SAISD Board President Patti Radle (D5). Photo by Scott Ball.
SAISD Board President Patti Radle calls the involvement of two former superintendents in the current board election "surprising political action." Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Two past San Antonio Independent School District superintendents, Sylvester Perez and Ruben Olivárez, have involved themselves in the current board of trustees race by publicly endorsing District 3 candidate Lorna Klokkenga in her campaign to unseat incumbent Debra Guerrero. 

“This is surprising political action on the part of past superintendents,” current board President Patti Radle told the Rivard Report on Friday.

Klokkenga, an educational consultant and former SAISD high school principal, is running against Guerrero, a former City council member who was appointed to the SAISD board in 2012 to serve an unexpired term, in the May 6 election in which two other incumbent trustees also face challengers.

“The children of SAISD deserve Lorna Klokkenga,” said Olivárez, who served as superintendent from 2000-2006. “As former SAISD superintendent, I know her well and she has my full support.” 

According to Radle, the person Olivárez doesn’t know is Guerrero.

“For past superintendents to step out on this suggests some history,” Radle said. “But Olivárez doesn’t know Debra on an experiential level.”

Perez, on the other hand, had a hard time with Guerrero while she sat on the board throughout his 2012-2015 tenure, Radle said.

“Debra is a professional,” Radle said, calling the current trustee a “searcher” when it came to seeking change and improvement in the district. While Perez was steady and well-liked by personnel, Guerrero often pushed for a more ambitious change agenda.

“She’s a relentless advocate for academic improvement,” Radle said.

Guerrero fits well with current Superintendent Pedro Martinez, Radle said. Martinez’s agenda for radical change has infused the district with new initiatives, ambitious goals, and garnered waves of support from the members of the private sector, which many say had been waiting for a signal that any financial investment they might make would be put to good use.

Klokkenga has said that she thinks Martinez is taking the district in a good direction. Her primary concern is to make sure that the comprehensive high schools like Highlands High School, where she was principal, are getting the same attention as new in-district charters such as the Advanced Learning Academy. She says it is her experience that led Perez to support and endorse her.

“SAISD would be well served by Lorna Klokkenga on the SAISD School Board,” Perez said in his endorsement. “Her knowledge, dedication and 31 years of putting children first make her the best choice in this race.” 

Perez was also listed as a financial donor to Klokkenga’s campaign, with a contribution of $500, according to campaign donation disclosure forms.

Guerrero said that current district initiatives do keep comprehensive high schools top of mind.

“Traditional high schools are benefiting from the transformational programs that the Superintendent is implementing district-wide,” Guerrero said. “Quality and increased teacher training, strong campus leadership, and the renewed focus on college and skill readiness are present in all of our initiatives. These directly impact all of our students. So our comprehensive high schools will not only see increased graduation rates, but well-prepared graduates.”

In addition to the two former superintendents, Klokkenga has drawn support from other former district employees, raising concerns from some about an organized effort against Martinez. Perez is also supporting District 1 Trustee Steve Lecholop’s challenger, retired teacher Sandra Ojeda Medina. Lecholop’s broad support from across the district identifies him as one of Martinez’s strongest supporters.

The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, the official representation for district employees, has endorsed all incumbents, including Guerrero.

Keeping the like-minded board intact is “critically important,” Radle said. Together the board members have taken many risks and made needed changes to move SAISD away from its former reputation as a low-performing inner-city district. As board president, Radle has often referred to the board’s vigorous discussion and commitment to consensus. She sees Guerrero as a vital part of those conversations, she said.

While the board is committed to progress whatever the outcome of the election, Radle does not want to lose momentum.

“Our business is urgent,” she said. “We feel strongly that we need to stay together to move forward.” 

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.