Reinventing Public Schools, Despite the Teachers Union

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter addresses the SAISD Board of Trustees.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Teachers union President Shelley Potter addresses the SAISD Board of Trustees in August 2017.

One reason why San Antonio is home to a growing number of public charter schools that parents are choosing as an alternative to traditional public schools can be explained with three words: the teachers union.

Legally, the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel is not a union. It does not have collective bargaining rights and cannot strike, but it conducts itself and is accorded the status of a de facto union by the district and school board.

No other entity within the structure of the San Antonio Independent School District, the inner city's largest district with more than 50,000 students, is as resistant to change as the teachers union. That has become evident once again after the school board and Superintendent Pedro Martinez devised an innovative turnaround plan for P.F. Stewart Elementary, a failing Eastside campus, that includes partnering with the East Coast public charter Democracy Prep.

The district has 90 campuses, and six of them have been rated as failing schools for at least four years. This is not the first turnaround plan for the troubled Stewart campus. I have no idea if the SAISD-Democracy Prep partnership will work, but Martinez was hired as a change agent, and that is exactly what he has proven to be. Not all his proposals will succeed, inevitably, but he deserves strong support for all his forceful reform efforts, even if proposed changes require the teachers union to accept their share of the responsibility for failing schools and give Martinez room to experiment and try something different.

Instead the teachers union and its state affiliate, the Texas State Teacher’s Association, filed a formal complaint last week opposing the partnership and turnaround plan.

The proposed plan calls for converting Stewart to an in-district charter with the right to choose the school's teachers, who will be employed by Democracy Prep. The school's current teachers are welcome to apply to stay at the campus, and surely some of them will be selected. Those who are not hired will be given posts elsewhere in the district. No teacher will lose his or her job. In other words, Martinez has accommodated the union at every step in his plan.

That is not good enough for the union. Whoever gets those jobs at Stewart will not be under the control of the teachers union. Facing a loss of power, union President Shelley Potter would rather oppose the proposed turnaround plan perpetuate the status quo.

The status quo at Stewart Elementary is unacceptable. It should be noted that the teachers union has not offered an alternative turnaround plan and has never stepped forward to propose its own innovative solutions to address the district's failing schools. Yet it disingenuously states in its complaint that the district's turnaround plan would somehow have a "detrimental effect" on all the district's students.

If you want to identify "detrimental effect," look at the high school graduation and college going rates for the district over the last 25 years.

Reform is not in the teachers union vocabulary. Ridding the district's classrooms of bad teachers is a non-starter with the union. Let me note here that I don't believe SAISD is beset with bad teachers. I have visited dozens of the district's 90 campuses, and many such visits, including my recent visit to Carroll Early Education Center on the Eastside, left me inspired.

I put good teachers and school administrators on the same pedestal that others reserve for pro athletes and movie stars. They are my heroes. But a few bad teachers can do a lot of damage. I've spoken with too many good teachers who left the profession, discouraged by the seeming permanence of bad teachers, the rigidity of the curriculum, and low pay for the emotionally taxing work and the speed at which public school critics blame the teachers for unsatisfactory outcomes.

Public charters do not have the answer, either. Teacher turnover is way too high, even at the best public charter schools. Too many good teachers who have left charters tell me they burned out on the six-day weeks, long hours, and low pay.

"The district schools can't get rid of teachers, and the charters can't keep them," one local education leader once told me, and he wasn't joking. It's a case of two extremes.

The solution, of course, is to turn around San Antonio's inner city public schools so the academic outcomes meet the expectations of all families living in the district. The complaint filed by the teachers union serves as a case study of why so many families lack confidence in that happening. Great schools start with great teachers and a great principal. There is no room for underperforming teachers in that calculus, or functionaries who give them political protection.

Martinez is a genuine change agent backed by the most unified and professional school board in the district's history. The results he is demonstrating in less than three years on the job are real and they are measurable.

Upon his arrival in May 2015 Martinez set ambitious new academic goals for San Antonio's largest inner-city school district, which mostly serves socioeconomically challenged minority families. Here is a link to his district improvement plan adopted by the school board. Since then, graduation rates are up, as are the number of college-bound graduates. The district continues to innovate with the establishment of new choice schools and magnets.

The union's complaint stands in the way of the district's intent to improve public education outcomes in San Antonio. The union could better serve its membership by undertaking its own internal reforms aimed at making sure all of its good teachers are surrounded only by other good teachers.

60 thoughts on “Reinventing Public Schools, Despite the Teachers Union

  1. Charter schools are a racket which dilutes the public school funds and tax payer dollars. Most fail
    For profit schools are nothing new and should be paid for privately. The “innovation angle ” is a ruse to impress parents.
    I’m a retired architect who has designed over 100 schools.
    Both wife and daughter are teachers.
    Teachers union is not “the problem” You probably know this.
    The largest district in town is NISD.
    NEISD has a 17 million dollar shortfall this year due the people flocking to charter schools. This is only the beginning.
    Charter school teachers need not be certified.

    I could go on.

    • Amen. This highly prejudicial piece makes me wonder how much the writer was paid to ignore the detrimental effect of charter schools on education in Texas.

      • Where is the LIKE BUTTON when you need it? The crap barely passes for journalism. Wait, I’m sorry it actually doesn’t.
        These guys bash unions so much its like they are on the payroll of the Koch brothers.

    • I would argue that there are ample financial resources in the system. However, it is the flawed funding formula and the incredible waste of money on the facilities side that is actually creating budgetary shortfalls on the operations and maintenance side of the ledger. While I am not aware of the 100 schools you designed, I would bet you have been part of the problem. Let me know when you are ready to debate the facts publically. I will bring actual metrics and you should as well.

  2. I assume the “union” cited in your article only supports SAISD personnel? I taught in SAISD for three years and am familiar with the union. During those three years I was not aware of one thing the union did for teachers. My daughter is a teacher in another district. What teachers need is relief from stress and strains of testing, financial support so they do not have to fund education items from their own paycheck, and elimination of all non-educational related events that take up many hours of the teachers’ “personal” time. I understand your frustration with the union, but unless the union can implemented an expensive and time consuming lawsuit to stop this decision, Pedro needs to step up to the plate as the leader of the district and make the decisions he feels are best for the district.

