Superintendent Pedro Martinez has repeatedly emphasized that he didn’t want to close Rodriguez Elementary, but his hands were tied by a state law that imposes sanctions on schools failing state standards for five consecutive years. Rodriguez secured its fifth failing grade in 2017-18 and the campus closed at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

However, State law permits a district to reopen a closed campus in the same location if it has a substantially different model and serves a majority of grade levels not offered at the original campus. So SAISD is going back to the drawing board to reimagine Rodriguez Elementary School with the help of the community to reopen the campus for the 2020-21 school year.

On Tuesday night, community members had the opportunity to weigh in on what they want to see at Rodriguez 2.0.

Martinez started the community meeting by announcing the general idea for what the school would look like: it would open in fall 2020 with pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade, adding grades in subsequent years.

The school will likely be small, with capacity for a full elementary school topping out at 325 to 350 students, he said. This could change with possible work from a future bond.

Parents and community members met in small groups to talk about what they considered most important to include in a new Rodriguez Elementary. Many said they wanted the reopened campus to be well thought out with many resources available to the students and families.

Community members will be able to tour different SAISD school models to get ideas for what could be possible at Rodriguez. The district plans to start with tours of Steele Montessori, Advanced Learning Academy, and Irving Dual Language Academy in October and then reconvene to discuss what the community liked or disliked about the models.

By November, the district hopes to announce what Rodriguez will look like. It’s uncertain if enrollment will be restricted in any way – Martinez said the priority will be on families living close to the campus and students living throughout the district may also be welcome to attend.

The plan is to hire a principal by December to start staff recruitment and school preparation.

DJ and John, two sixth graders who now attend Rhodes Middle School, were part of the last fifth grade class to attend Rodriguez. Skateboarding outside of the elementary campus before Tuesday night’s meeting, they learned what would be discussed and picked up their skateboards before heading inside.

Both students were sad to see their elementary school close at the end of last year.

“I cried when I heard what was happening, I’m not going to lie,” John said.

DJ and John wanted to see Rodriguez reopen as a middle school with each noting that they would definitely attend. After learning it would be reopened as an elementary, they said they would also want the school to be open for their younger siblings.

“We could skateboard from Rhodes after school, and I could walk my brother home,” DJ said, adding that he hopes his brother would have fun teachers and reading or math clubs.

Rodriguez had long struggled in the State accountability system when SAISD determined the campus had to close at the end of the last school year. The elementary school, which enrolled close to 300 students when it closed, hadn’t met state standards since 2013. When it closed, students were eligible to attend what was formerly Carvajal Early Childhood Education Center or another school elsewhere in the district.

A state law allows school districts to turn over the operations of long failing campuses to outside partners to give the schools a two-year reprieve in the eyes of the accountability system. Martinez did this with Ogden and Storm academies and Relay Lab Schools and with Stewart Elementary and Democracy Prep.

Both partnerships have been scrutinized since being approved. Members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel packed the board room the night trustees voted on the Democracy Prep partnership, asking the board not to approve the agreement. The Alliance later sued the school district over the arrangement, saying not enough input was gathered before it was finalized.

Recently, questions have arisen over the quality of the partnership at Ogden and Storm academies. Both Ogden and Storm failed state standards in 2018-19, putting Ogden at risk of future closure should scores not improve by the end of this school year.

In an August interview, Martinez said if he could go back, he would have partnered Rodriguez to avoid its closure.

“If I could tell the future, I would have partnered Rodriguez and Rodriguez would be open,” Martinez said. “What drives my decision making is I try to minimize the risk of these schools closing because that is part of our values. We don’t want to close schools.”

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.