Fiesta this year would be a good time to hold Patti Radle Day throughout the San Antonio Independent School District to recognize her extraordinary 12 years of service on the school board. Radle served as board president for six of those years, from 2015 to 2021. Last month, she announced her decision to step down when her term ends in May.

As a journalist, I was witness over those 12 years to Radle’s quiet, steady, selfless leadership. There were other honest, strong trustees that preceded Radle, notably Julián Treviño, whose family owned the former landmark El Mirador restaurant in Southtown. He served as a reform-driven board president from 1996 to 2008, but it took next-generation board members to continue Treviño’s work and elevate the board to its eventual level of reliable, results-driven performance free of unethical conduct. 

When Radle was elected to the District 5 seat in 2011, issues like cronyism, insider dealing on multimillion dollar contacts, at least one former trustee forced to resign after accepting cash, airline tickets to Las Vegas and other “gifts” from contract bidders, and trustees routinely meddling in central office and campus operations still persisted. Not anymore, although the district, like all public school districts in Texas, faces major funding and political challenges.

Radle does not deserve credit alone for the transformation of the district’s school board and the improved education outcomes that the district has delivered year after year over the last decade, but significant improvements would not have happened without her.

Three strong superintendents recruited over the last decade or so also deserve credit, beginning with Roberto Durón, hired in 2006 and driven off by board politics in 2012Three years later, Pedro Martinez, a Mexican immigrant and charismatic change agent was hired. Over six years he proved enormously effective, but he left in 2021 to lead the Chicago school system in the city where he grew up; and the current superintendent, Jaime Aquino, is Martinez’s equal for charisma and vision, and importantly, has forged positive relationships with the teachers’ union.

Still, student enrollment in the district declined from nearly 56,000 students when Radle joined the board to a current enrollment of less than 45,000. The rise of public charters, demographic trends in the city sprawling to the north and post-pandemic absenteeism have all played a role in what remains the city’s largest inner-city school district. 

I never once saw Radle put her own political interests ahead of the district’s students, teachers, or the often overlooked support staff who keep schools open and safe. That’s because Radle isn’t a political person, even though she also served two two-year terms on City Council from 2003 to 2007, back when strict term limits kept people from serving more than four years.

Radle and her husband Rod have served for more than 50 years as the volunteer co-directors of the nonprofit Inner City Development, a Westside landmark that provides food and clothing to families in distress, and offers recreational and education programs for neighborhood youth. The social services center is located near the Alazán-Apache Courts in the city’s poorest zip code.

Maria Hernandez, whose three nieces are teachers, shares a laugh with SAISD Board President Patti Radle while blockwalking.
Then-SAISD Board President Patti Radle shares a laugh with Maria Hernandez, right, whose three nieces are teachers, while block walking for an SAISD bond campaign in 2016. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Radle is truly a servant leader, the saintliest one I have known in 46 years of watching elected leaders. I once described her as the Mother Teresa of San Antonio. I am sure I have never used the word “saint” in any form to describe an elected official, though many have won my admiration.

I expected significant media coverage when Radle announced her plans to leave at the end of her current term. But there was none, nor has she lobbied for any. Radle’s press release and Aqunio’s message of praise to district residents and employees failed to attract attention. I hope this column jump-starts the move to give Radle the recognition she deserves.

The sole candidate seeking Radle’s seat is Geremy Landín, who serves as the storytelling content manager for the H. E. Butt Foundation and has a graduate degree in history from St. Mary’s University. The filing deadline is Feb. 17 for the board’s three seats on the ballot in May.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.