  3. Superintendent Martinez’s actions appear to be more akin to a corporation’s CEO shedding underperforming assets in order to boost company stock price rather than a leader focused on actually improving the asset – in this case he’s removing the students and faculty at Stewart from his portfolio and boosting his performance metrics.

    If you actually read the Rivard Report articles following Stewart you may wonder what happened to the “powerhouse” principal that was personally installed by Martinez, but then quickly removed against faculty and community pleas.

    If you read the TSTA complaint, you may notice the fundamental issues seem to be lack of inclusion in the Turnaround process, when earlier Martinez was quoted “that the Stewart community had been heard” but removed the newly-installed principal anyway.

    Finally, if you paid attention to Sen. Menendez’s comments to the SAISD board regarding SB 1822 and the potential for new rules post-vote, and then read the Commissioner’s new rules, and then read the TSTA complaint, you’d see that perhaps the complaint is valid.

    Or you could just criticize the “teachers non-union” while cheerleading for Menendez.

    What IS his track-record at turning around underperforming schools without selling them off as charters?

  4. I apologize if this is a duplicate comment. I taught in SAISD for three years. I remember this “union” from those days. In the three years I taught school, I do not remember this organization doing anything for teachers. It certainly did not seem to me to have much influence or power. If it did, it would ensure teachers no longer need to fund their own educational items, eliminate the stresses and strains of testing, eliminate the non-educational activities and expenses “required” of the teachers… I could not tell from the article if Pedro has changed his mind or not. Unless this organization can mount a costly and time consuming lawsuit, Pedro needs to step up to the plate and make the decision that best serves SAISD. If Mr. Martinez really wants to move the district forward, implement a “climate survey” to hear from all teachers and administrators how improvements can be made.

  5. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! You obviously aren’t aware of the tireless efforts the San Antonio Alliance along with Shelley Potter have done to SUPPORT the teachers AND students of SAISD!! As an 18 year veteran of SAISD and member of the Alliance (and follower of your page) I am disappointed to say the least in the sentiment of this article.

    • Amy, my apologies if I missed it in reading this article, but I do not believe Robert said anything about the SAA not supporting teacher or students. What did say is that SAA does not support getting rid of bad teacher and is resistant to change. I am sure SAA does some great work but it is healthy to acknowledge an organizations shortcomings and identify areas of needed growth.

  6. I thought that the Rivard Report was one place where I could receive unbiased news. However, this article is blindly biased. I don’t think that the reporter as actually done any reporting here. Instead, his mis-informed, misdirected teenage angst toward the Alliance is biased because of his personal relationship with Pedro Martinez. Have you spoke with many teachers in the district about Pedro? What about parents? I know hundreds of each that do not like his policies and actually believe that he is working against the under-funded schools so that he can turn them into charters. All I can say to you, sir, is shame on you. Shame on you for writing such a biased piece. Shame on you for your portrayal of an organization that is the only promotion of positive change in the district. Shame on you for writing about the Alliance structure without getting your facts straight. Shame on you for not interviewing ANY parents about the changes at their school. Shame on you for publishing this biased piece on a news source that promotes itself on unbiased news for the community. SHAME. ON. YOU.

    “Those who lie with dogs, get up with fleas.”

    • Totally agreed with prior comment shared @Jason . And as always ” the blame it on the teachers”, really?!?

      Burn out teachers , paying out of pocket for instructional aides , too much profesional developments of so many different approaches, trying to convert the teaching piece an automatic ABC robatic system, undermining Teachers’ leadership , autonomy in the classroom , and teaching style which have proving to help students succeed based on prior years of their student achievement data should be acknowledged . It’s not the teachers fault .
      Reporter just bangs teachers and their selected union. But sir, What about some principals, coming to the district with no experience as an actual school principal , not enough or no experience of the grade levels taught at their campus , some with college professor mentally /approaches of idealistically based expectations, that results in missing the essence of why they are there. True leaders don’t deminish others but helps built on teachers unique teaching style that have proving success through their years of teaching experiences. So who evaluate them? Alliance want to “keep bad teachers” ?!? No. But then, who really evaluate the principals. And don’t get me wrong , I can acknowledge great principals at SAISD as well.
      As for the SAn Antonio Alliance , they have and will continue doing all needed in favor of all. Plus it’s been said that they are the only union that can actually sit with the board and discuss matters with board , and enter school to assist teacher when they have the need to be represented. I also agree with prior shared comment @ Jason; The five goal plan presented by Mr Martinez is a good intentented one, I guess the option of turning schools over to charter org was ommitted.

    • I too have recently seen the light. The Rivard Report is NOT a place where one can receive unbiased news. They have been twisting reports on the police and fire contracts and now they are targeting the teachers. By the way this article reads, its like someone at FOX news wrote it…. FAKE NEWS!

  7. This article is fake news! I have been a teacher in SAISD for over 20 years and have been a union member for that entire time. The San Antonio Alliance has been helpful to me, helpful to my campus, and most importantly helpful to my students.
    As for the district’s headfirst dive into the uncharted waters of charter school take over, the wheels of this potential change need to slow down and more information is needed .

