Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
South San Antonio Independent School District has been in a state of transition during the last six months. Residents voted down a tax rate increase in August, a new superintendent was hired in September, and three incumbent trustees lost in November’s school board election.
At the start of 2019, three new board members joined with veteran trustee Connie Prado to pass a resolution calling for the reopening of three shuttered campuses despite the district’s recent declines in enrollment.
New to the job, Superintendent Alexandro Flores, who had previous experience in San Antonio ISD, is working to comply with the board’s request and move the district forward. In an interview with the Rivard Report, Flores talked about what drew him to the district of close to 9,000 students, the potential reopening of closed campuses, and how to adapt to changes in the school board’s makeup and priorities since taking the job.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Rivard Report: This isn’t your first time living or working in San Antonio. What was your impression of South San Antonio ISD before becoming superintendent?
Alexandro Flores: I consider myself a San Antonian at this point. I was 18, graduated, and came to San Antonio from Eagle Pass and never left. But I really started kind of being aware of South San Antonio when I became a teacher. Once you become involved in the field of education, you start keeping up with everything happening in our great city.
As bilingual teacher, assistant principal, principal in SAISD, you would hear about South San. If you really think about it, the issues really haven’t been academic historically for South San … . It really has been governance issues, political, [or financial] – that’s just been the history of the place. Not the actual things that are happening in the schools, but all the things surrounding the operations of the district.
I read the reports, I see the newscasts, and I will also tell you this: I think in many ways districts on the South Side of San Antonio don’t get the same fair kind of reporting.
RR: Why were you interested in applying for the job of superintendent? With the recent failure of the tax rate increase and South San scoring low in the Texas Education Agency’s accountability system, some wondered who would apply for the job.
Plainly put, I have a calling for the folks that are coming from poor means, the folks from low socioeconomic status. These are my people, I grew up that way. So to me when I saw that opportunity in South San, I said I need it and it called to me.
Here’s another reason why: I saw that [South San was] turning a corner, as well. Committing to Lone Star Governance was a big piece. System of Great Schools, an innovative approach. I saw that there was that, and when you see the challenges academically [and] those are the kinds of districts that I think I am gravitated towards. You need help, and I’m here to help.
This is why I decided to commit to it and I said, “Here’s a great opportunity to go out there and make a difference or die trying.” I can’t guarantee to you that it will [succeed], but in my career I’ve taken a lot of risks.
I’m built that way. … I’ve only been in the business 13 years – I was a bilingual teacher for four years, an assistant principal for two, principal for one, an assistant superintendent for two, interim for one, and superintendent for three years. There’s been a lot of growth and opportunities at every turn. I’ve been given an opportunity to move into the next level.
RR: Some in the district perceived former Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra as an outsider. How do you build rapport with community members?
AF: I definitely do empathize a lot. This is why I try to visit the schools a lot. This is why I am attending the fall festivals, and I try to attend the events that we have out there. I still have yet to really fully start my outreach to the community.
We were in the process of a lot of transition since I walked into this, [which is] part of the challenge of coming to work in South San. … I want to have a Superintendent Student Advisory Council, a Superintendent Parent Advisory Council, a Superintendent Clergy Advisory Council.
I understand the challenges. I see a lot of our kids and I think, that’s me. That was me. You may not have the best means, you may not have everything that is typically afforded to middle-class families, but there is definitely a lot of potential.
I’m big on [relationship building.] Relationship building is where it is at for me – that’s my approach to how I can hopefully not be viewed as an outsider.
RR: One significant topic that has come up has been the potential reopening of three schools. It is a complex issue with the typical timeline being 12-18 months –
AF: It is technically 18 to 24 months, but I know the sense of urgency this board has. So if we had to push it, it is still a thing that takes time. And that has been my messaging all along. I do know that we do have some members of the board that have a sense of urgency about it, but at the same time my job is to provide you with the entire picture of where we stand, where we are. The facts and the figures.
I get that there is a lot of feelings and, believe me, any time that you shut down campuses it is one of the most traumatic things that happens to a community. I understand that and I empathize greatly with that. At the same time we also need to make sure we are doing our due diligence and that it is financially feasible – the type of impact it is going to have financially, academically on the ability of the campuses [to support students], the sustainability. So when you ask me do I understand – I understand. I understand why folks feel the way they do. But like I said, we have to really make sure we do our homework before we can proceed.
RR: What is your approach to getting a plan together?
AF: If you go look at the presentation [district officials presented to the board in January], I have a slide where it talks about all the things that need to happen, and this is where I’m trying to work as best as I can with the board to guide them in the best way and to help them understand these are the things you need to consider.
With the technology infrastructure, with the security aspect, a facility study and then you have to look at staffing issues. You’re going to need an [administrative staff] even if you have 100 kids in there – a principal, a custodian, a nurse, paraprofessionals, food service. All of these things require a lot of time and effort.
I know that the board passed action to develop a budget. The timeline that is set through board action is pretty tight. So we are trying to do the best we can, as much as we can, within the parameters that were set. So that is a challenge in itself.
RR: You talked about being in transition and coming into a district that is in transition. You came in and almost an entirely new board is elected.
AF: I was named in September, I get a contract in October, and I get a brand new board in November. I mean really, if you talked about welcome to South San, this is welcome to South San.
RR: How do you adapt to those changes? In October, you probably couldn’t have foreseen all of these changes.
AF: When you make decisions such as changing from one district to another, you have to consider all possibilities. And definitely this was one of those scenarios. … At the end of the day, elections are what they are. So I just take it for what it is. My deal is that I pride myself on an ability to adapt.
It is very much a crossover year. I came in in October or November. The plan is pretty much set for the year. … I can’t just come in with a ready-made plan because that’s not how it works. I have to assess and evaluate what we have and who we are [and then develop a] path for how we are going to proceed moving forward.
The more I visit the campuses, the more that I get to learn this board and what it is that they are looking for, the more I understand what I have to do. There are some challenges, some serious challenges, but we’re going to continue working through them as best as possible.