has to follow current SAISD policy on disclipine. They cannot do what they did at their founding here in SA.

    Their ESL program will meet state guidelines and if students want a dual language program within the Highlands feeder pattern, they can access it with transportation.

    The first time Austin went out for an RFP they got no responses. Last night their board finally approved an agreement mere hours before the deadline. It’s unclear if their proposal will actually be approved by TEA.

    • “access with transportation” – this clearly shows how little you understand about the community! SAISD’s bus transportation options are very limited. In many cases, students have to be transported to the pick up location. For those who can rely on the bus, if they miss it, they don’t go to school. Having access to a neighborhood school is essential for our lowest income students without other resources.

      The current ELL population at Stewart is around 40%.

  8. The school has not met standards for several years. Who is to blame? Teacher’s, parents, administrators? I do not have any children at Stewart nor know anyone that does. I pay SAISD taxes, am a product of SAISD and have children that attend school in the District. As a taxpayer I want to see SAISD children succeed. I want a positive return on my investment. Let’s give it a go, see how it all works out. If it does not work then it can be done away with.

  9. The frustration demonstrated towards Pedro should also include every board member. I’m 99.99% certain Pedro did not covertly start talking to Democracy Prep without notifying the board members. Begin a campaign to oust all the board members who voted for this change.

  10. I’m so proud of Pedro Martinez for putting the education and future of San Antonio’s children ahead of a teachers union which is concerned more about forcing kids to stay in failing schools because the teachers there are part of the union. And I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that this leader is being treated with great disrespect for putting children first.

    • Same old tired blame game. “The UNION is forcing kids to stay in failing schools.” No the administration put in place by Pedro Martinez is a major reason why Stewart is experiencing such trouble. The union didn’t shuffle staff at Stewart every other year. The buck stops with Mr. Martinez. He is going to leave SAISD in the same disarray that he left in his previous posts.

    • You must be a republican. Have you ever come near a local public school in the last 75 years? Public schools in Texas are the worst in the world,……and the charter schools in Texas are among the worst absolutely. What do you really KNOW about Pedro Martinez? Do you know any of the teachers in the SAISD? Do you know any of the kids in those schools? Obviously you do not.

  11. Competition in the K through 12 public education system is good, and, may be vital. We must implement and properly evaluate Democracy Prep, charter schools, private schools, and others.

    Over the past 15 years the Bexar County Appraisal District has increased my home and lot value by 100% (doubled). Tax revenue for school districts, and other government entries may also double in the near future, once the homes are sold.

    Without competition, school districts and other government entries have the incentive to spend any tax surplus before it becomes a surplus.

  12. Wow! A choice between a partnership with a local university and a corporate charter system from New York. And the SAISD superintendent and the school board went for the corporate out-of-town charter school?? Maybe it is Mr. Martinez and the board who need some schooling because they are certainly not meeting the yearly educational standards of the community.

    And what happened to you Ms. Radle? (I recall that years ago you expressed the same ethical values that Ms. Potter is espousing here.) I am very surprised at the low-blow insinuation you have made about the Alliance and citizens in the school district who spoke out. It is a defensive strategy that suggests something is quite amiss.

  13. You can tell Pedro is doing his job well. Posters and hashtags…oh no!

    Transparency? Interesting…so those who challenge transparency do not identify themselves on the very same poster or flyer…nah nothing wrong about that.

    Democracy Prep is bad…yet no one has talked about Steward’s failed performance for last five years. Where’s was the community’s consternation? Oh okay, you try to save a school from closure or board takeover but did not give the community “enough” transparency (which is the same community that sat by watching their campus failed over and over) so shame on you…yeah right that was a convincing.

    Democracy Prep does not teach ELLs – so if I said I saw a leprechaun riding a unicorn, I am telling the truth?

    Democracy Prep expels students and they are very strict…I am still waiting to see the point. In fact, they shall adhere to SAISD code of conduct.

    SAISD board isn’t listening…I guess you did not read how the author spoke with the board president, or when board heard numerous testimony (also from the community) about Demo Prep. In fact, I think “listening” means “doing what you want them to do.” Well, I see your point. But I think a correction in word usage would help with confusion…try “OBEY.” The board is not obeying. To that point, you can feel free to run for office then. Until then, they are elected to do job and will perform accordingly to their principles.

    • Huh? Oh no. It is important to review (perhaps a class?) how a democracy works. Citizens does not elect an public official to act according to THEIR own principles, but in accordance to the consensus of the community.

  14. Before the school board made their decision I commented on FB that Community in Schools is the solution. Stewart pupils need support outside of the school in order to be prepared to learn. I’m not an educator. Used to work for CIS. I know what they can do.

  15. When a superintendent makes decisions without transparency, the district starts to look bad in the press, social media and other places (just look at previous superintendent in Seguin). Asking for transparency is not unreasonable and probably should have been a part of the plan for Stewart to begin with-all the way back to when it began to have its struggles. I think the superintendent should have been more upfront about his plans to partner with Democracy Prep since emails clearly show it was in the works way before January. Honestly stating your position on issues goes a long way with the community, including teachers (union and nonunion). Putting in the effort to work together as a district is essential for the success of ALL the schools.

  16. How many millions of hard-earned dollars of SAISD taxpayers money are we going to send to New York City?

  17. 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.

    If, after the two years and no improvement, as per TEA, What is the outcome? ( Does STATE take over School Board?)

    • One could also take the position that the state’s accountability measures might need a review. As an educator I see little, if any value in what the state deems to be success. After teaching for some 40 years I have noted, with great dismay, that critical thinking, creativity, joy in learning (perhaps of greatest importance) and knowledge of current events (both local and global) have sharply decreased in tandem with the state’s intrusion into the school system by imposing their standards via draconian testing measures. It is a well known strategy that in order to implement privatization (public monies being mined for private profit) a measuring system designed to designate “failure” is implemented to justify the “take over ” of public schools.

  18. Board is doing a WONDERFUL job. If in 5yr a school is failing. Something needs to change ti help our children.

    • Yes, something needed to change, but the situation at Stewart was created in large part by the central administration, and allowed by the school board, over the past several years. Stewart was a “recognized” school ten or so years ago. The school board had other options than turning the school over to a charter. They could have done what Austin did with their school that was in the same shape, which was to bring in a university and non-profit.

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