  8. This is such a stereotypical portrayal of our union that it is really beneath you. Let me make clear who our union is. It is our 2700 proud members who give their heart and soul to the children and families they serve every single day. It is dedicated SAISD employees who spend their own time and their own money going over and above to help our students. And as we saw in Parkland, Florida and in the way too many other school shootings around the country, they are the first responders who will give their all to protect their students. I am so proud to call them my union sisters and brothers. Understand that when you criticize our union, you criticize our members because that is who we are.
    As a former first-grade teacher, I’m also disappointed that you clearly did not do your homework. The focus of our union’s work is on results for our students and for our community. I won’t recount the entire history of our union’s contributions to improving SAISD but will mention a few.
    SAISD has air-conditioned classrooms because of our union. We believed our children deserve an environment that is conducive to learning so we fought for “Cool Schools” back in the 1980s. At that time 75 of the district’s 92 schools were not air-conditioned. As a teacher at J.T. Brackenridge Elementary at that time, I saw first-hand what a dramatic difference air-conditioning made for my students.
    Our union has a 17-year partnership with SAISD to provide professional development for our new teachers. Under this partnership, which was initiated when Ruben Olivarez was superintendent, our union members facilitate training for new teachers in classroom management and effective teaching strategies such as how to maintain high levels of student engagement, how to effectively use questioning and wait time, and how to scaffold instruction.
    Our union and SAISD co-created a peer assistance and review program to provide intensive support for new teachers. Our Alliance and district administration, beginning under Dr. Syl Perez, worked for three years to craft the program, which was then launched last school year. Our Consulting Teachers, who are an amazing group of accomplished teachers, each have a caseload of around 15 new teachers who they work closely with to help them hone their craft. The program will eventually grow to reach all new teachers and will expand to provide support to veteran teachers who may be struggling.
    Our union raised $20,000 this school year in contributions for 400 e-readers to use on SAISD buses for an innovative approach to providing additional reading and learning time for students. Our union forcefully pushed the district to provide immigration know-your-rights information to our students and their families.
    Our union has proposed many ideas for improving our schools, including a community schools approach and a parent-teacher home visit project. Community schools is the single most effective approach to improving schools. There is nothing more powerful than parents, students, teachers and school staff, and community in partnership. Real partnership. Authentic partnership. Partnership in which they all have voice.
    That voice and partnership is completely missing in the superintendent’s approach at Stewart. The administration is contracting out their core responsibility to companies from outside of SAISD to do the job that district administration is evidently not capable of doing. There is nothing innovative about contracting out. There was no transparency and no parent, student, community, or employee voice. There is no evidence that any other options were considered for Stewart. The district could partner with an institution of higher education. The district could have looked at an innovative configuration that would include Carroll Early Childhood Center (which used to be an elementary school) and Stewart, which are four minutes apart by car. The superintendent has a history with Democracy Prep and knew for a long time that he wanted to bring them to SAISD. He just had to wait for the chance to do so and Stewart gave him that chance.
    Why would we support the district giving away Stewart to a charter company from New York City that has a reputation for a regressive approach to student discipline? A charter that has been described by former teachers in this way: “A police state interested in teaching students through fear.” “If you care about the development of children, it’s hard to work here.” “Students are expected to be robots.”
    Why would we support a charter company that has no bilingual program when 35-40% of the Stewart students are bilingual students? Our children’s language is part of their identity. The National Association for Bilingual Education just held its annual conference with the theme: Resisting Inequity: Language as Power and Right. Democracy Prep will strip away our Stewart bilingual children’s power and their right to their language. We are proud to fight against that.
    Stripping away our students’ power and right to their language is happening at some other SAISD schools and is part of a very disturbing pattern. San Antonio is a city with a proud history and rich cultural heritage reflected in our neighborhoods and communities, each with its own character, traditions, and way of life. The current administration has no respect for this rich heritage. They want to impose their own values on our neighborhoods, our children, our families. While the charter invasion is occurring, the superintendent and those he has brought in from outside San Antonio, and who won’t be here in a few short years, are giddy about students from suburban districts coming to the district’s “specialized” schools, which the district markets over neighborhood schools. The administration is gentrifying SAISD by shuffling off our own SAISD students to outside charter companies while eagerly bringing students from suburban districts into the district’s “specialized” schools.
    Finally, let me say that I do not care if you attack me. My former students and their families know my character. Their opinion is what matters to me. Anyone I ever taught with or worked with, my colleagues who know me, know how much I care about our students. Their opinion is what matters to me. Your does not. But I will not allow you to attack our 2700 members by attacking their union. They are the lifeblood of our union. I respect them, I will fight for them and their students, and I will do so with pride and fierce tenacity.

    • The things listed above describe my union! Without the Union students and teachers have no voice. I have seen the way our union has supported classroom and individual students in need of help. I personally have seen the way we are helping to improve every student in SAISD.

  9. If you are defining resistance as people demanding transparency, then yes, we are resisting. We are resisting decisions being made for us, rather than with us. We are resisting our neighborhood schools being sold out to charter companies. We are resisting those that ignore our voices. We are resisting careless “turnaround” plans that exclude community and parent voices. The superintendent has not accommodated anyone. He continues to make irresponsible decisions without community input. This article. This report is not journalism. It is a one-sided account perhaps bought and paid for by the same entities that are dismantling our school district.

  10. Hi! SAISD Master Teacher, former Teacher For America – San Antonio Corps Member, SAISD homeowner and taxpayer here. Just wanted to drop a line that Pedro Martinez and his business-minded, anti-community, pro-gentrification, pro-charter agenda is the reason I am leaving the district. As a taxpayer, homeowner, and educator (a Master teacher at that), the disingenuous attempt to turn Stewart into a charter without meaningful community input has forced me to re-think the ethics of continued employment with district. Pedro Martinez is only out to save his job – not to improve the education of the students at Stewart. He has provided no additional resources to help struggling schools with the highest proportion of low-income students, while pouring a preponderance of resources into schools that attract a wealthier, whiter demographic (YWLA, ALA, CAST Tech). The superintendent’s agenda of starving community schools of resources, waiting for inevitable failure, and then offering these schools up to charters without community input is anti-democratic and the antithesis of public schooling.

