A new era in the San Antonio Independent School District was signaled Monday evening with the formal hiring of new Superintendent Pedro Martinez and the announcement by Board President Ed Garza that he will relinquish his leadership role in June and support fellow Trustee Patti Radle for the post.
Superintendent Sylvester Perez will retire at the end of the current academic year and Martinez, who is moving here from Reno, where he has been serving as the superintendent-in-residence of the Nevada Board of Education, will assume the top leadership position on June 1. Monday’s board vote to accept his contract was unanimous. He was given a five-year contract with a salary of $280,000.
“It was a bold move by the board to give Pedro Martinez a five-year contract, but we need a strong, transformational leader and the board knows a true transformation will take five years,” Garza said in an interview Tuesday. “Now, with Pedro coming in, it’s a new day for the district, and I believe transformation begins with one’s self.
“I’m changing roles, but staying committed, and I am creating the opportunity for new leadership at the board level as well,” Garza said. “Patti has the right temperament and balance to lead the board and give Pedro the support he will need through the coming transformation. One of the traits that really comes though with Pedro is his humbleness, and Patti is humble, too. It shows the district putting a higher value on being humble than our individual pride.”
Martinez, 45, will take the reins at a district that has made significant strides forward in reducing its dropout rate and improving overall academic performance, yet remains greatly challenged by the failure of most students to graduate college-ready.
Garza, who served as mayor of San Antonio from 2001-05, has presided over a board at times divided philosophically and politically, but his support for Radle, a former City Council member from 2003-07, appears to be a vote for a progressive thinker who also has a reputation as a mediator and peacemaker.
Radle is a certified bilingual teacher who has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, including 12 years at J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, located in one of the poorest sectors of the Westside, not far from where she and her husband, Rod, have operated the non-profit Inner City Development community organization since 1968, which depends on volunteer support and workers to help meet the basic needs of its economically disadvantaged Westside neighbors.
“I am very willing to do it, not because I am driven by ambition but because I think I can be helpful at this time,” Radle said Tuesday. “I think it’s important that I do it. We have diverse personalities on our board, and I am hoping my patience will be of service. I have had to do many things in life where people disagreed but we moved beyond disagreement to do what was right for the community. All of my colleagues are committed to doing good for our students, and I think I can put us on the same path.”
Garza said he only began to share his decision with board members before the Monday meeting, and that he believes his fellow trustees will unite under Radle.
“I shared my decision with Pedro several weeks ago when he was in town to give him a heads up, and he was a little caught off guard,” Garza said. “I told him nothing bad was happening, that it was a good time to unite the board under new leadership. Yesterday I started letting board members know I was going to make a public statement. Some were surprised.
“My commitment when I started was two terms, and I haven’t made a decision if I will seek a third term,” Garza said. “It really depends on how it goes over the next two years. One of the reasons I stepped up to run for president three years ago was the impasse we were at with Robert Durón as superintendent. It was my responsibility to put us on the path to transformation and now we are there.”
Martinez was one of two finalists who emerged during a national search this year. He became the sole finalist when Scott Muri, the deputy superintendent of academics for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, withdrew to pursue another superintendent opportunity. The board brought in 10 candidates, an unusually large pool, for face-to-face interviews before selecting two finalists
Martinez’s personal story is a compelling one in a district that is more than 90% Mexican-American, and just as many families living below the poverty line. Martinez was a child immigrant who came at the age of five with his parents to Chicago from their home in Aguascalientes. His father worked in a factory by day and in clubs as a musician at night to support a family that grew to 10 children, all of whom went to attend college. For the district’s students, Martinez will be proof of their own individual potential if they stay in school and move on to higher education opportunities.
“I’m really excited,” Martinez said Tuesday. “I know that this is the right time for San Antonio and the district to look ahead. Ed has said clearly that we want to become a national model public school district, and even though we are more than 90% disadvantaged, we need to show the country what is possible, that we can get this done. The district is the right size to make real change happen. I know I am going to have to hit the road running, but I’m totally up for it.”
*Featured/top image: From left: SAISD Trustee Olga Hernandez (D6), President Ed Garza, Superindendent Sylvester Perez, Trustee Arthur Valdez (D4), and Trustee Patti Radle (D5) take the Pledge of Allegiance during a recent board meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.