The San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees will welcome two new faces this month, each bringing different priorities to the board.

Voters in SAISD’s District 3 elected Leticia Ozuna on May 1 to replace outgoing trustee Debra Guerrero, who served on the board for nine years. District 1 voters chose Sarah Sorensen over incumbent Steve Lecholop, an attorney who represented the district for the past eight years. The new trustees will be sworn in at the May 17 board meeting.

While both Ozuna and Sorensen have backgrounds in politics, each envisions a different direction for the board that oversees the district of roughly 46,000 students. Ozuna wants to maintain the momentum of the current board, which she believes has met the challenges the pandemic has thrown at school systems. Sorensen, on the other hand, sees room for improvement in the transparency of board and district decisions and the inclusion of more stakeholder voices.

Sorensen and three other candidates, not including Ozuna, ran on a platform primarily backed by the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel. The teachers union endorsed this slate of candidates aiming to unseat three incumbents and replace Guerrero, as part of a continuing rift between the union and the district’s administration over how schools should be operated. Alliance candidates ran on a platform that called for bringing more community voices to the decision-making process, building up neighborhood schools, and improving working conditions for staff.

Sorensen, 43, is still committed to that platform and plans to use it as a guide when making decisions on the board.

“Having a connection to a grassroots coalition is something that I’m bringing,” she said. “I will represent that position to the best of my ability and always come back to the community that put that together.”

Additionally, Sorensen brings to the board more than seven years of experience working with state and local governments, so she understands the policy and budget constraints under which governmental entities must operate. Sorensen worked for the local development corporation in Albany, New York, and spent seven years as a legislative analyst for the higher education chair in the New York State Legislature. Currently, she works as a COVID-19 case investigator for the University of Texas School of Public Health, which has contracted with the City of San Antonio to conduct coronavirus contact tracing.

Before the pandemic, Sorensen volunteered with education advocacy groups and served as the president and vice president for the parent-teacher association at Bonham Academy, where her 11-year-old daughter attends fifth grade.

Sorensen’s first priorities on the board include developing next school year’s budget, examining how SAISD plans to use $208 million in federal relief funds, and supporting students both academically and emotionally. She said helping students recover from the pandemic and finding those students that did not return to school this year is more important than standardized test scores.

As a new board member, Sorensen said she knows she will be asking a lot of questions and getting acquainted with the board.

“If they’re important questions to ask, I will ask them, and I don’t mind being the only one asking those questions,” she said. “They’re important to ask, but at the same time I recognize we work together and I’m looking forward to developing that relationship.”

Newly elected SAISD trustee Leticia Ozuna

Like Sorensen, Ozuna is concerned about the pandemic’s impact on students. Her top priorities for the board include finding innovative ways to help students recover lost learning time and using partnerships to make sure students’ emotional needs are met. Superintendent Pedro Martinez has outlined a three-year plan that addresses those issues.

Ozuna said she believes in Martinez’s leadership and has been impressed with his response to the pandemic and the challenges it has brought the district. Ozuna, 54, represented the City Council’s District 3 from 2012 to 2013. She works as a digital engineer and also serves on the San Antonio Water System board.

“This is a time of innovation in our school systems, and you can see our superintendent absolutely exploring those options and looking for different ways of bringing opportunities to the students in SAISD,” Ozuna said.

As a digital engineer, Ozuna wants to see the school district close the digital divide and ensure every student has access to the internet and a device. SAISD has provided students with devices, but internet access is still a problem for some families, she said.

Ozuna’s most important priority is for the school board to maintain the momentum it has gained since hiring Martinez in 2015, she said. SAISD’s state rating improved from a C in 2018 to a B in 2019 under the superintendent’s leadership, and the state education commissioner called the district Texas’ fastest-improving school system.

“We have a leadership group that has been able to produce extraordinary results,” Ozuna said.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.