  11. This article is very one sided. While it mentions some general praise for good teachers it fails to report the opinions of said teachers within the district. It reports the Alliance organization as being resistant but does not note that that resistance is due to the district’s underhanded means of implementing change such as making decisions without the input from parents and students save for a few placating gestures to ensure that they look benevolent on paper. The Alliance is not resistant to change, especially when it is needed. However, like with any good decision, it must be well thought and have multiple angles of input, to include parents, students, community, teachers, and admin, to ensure a smooth implementation. If you talk to almost anyone in the district you will find that many of Martinez’s initiatives were great in theory but lacking in planning and leadership. It fell to the district employees to make it work. That’s like flying a plane while you are building it. On another note, it is implied in this report that the Alliance filed a complaint simply out of stubbornness but clearly the reporter has not been to several of the most recent board meetings where students, parents, and teachers from around the district have implored the board and Martinez to have an open dialogue before continuing on the current track. We also asked to see evidence of their reaching out to any of the other 3 out of 4 options availible in the new law for year 5 IR campuses. None has been provided. It is no secret that those in office are fans of charters, not in-district ones like our nationally ranked YWLA or Travis Early College, but charters who are from out of state and have a hired board of directors, not a locally elected school board. They also do not provide a decent Special Ed program, authentic billingual program and have a reputaion for punative disciplime. Our children are not a business, stop thinking we should sell them like commodities. That is not innovative. Charters were originally created in response to integration of the races. The business run charter that is being proposed is the first step in taking us back 70 years, except, instead of separating color we are separating social class. The most charters are in poorer neighborhoods not middle class or wealthy.

  12. I am an east side teacher. I have been for the last three years. I’ve been watching as charter schools, increasingly empowered by local leadership, take our students, and return the ones who don’t fit their “no excuses” model. I’ve watched while they set up tables outside SAISD schools during registration, trying to convince our incoming sixth graders to attend their schools instead. We’ve been the ones left with staff shortages, because we lose teacher allocations when we don’t meet our enrollment numbers, and we don’t get those allocation numbers back once the students start returning in droves in January. I’ve been the one taking these students in when they are expelled or removed from a charter school, which always conveniently seems to happen after accountability windows close, and Title I funds have been allocated.

    Now, as an East Coast native, I agree that the Alliance has no teeth, but that’s not their fault. The state of Texas has actively worked to reduce the power of unions to nothing. They have reaped what they have sown.

    I agree that there are ineffective teachers throughout the district. I disagree on the assumption in this article, that ineffective teachers are that way because they refuse to improve on their craft. In a lot of ways, I could be considered an ineffective teacher: my students don’t always listen, and their data suggests a cardboard cutout of a teacher might be more effective than I am. By your definition, SAISD and the Alliance should be doing everything possible to get rid of me.

    However, I see no mention here about the lack of training teachers in the district receive, or about the “innovative initiatives” that are implemented every year without any followthrough, with the end result being that a teacher has no real reason to implement these innovations with fidelity. They won’t last anyway.

    I see no mention of the district’s lack of consistency with any policy or instructional approach. We receive dozens of mandates, but little if any instruction on how to implement those mandates. We have “master teachers” who come from out of the district and leave as soon as they realize how dire the situation is on our campuses. We have little to no coaching available, and the “implementation specialists” who are supposed to be helping us do our job are really just district sycophants, repeating the company line and not being much help beyond that. Although I will say I have met a few truly excellent IS’s who have gone above and beyond for their teachers.

    I see no mention of the lack of support available to teachers, especially new ones. My first year, the most helpful trainings I attended, Foundations of Effective Teaching, were in fact organized and paid for by the Alliance.

    So, in sum, I don’t think ineffective teachers are that way by choice. I think much of that ineffectiveness begins at the District level, and to blame the Alliance for the policies the district adopts when the Alliance is not an actual union and has no leverage with which to argue against district policies, is unjust.

  13. Readers also SHOULD KNOW that thanks to the hard work, the dedication and the continued perseverance of a few SAISD bilingual teachers that were under the guidance and the leadership of the San Antonio Alliance organization IS the reason that positive changes were enacted for our SAISD bilingual students to help them to better succeed academically. This is why now several SAISD campuses offer the Dual Language program to their SAISD communities. This is why now SAISD has one of best experienced & more qualified bilingual professionals leading the SAISD Bilingual Deartment— thanks to the hard work of bilingual teachers together with the true guidance and help of the San Antonio Teachers Alliance Organization!

  14. Maybe the Rivard Report could consider labelling or characterizing a report as an Editorial or Opinion piece

  15. My mom is a Master Teacher at SAISD and is rethinking if staying at SAISD or NOT because of all this bias , and charter school option mentally . The best attempt or new style thing has become ” to place teachers on a Grow Plan”, Seriously ?!? If. Growth plan so great if an option then. start by example by placing those particular principals. ( exceptions) that clearly have a history of failing schools and bad approaches with teachers . Start by placing in a GROWTH PLAN those tyran principals so they can live by example and know how to better implement this Grow Plan approach with their teachers because as it is going on now it’s making campus a hostile environment to teachers and that doesn’t help the students.

  16. Proactively working to make sure communities (parents, students, staff) are informed and included in the decisions that affect them all is not resistance. The SAA and Shelley Potter fight for positive change for the communities of the SAISD schools. Sometimes change is inevitable but those affected by the change should have a voice in the direction the change will take them. Transparency and cooperative collaboration with those most affected are what our communities and schools need.

  17. Leaving SAISD for another neighboring district was the best move I’ve ever made. It’s a sinking ship. My heart breaks for the students, their families and my esteemed colleagues, who give everything they have for their babies. Outside charters are not the answer. Why not try an in-district charter School of Innovation (like Lamar) at Stewart instead of bringing in Democracy Prep? But, then again, Martinez drove away talented professionals from the district because he brought in a lot of outsiders for vacancies. Why would he change the status quo?

  18. I have worked for SAISD for 25 years. I have been an Alliance member all of those 25 years. I have seen the Alliance help plenty of my co- workers with very major issues to minor issues. The Alliance represent their members with great comfort in knowing everything will be ok. The Alliance is a very positive presents in this district. Being an Alliance member makes me feel safe and protected. There have been a lot of friendships formed by being a member of this great Orginazation. Shelly Potter is a great leader, she listens, ask questions, put other people’s issues ahead of hers. She is a powerful force the all Alliance members and non- alliance members. We come first.

