I am very excited to be selected as the next superintendent of San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD). This role is very personal to me as I know firsthand the power that education has in changing the trajectory of someone’s life.
I am the oldest of 10 surviving children who grew up in poverty in the inner city of Chicago. My family came to the United States when I was five years old from Aguascalientes, Mexico. My father worked two jobs while we were growing up. He never earned more than $7 per hour, but my parents taught my siblings and me to work hard, have integrity, be humble, and appreciate life.
I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and college. Because of the decisions I made, all of my siblings have either finished, or are in the process of finishing their college education. In fact, three of my sisters are Chicago Public School teachers, making a difference in the lives of children living in poverty.
More than 90% of students in SAISD live in poverty and more than 97% are Latino or African-American. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in our country. It is vibrant, full of rich history and culture. It is also at the cusp of showing the nation what is possible when business, civic, and community leaders engage in innovative ways with staff, parents, and students.
SAISD has made great gains. For example, the graduation rate for the class of 2013 was 83%. Proficiency rates in our state assessments also have risen. However, we are not seen as a district of choice by all our families and staff. We underperform the region and state in almost every academic measure.
As I look at SAISD, I see the potential. We have a talented and dedicated staff, each one of our trustees are passionate about the wonderful communities our district serves. Most importantly, our students will exceed expectations given the opportunity.
I know this from my experiences in Chicago and Nevada. In Chicago, a public school system with a 90% poverty rate and more than 400,000 students, our team raised graduation rates by 20 percentage points and proficiency rates by more than 30 percentage points over a six-year period.
In Reno, Nevada, where I served as the superintendent for Washoe County Schools, a system with 65,000 students, our team achieved record graduation rates during my two-year administration. More importantly, we increased the percentage of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses and exams by more than 10% each year. Latino students had increases of more than 20% each year for two years, and African-American students had gains in one year of more than 25%. The class of 2014 had the highest percentage ever of students accepted to top universities in the country without requiring remediation.
In Washoe, the average SAT score is 1492; in Texas, it is 1422 and for SAISD the average score is 1210. When students and staff are provided with the right support from parents and community partners, they are capable of achieving excellence.
Why San Antonio? We have the opportunity to redefine excellence by leveraging our community assets and making SAISD the district of choice for all our families. Through the power of a high quality education, we can ignite economic development and strengthen our neighborhoods so that every one of our residents, including my wife and two children, can be proud of calling San Antonio home.
*Featured/top image: SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez – then a candidate – answers reporters’ questions during a press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.