Gerardo Soto (left) is superintendent of Harlandale ISD.
Gerardo Soto (left) is superintendent of Harlandale ISD. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Harlandale Independent School District trustees unanimously chose a new district leader Friday night, even as a state takeover looms over the district.

Trustees voted to select Gerardo Soto, the district’s executive director of operations, as Harlandale’s new superintendent.

The board named Soto the lone finalist for the job, but state law mandates trustees wait 21 days before voting to hire him. Soto would replace longtime Harlandale leader Rey Madrigal, who voluntarily retired from his position in early August, after trustees voted to start termination proceedings against him in July in the wake of a Texas Education Agency investigation that found issues with the district’s procurement practices, board dysfunction, and financial mismanagement.

Samantha Gallegos, previously HISD’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, has been serving as interim superintendent.

“In looking at all the intangibles and qualifications we had in a very strong pool of applicants, we felt strongly that Mr. Soto will provide the ability to showcase our educators in Harlandale ISD,” Board President Ricardo Moreno said. “He will put us in the best position to be the most successful. We are confident in his ability to point us in the right direction.”

The board received applications from 20 candidates and interviewed six candidates, Moreno said. The board plans to vote on Dec. 30 to officially hire Soto, he added. The district will negotiate Soto’s contract in the 21-day waiting period.

Soto, who oversees the district’s operations, previously served as the principal of Frank Tejeda Academy, the district’s alternative campus. He has worked in public education for more than two decades, starting his career as a teacher’s assistant at Athens Elementary in South San ISD.

In late June, TEA officials notified Harlandale the agency intended to replace the elected board with an appointed board of managers. Harlandale officials appealed the announced sanctions in August, just days after Madrigal announced his retirement, but the district is still waiting to learn the result of its appeal.

The announced sanctions also permit Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to appoint a superintendent of his choosing, install a conservator with the power to override board votes, and lower the accreditation rating of the district. Since then, Morath has not announced whether he plans to move forward with the sanctions announced in June.

The board decided to seek a new superintendent despite not knowing whether its selection will be permanent or the state will install new district leadership.

A law firm employed by the school district oversaw the superintendent search process. Trustees narrowed down the pool of applicants to a smaller group for interviews in mid-November. The board conducted second-round interviews on Wednesday and Thursday.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.