  19. I usually agree with Rivard. Not this time. Clearly biased and unaware of the NUMEROUS contributions the Alliance has made to SAISD , its students, parents and teachers. I am a retired teacher. 32 years. Mostly SAISD.Completely disappointed and outraged.

  20. The “innovations” proposed by district do not apply to our most needy student populations. There is a lack of a serious vested interest in investing in our neighborhood schools. And allowing a complete take over of Stewart to an outside charter entity is showing a complete lack of confidence in local governance. You certainly do not see something like this happen to a “specialized” school.

  21. As an SAISD Master Teacher, I have to tell you that this editorial is absolute garbage. Shame on everyone involved in its conception, writing, and publication.

    The myth that teachers’ unions prevent school districts from firing bad teachers, is the battering ram that pro-privatization advocates trot out every time they want to undermine the meagre protections afforded to teachers in this country (and especially this state). But it’s a myth – one that, while conclusively disproven: and continues to be regurgitated whenever the corporate raiders face opposition to their gentrifying privatization aims. Highly unionized districts are actually more effectively move ineffective teachers out of teaching positions, and, crucially, more effectively retain effective teachers – something that SAISD struggles to do.

    At the school at which I work as a Master Teacher (deemed one of the most effective teachers by the district, one of those that Mr Rivard so lazily and patronizingly celebrates as his heroes) the last two teachers of the year have decided to leave the district in the same year that they were commended as the top teacher on campus. SAISD’s problem isn’t that the Alliance impedes change – it doesn’t; it’s the prime driver of meaningful change on our campuses – it’s that district leadership has absolutely lost the trust of its teachers and support staff. Our overworked, overstressed teachers are at breaking point, and not because of their students, or their amazing families, or the astonishingly diverse, caring, and rich communities in which they work. Every teacher I know who is considering, or has considered leaving the district is doing so because of the actions of Mr Martinez (frequently compared to Betsy DeVos at my campus), his high-paid leadership group, and the half-baked, appallingly implemented initiatives that they roll out year after year, sidelining teachers, students, and the union at every opportunity.

    Every initiative to improve instruction or keep our students safe that actually works has the Alliance’s fingerprints all over it – often because the Alliance steps in to dig the district out of the mess it gets itself into by not consulting with teachers, students, or parents before rolling out its plans. Over the last two years the roll-out of PLCs at all campuses has been shambolic. Through the Alliance the process has been improved greatly, though much work remains to be done. This year the roll-out of a new MTSS system has been equally shambolic. Again the Alliance has been the one organization that has pushed back on the district’s lack of training for teachers, lack of consistency in implementation, and lack of messaging to teachers. Again the process will be able to move forward only thanks to the input of the Union. Master Teachers are considering leaving the district in droves; even more considering, as I am, stepping away from their Master Teacher positions next year. These aren’t the struggling teachers for whom Mr Rivard has so little time and respect – these are those teachers SAISD itself has identified as its best and brightest.

    The Alliance’s resistance to the Superintendent’s plans for Stewart is based on the extent that the Stewart community was completely left out of a decision that should have been made by it. That’s how democracy works – not Charter company shills getting to decide to sell-off our communities’ most important assets without their input. As one of the teachers who has block-walked around Stewart, I can tell you that this historically underserved community has been treated like dirt by the district leaders whose job it is to serve them. Far more outreach to this community has been carried out by Alliance teachers than has been by district leadership – a pattern that keeps repeating in this city, though you wouldn’t know it from what Mr Rivard reports here.

    Give me a space to write an opinion piece on the Rivard Report in response to this garbage. If you care about our students and their families, you’ll welcome the debate.

  22. As a new teacher to the profession, I’m grateful to have The Alliance union as a supportive resource. The professional development offered by the union was a beneficial experience for the cohort of teachers. We were given “follow up” training that held us accountable to implement strategies in our classrooms. Collaborative and reflective forums allowed us, new teachers a chance to learn from our trial and errors. I appreciate the transparency and awareness The Alliance shares, it is a main source of where I learn of district policies and news. I genuinely believe the teachers of SAISD understand the importance of serving socioeconomically challenged minority families. I work alongside passionate teachers who display a love for their students and craft. We understand the environmental challenges we face, which is why we value the importance of teaching our students morals, values and standards that will guide them to be contributing citizens. Our students are in need of social emotional and mental health suppport. I believe SAISD teachers are dedicated to being that kind of support to our students on top of all the academic support we give. We would benefit from more behavior counseling, mental health awareness, and social emotional collaboration. The practices and lessons they take away from these resources can be carried in their lives. This would help our students to feel supported and protected at school, improving their focus on academics. The whole student needs to be the focus, a standardized score does not define a student, nor a teacher. I believe this support will work alongside improving the growth of the students academics. Our students and teachers deserve the best support.

  23. A charter from New York is not the answer! And what about these choice schools taking students from outside the district and forcing students from the district that are very interested in attending a choice school (CAST Tech in my child’s case) but can’t because they didn’t make the lottery!? So now what!?

  24. As an SAISD parent and a tax payer, I was not asked my opinion concerning these changes. This article is full of contradiction. The writer clearly states there is no guarantee that Mr. Martinez’ s decisions will work. I have however seen alliance members looking out for their teachers and participating in community events. Maybe we should focus on the $5,000 Mr Martinez has spent to be part of the Texas Alliance of Charter Schools. Whose really in whose pocket now. There is no denying that good teachers left the district for various reasons, to include lack of support from administration but when the district choses to funnel money to charter school so that they look like they are succeeding there is a problem. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that charter schools do not cater to all children but Mr Martinez does cater to the chartèr school. In addition, why would you ask teachers to give up their secure contract for a substandard at will employment. Finally, what ever happened to holding the parents accountable. You can reorganize school, bring in new teachers and supply the latest technology but if parents don’t do their part the scapegoat should not be the teachers or their union . Does Mr Martinez give credit to his teachers or did he succeed because he chose to succeed. Mr Martinez tells the same story of how he was one of eleven children and how he has achieved his goal . That story is getting old.

