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The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel’s disagreement with San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez and his proxy, Robert Rivard, isn’t about our rejection of progress.
It’s about two competing visions of the future – one in which internally segregated, corporatized “public” schools serve the new inhabitants of a homogenized, gentrified city, and another in which students, teachers, and the diverse, historic communities they serve collaborate to make decisions about how, and in whose interests, their schools should be run.
We have no interest in maintaining a status quo that fails too many of our students. But the solutions to our district’s problems are not – and never have been – to privatize our precious community resources, to facilitate playdates between rich and poor students, or to remake our neighborhood schools as nexuses of gentrification and displacement in our rapidly changing city.
As a member of SAISD’s inaugural cohort of master teachers, I’m one of those teachers Rivard calls his heroes. I thank him for the compliment, though I feel that his analysis is as misguided as it is ideologically driven and intended to divide our teaching staff into those who should be valued and retained and those who should be fired to clear the way for his corporate conception of progress.
SAISD’s decision to ask principals to divide their staff into “good” and “bad” teachers represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our work. We’re team players, our success predicated on the constant support and solidarity of our colleagues, and the tireless and too-often-ignored involvement and leadership of our students and their parents.
Rivard’s claim that the Alliance prevents the district from firing poor-quality teachers untrue and reflective of a myth trotted out every time corporate raiders – those desperate to attack unions as the last impediment to their plans to privatize public schools – face organized opposition. The truth is that SAISD faces the opposite problem: it can’t keep its best teachers.
Many of the teachers I know are considering leaving SAISD. Many of the master teachers I know, members of SAISD’s flagship program for district transformation, are seriously considering leaving the district, or – like me – doubt that they wish to continue as master teachers next year. “Teachers of the year” leave the district the same year they are recognized. Outstanding teachers are at their breaking point, not because of their students, or their amazing families, or the diverse and caring communities in which they work. This district’s teachers are quitting because they have overwhelmingly lost faith in the highest levels of district leadership.
In terms of progress, our Alliance has in the the last year: pushed SAISD to pass a resolution in support of our undocumented community members; pushed the district, with our friends at SA RISE, to provide know-your-rights information to all students and teachers; and asked repeatedly, with requests repeatedly denied, for time to train all teachers on their responsibilities to undocumented students and their families.
In the last month we’ve raised serious concerns about the lack of emergency preparedness at many campuses, provided the school district with an application process to pilot restorative practices in our schools, and called on district leaders to expand SAISD’s simplistic conception of student success and measure our students in ways that do justice to their social and emotional needs – something absent from SAISD’s endless focus on standardized test data.
We’ve called on SAISD to expand its non-academic support for our students – support sorely missing in a district that appears to prioritize the addition of new leadership positions in an already top-heavy district hierarchy over providing social workers or behavior specialists for our students.
At the March 19 board meeting, I’ll be calling on our district leaders to move immediately to deprioritize criminal justice solutions to behavior problems in our schools. Our national NEA Early Career Leadership Fellows are preparing to roll out a project that will, in collaboration with the department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at UTSA, push culturally relevant pedagogy as a major instructional priority for our teachers – a truly transformative pedagogical and cultural shift in this district.
Our Alliance is a constant leader for change in SAISD, but not for the kind of change Rivard wants to see. That’s the important detail: not all change is positive, and some conceptions of progress must be actively resisted in order to create the conditions under which our communities can thrive.
We as a union believe that our students, their parents, and other community members should make their own decisions about their lives.
We believe that teachers should be meaningfully involved in the decisions that shape their workplaces, and that students should have ownership of the spaces in which they learn.
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We believe in the power of our communities to create the changes they want to see, and reject the patronizing and paternalistic view that our communities, students, and teachers are incapable of making decisions for themselves.
We don’t believe that gentrification and displacement are the inevitable destiny for our neighborhoods, or that historical patterns of inequality are overcome by drawing middle-class students into internally segregated magnet programs in our neighborhood schools.
Our union’s resistance to the superintendent’s plan for Stewart Elementary is based on the fact that the Stewart community has been completely left out of a decision they should have been centrally involved in from the beginning.
While Rivard was publishing his hit-piece on this district’s teachers, Alliance members were block-walking in the Stewart community. Again and again residents told us of their shock at the news that the school their families had attended for generations was being handed over to an outside charter company without meaningful consultation.Many hadn’t even heard the news.
If this is the progress Rivard wants us to stop resisting, he’ll be disappointed by our response. We’re going to fight for our schools, our students, and their families. We’re going to fight to reimagine our schools as spaces in which the word democracy means more than informing families what the serious people with access to power have decided for them. And we aren’t going to quit – this is a fight for the soul of public education, the very precondition of a functional democracy.
We’re going to keep fighting, and we’re going to win.