  25. The blame has to also be placed on the local campus administrators for not doing one part of their job and on the superintendent’s office for not pressuring them to do so. It IS possible to fire a teacher, but it takes work. Violations must be documented and the teachers given warnings. Goals must be set, and evaluations done to truly reflect whether growth is occurring to overcome problems related to the goals. My observations working at public school systems (3 years full time and 10 years part time) and at a public university (28 years full time) are that administrators are not doing their job of evaluating and documenting the deficiencies of teachers on their staffs. They don’t want to face a defiant teacher and his/her union or do all the continuing evaluation/documentation sessions that are required to get rid of their poor teachers. Therefore, the success of the school fails. Why do you think one of the foundations of establishing this new public charter school is that faculty members must re-interview to try to save their jobs? That is an easier process to resolve the problem caused by years of not dealing with poor teachers the way they could have done. Both the teachers’ union and the administration are responsible for this mess. So to broaden the discussion about this problem, here is a question: Is the new superintendent going to properly evaluate the administrators below them putting pressure on them to do a good job which includes properly evaluating local campus administrators putting pressure on them to properly evaluate teachers and work to get rid of teachers who do not improve and whose students are not learning? That’s the only truly workable way out of this problem over the long term!!!

  26. I forgot to mention something parent should know. This school doesn’t have a license to function as a charter school in this state so they are hiding under the title of non-profit organization. They are trying to follow the regulation of a non profit in order to get around this stipulation. These “teachers” aren’t even teachers. Oh, did Mr Martinez or KENS TV forget to mention that little fact. How underhanded!!!

  27. How disappointing that the author of this “opinion” piece never spoke directly to teachers including those at Stewart. It’s so easy for people outside of teaching to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Besides just “teaching”, we are expected to be counselors, nurses, enrichment providers, presenters at nights, and complete many other jobs with a smile on our faces while trying to implement the newest program that our district administrators want for us to do without proper training and time to effectively implement. The San Antonio Alliance actually listens to the teachers and support personnel that want for our students to succeed. Let’s give more credit to my union as it works to help Stewart to remain a true public, community school on the east side.

  28. I am now retired after 48 years of working in education and the problem is not the teachers, it’s the leadership and the sluggish involvement of the board. This article sounds like a paid advertisement for Pedro. For your information, Shelley Potter is not the union, she is the president of 2700 members who decided to unite as one strong voice to advocate for issues that are important to educators and the students. Also, blaming the union for “bad” teachers is totally ignorant. A union doesn’t defend bad teachers, a union defends “due process”! If there are “bad” teachers, it’s because principals are not doing their jobs by documenting and following due process. When principals document and follow due process, teachers are fired and there is nothing a union can do to save their job. One of the reasons why some schools are failing is due to teachers being directed to use the same curriculum, teach it the same way and teach it at the same time as everyone else. Any educator knows that students learn differently and that teachers should be given the academic freedom to make decisions for their own classrooms, but they are not; they are micro-managed. Another reason is the lack of administrative support for teachers when dealing with violent and disruptive students. Teachers are pretty much on their own and are told to change the way they teach. Oh, and instead of referring students to counselors, counselors have been given testing administrative duties. I know first hand that the union gets involved to assist teachers knowing that this will benefit the students. Instead of bringing in charter schools, the SAISD School Board needs to hire superintendents that are going to encourage academic freedom , provide educators with the tools necessary and have input from the community. What happened to , “It takes a Village”?
    To the author of this article, you have no idea what the San Antonio Alliance has done for teachers and your opinion is totally skewed!

  29. In the midst of all the discussions about the effectiveness or lack thereof our San Antonio public schools and who is at “blame” as a retired pediatrician I have to ask a very naive and simple question— who initiates the application of a student to one of the innovative SAISD schools if not the interested motivated parent(s) . To me that tells me that those interested parents are willing to take the extra step and not just stay at home wringing their hands and accepting whatever their children’s weak and ineffective school provides . I trust that the SAISD is already doing their very best in trying to engage the parents— are they? To put it in simple terms show me an engaged interested parent and I will show a student doing very well . Perhaps a vigorous all out campaign by the SAISD to increase the parental involvement is needed . In turn those engaged parents will then work together with interested teachers and administrators to better their schools and more important the education of their children. Obviously there would be many difficult obstacles to overcome otherwise the same old thing will continue and we will continue to have very poor college readiness rates of our SAISD graduates — not good for the future of the San Antonio workforce.

    • The district does NOT want involved engaged parents. I am at the most engaged school, and the district is doing everything possible to crush parent involvement. Parent engagement = parent influence and control.

  30. This is my counter-commentary to the one by Bob Rivard:
    How are Education Secretary Betsy De Vos and SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez alike? Neither is an educator, but each is trying to dismantle our neighborhood public schools.
    Check out the State Board of Education Certification (SPEC) and you will find 17 Pedro Martinez’ listed with certifications ranging from Elementary Self-Contained to Educational Aide, Tech Applications, Office Education, Special Education, Secondary Physical Education, etc., but you won’t find one for Superintendent. The simple fact is that the leader of the third largest school district in Bexar County, like Education Secretary De Vos, is not a teacher and has never been a teacher, is not a Principal and has never been a Principal. Supposedly he got a variance to allow him to be Superintendent, but that’s not listed on the SBEC site. Thank goodness they don’t give variances to enable one to be a brain surgeon.
    SAISD taxpayers (and I was one for 35 years before moving last year) pay him big bucks to fix the problems within SAISD, yet he has abdicated his responsibilities, throwing up his hands and saying “I can’t do this, let’s hire an out-of-state charter with a nasty reputation towards kids to come and bail me out.” If HEB had an under-performing store, would they hire Wal-Mart to come in and show them how it’s done? I don’t think so.
    The average Superintendent is around for under 5 years. It’s likely Martinez will be gone within a couple of more years, but he wants to saddle this District with this out-of-state entity for 7 – 10 years which means we will be paying them long after he has gone away. He’ll put on his resume that he fixed this problem, but he’ll be long gone prior to the chickens coming home to roost.
    Meanwhile Martinez is undermining the culture of SAISD, selling off the downtown property that could have been used for the benefit of the students, but instead will enable the developers to benefit from the land that has been the historical, cultural, and geographical center of the SAISD for over a century. I had shown the Board and the former Superintendent how their current property could be transformed into an efficient Administration campus utilizing revenue bonds, but Administrators were not interested in such ideas (I have the sketches if anyone is interested). I can’t believe what a pittance this District is getting for that property. That’s what happens when business people take hold of the schools – they know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
    Now to address some of the many inaccuracies in the Commentary. Like others, I follow and often agree with Mr. Rivard’s opinions, but this one is way, way off. Perhaps if he had spoken with Shelley Potter he would have understood the issue at hand. (Full disclosure, I worked for the Alliance for about five years, but I’ve been retired for six years now. My wife was an Alliance leader while working at SAISD, and my daughter is a proud Alliance Member, and I have a granddaughter in SAISD schools.)
    It seems Martinez wanted this school to fail. The District installed a new Principal in 2015-16, and that Principal helped assemble a team of dedicated teachers and staff prepared to address the challenge, but then Martinez reassigned the Principal, dismantling her program, and brought in a retired Principal this year as a placeholder. The Alliance was fully prepared to provide additional resources to those teachers to help them succeed – yes, the Alliance provides the highest quality Professional Development courses in the area, and, unlike the characterization of the Alliance in Rivard’s Commentary, are genuinely concerned about the success of the school children made possible by the success of Alliance Members.
    There were Universities that were willing and could have helped. Even Sen. Jose Menendez, the author of the bill that Pedro Martinez is hiding behind, asked the District to explore other avenues first. But Martinez was hell-bent on bringing in this charter company. It is interesting that only 3 of the 1000 plus school districts in Texas pay dues ($5,000 per year) to something called the Texas District Charter Alliance, an organization taking students away from our neighborhood schools, and, to a great extent, underperforming for our kids. This expenditure was done without a vote by the school board and without their knowledge and consent. That shows Martinez’ mindset. I believe the El Paso Superintendent (also not a qualified educator) has also paid $5,000 to join this group. Why are we recruiting non-educators to run our educational institutions, and why are they trying to sabotage our districts? Are there any SAISD taxpayers who want to subsidize an organization working towards our destruction? If Martinez wants to belong to this Texas DCA, the funds should come from his ample salary.
    So, Bob Rivard, you messed up plenty on this one. I think if you sat down with the marvelous members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel and listened to facts, you might change your opinion. But until that happens, your writings appear to be plagiarized from Pedro Martinez, and that’s not a good thing.
    If Democracy Prep comes in, who will be able to go to a Democracy Prep School Board meeting? Will they be in San Antonio or New York City? What recourse will the Stewart parents have? Will they have to abide by Texas Public Records and Public Meetings laws, or will we simply hand over millions of dollars to an unelected and unaccountable out-of-state charter school? When will school board elections be held, and who can vote?

  31. As a former 1st grade student of Shelley Potter, a product of the inner city, SAISD, and an avid reader of The Rivard Report, I am deeply disappointed with this article. To paint the San Antonio Alliance as a stumbling block to progress in public education is completely unfair and inaccurate. I know first-hand through my own school experience, as a mother of 2 students attending Lanier High School, as PTA President, and as a strong partner with JT Brackenridge Elementary School where over 99% of the students are economically disadvantaged, Shelley Potter and so many other members of the SA Alliance are agents for progress and innovation, and are deeply committed to the students, teachers, parents and communities of SAISD. I would have expected far greater objectivity from an outlet I have respected for its unbiased journalism. This article failed to mention some of the biggest issues SA Alliance has with the decision to turn over Stewart Elementary to a New York based charter school: the lack of transparency by the School Board resulting in a lack of parent and community input, the charter school’s lack of a bilingual education program in a school where 35-40% of the students are bilingual, and a reputation for regressive disciplinary practices. I have personally had conversations with Shelley Potter about innovative ways to address the biggest challenges our inner city schools face, those that are working in other cities, such as the Community School model. As someone with personal experience, I believe the biggest challenges to struggling inner city schools are socio-economic factors, lack of funding and resources, and high turnover of administrative staff – not the teachers union’s resistance to getting rid of bad teachers. Leadership is about inspiring and empowering those you lead with the right resources, mentorship and continued professional development – and that is exactly what the SA Alliance continuously fights for.

  32. I have been a dedicated SAISD teacher for going on 17 years. I am also a proud product of SAISD and former Shelley Potter student. This article is far from the truth. Our Union advocates for whats best for our students. Shelley Potter is the reason I became a teacher. The moment I stepped into her classroom I felt the genuine love and concern that she had for her students that she continues to have for all SAISD students. She provided a safe and inviting learning environment that made learning fun. I strive to be like Miss Potter in my classroom.
    As far as the article is concerned, our Union has done many things for our students and teachers. For instance our union raised enough money to provided every second and seventh grader with a book that focosed on building character. Our Union provides traing for new teachers on effective classroom strategies as well as training on behavior management. Our Union and SAISD work together to come up with a program to support new teachers. There are so many more great examples of our Union advocating for students. Mr Martinez failed to get input from the most important stakeholders in the community, the parents. My question is why was there an opening for Director of San Antonio Schools up for Democracy Prep before parents and teachers we made aware of the changes?
    Mr. Martimez has a history with Democracy Prep. How is that for transparency? Mr. Martinez’s Chief of Innovation officer Mohammes Choudhury was qoutes in saying, “design as if we will not be here one day,” he said, and so that it would be difficult to make decisions to undo what they have done. What if “their” plan doesn’t work?

  33. I wish that my school district believed in ME the way I believe in my kids and my UNION…yes, UNION! I didn’t realize the definition of a Union had anything to do with striking. After reading this clearly one-sided view of my school district and my union, I was not only angry but also moved to tears. I have dedicated half of my life to the children of SAISD by choice. I have seen countless colleagues leave to other school districts and I have stayed for one reason…our kids. It literally rips my heart into shreds to read this nonsense. You know NOTHING about me or my Alliance brothers and sisters and what we do for our kids….everything we do is for OUR kids. How could you possibly believe that an “EAST COAST” charter (yes, you threw the word public in there-not surprising) could be the best for OUR kids? Why would OUR teachers thank their lucky stars to be “selected” to work there? (No, it would not be a loss of power for my union-we have over 2500 members!!!!) We had an a great principal there…some of your colleagues used to write about in a positive way. But the superintendent’s expectation was that Stewart should turn around in 2 years? (With a bunch of brand new teachers, no less) What is so innovative about this charter school? What is so innovative about “begging” other students from other school districts to come to SAISD to be in our “special” schools? I live in NISD and I got a full color, 2-sided brochure inviting kids to come to SAISD…where did that money come from? And were those same full-color, 2-sided brochures sent to families in Edgewood, Harlandale, & South San? I do not believe we are helping our most neediest and struggling students…we are pulling out the best and the brightest to go to “special” schools and bringing in kids from the north side. So are these “real and measureable” results that you claim Mr. Martinez is making really real for our neediest and most struggling kids? As a teacher, the word is out and the feeling is clear…our district doesn’t believe in their teachers. I know I am a good teacher- but I really do FEEL like a bad one.

  34. I have taught in SAISD for 10 years. I agree that we need to work hard for our students and provide them with the best possible education. But we as teachers also need to be protected of our rights. The Alliance provides us with a voice and protection of being taken advantage of. We work countless hours for our students and our safeguard is slowly being taken away. Superintendent Martinez, wants to take away our 7.5hr work day and require us to work more hours. The teachers at Stewart will become at-will employees, thus losing the support from the Alliance. They will no longer be employees of the district. Superintendent Martinez is subcontracting his schools to Charter schools.

  35. Nice puff piece Bob. I wonder how much longer your buddy Pedro will be with SAISD? The folks working in Lavaca already know he has been flirting with other districts.

    I can’t remember the last time a Rivard Report article had so many comments. Job well done.

  36. Why do use the word Union as an insult? You say they are not a union, but then call them one but as a way to show displeasure. Unions can be a beneficial force in the workplace. Its the actions (or inactions) that are important.

  37. This union is the group that bought the book Wonder for every SAISD 7th grader a few years back. That book made such a big impression on my daughter that it changed her life. I had never seen her take to a book the way she did with that one. Thank you to this union for opening up her eyes to a whole new world.

  38. Last but not least, Mr. Martinez is not from San Antonio and so he can gamble with our students’ future while building his resume and move on to a charter district. His methods are in tune with the anti-public school climate set forth at this state and national level since it means more profits for charter businesses at the expense of public school students used as pawns.

  39. Why choose to be informed by a publication run by someone who is clearly misinformed and shows little interest in changing that. Why support a publication that lacks both the will and the resources to reach out to the very people and organizations that it is discussing. Why subscribe to skewed, biased and fabricated accusations under the guise of information. Happily unsubscribing to this.

  40. As a teacher, I’m willing to give this experiment a try. The way I see it, if it works (and especially if this elementary school retains most of the teachers) then what SAISD has really shown is that it is unable to manage a school effectively and it’s the administrative levels that are failing the district, not the teachers. It might go to show that maybe SAISD should cease to exist and something new should take it’s place. But if this experiment fails, it would show how ineffective charters can be in helping the masses. Many charters claim to provide great results while hiding the fact that many only take the cream of the crop. The fact a parent chooses to place a kid in a charter school is already a win for the charter because that means an involved parent, the single, most important factor that determines student success. You can do a lot more with a school full of parent support versus a population forced on the school where many parents fight against even being required to send their students to school. If this theory holds true, Democracy Prep will show that when being forced to accept all students, they perform at the same level as traditional public schools. Either way, this experiment has someone hanging themselves, either SAISD or will show they can’t do their job or Democracy Prep will.

  41. I’ve been reading The Rivard Report since inception. This article, by far, has generated more responses than any other. For a while I thought I was of only a handful of people who read The Rivard Report or commented on its articles! Say what you want, the article generated dialogue which can only lead to more insights and hopefully a better position.

  42. Excellent article. What I wonder is: what is it about this idea that teachers and their organization so afraid of? If they truly care about providing the best education for children instead of protecting their own self-interests, they would at the very least, get out of the way and let someone who has innovative ideas give them a try.

    • That is what I’m wondering too. I’m not a teacher and I was pretty amazed at the reaction to this commentary. Really touched on a deep nerve in that part of the community. Don’t know enough about it myself to back up an argument but on first glance I tended to your line of thought.

      What I did enjoy is that Robert just proved that he’s actually not a proxy to anyone. I think that was a critique of him from today’s commentary. I think the people comprising the teacher’s union are probably just used to being in Rivard’s choir shouting amens and hallelujahs…but on this particular Sunday they found themselves writhing in tongues under that dose of holy water.

      Teacher’s union to me sounds a little entrenched and too staunchly politically active for their own good. Or for the good of the students if they are this reactionary and resistant to change. If they really were so great, Robert’s commentary would have been treated as a mosquito landing instead of a bleeding shark bite. They aren’t used to being qualified as the ‘good ol boys’, but rather as the most progressive around, and it probably doesn’t feel very good to them to say that their way is the old way and it’s not working. I don’t care teachers if you don’t like me. I never liked 90% of you growing up either.

  43. Mr. Rivard,

    I would like to express my gratitude and heartfelt thanks for your article on “Reinventing Public Schools, Despite the Teachers Union.” I fervently believe you captured the antagonism going on SAISD between a leader seeking to transform a needy district and the deficit thinkers of the Alliance. This is a simple case of protectionism on part of the Union. I believe your words were pithy and sound. It was truly amazing to read what I have come see and felt for a long time. Our kids deserve every opportunity to succeed and I believe Pedro Martinez is making that happen – despite the obstacle he now faces.

    Thank you, sir.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *