The SAISD Board meets to nominate finalists in superintendent search. Photo by Scott Ball.
The SAISD Board meets to nominate finalists in superintendent search. Photo by Scott Ball.

After a months-long search amid high expectations, board trustees with the San Antonio Independent School District have announced two finalists out of a pool of 20 applicants that “rose to the top of that process,” SAISD board chair Ed Garza said Monday night.

“(But) by no means is the vetting process over.” Garza said.

Pedro Martinez, superintendent in residence for the Nevada Department of Education, and Scott Muri, deputy superintendent of academics for Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Ga., were unanimously selected by the board to undergo what will essentially be a “third round” of interviews – a public vetting period of 21 days.

During this time, several stakeholder and public meetings will take place with each candidate during day-long visits to San Antonio. They will visit on different days – Monday, April 27 and Wednesday, April 29 – and feedback will be collected for the board to consider.

On May 4, if the board wants to stay on schedule to select a new superintendent before the May 9 elections in which three trustees face challengers, it will choose a single finalist to offer a contract.

“We want to make sure that the new person can hit the ground running so that they are in place and can be an effective part of the team of eight (trustees) through the budget process and the start of the school year,” Garza said Monday evening at the school board meeting

In their respective approaches, Garza said, Muri is the “traditional” choice, while Martinez is “nontraditional.” Both would represent the district’s ambition to become a model urban school district for the nation.

“These two were strong in their interviews and I think they really spoke to the passion and the mission of SAISD – where we are today and where we want to go,” Garza said after a two-hour long executive session that preceded the board’s nomination. “Both articulated their qualifications for our demographic.”

SAISD is San Antonio’s largest inner city school districts, one challenged by decades of suburban development and a declining tax base, but also invigorated in recent years by a wave of highly educated, tech-savvy Millennials flocking to the urban core who are demanding higher-performing public schools.

Garza stopped short of describing the candidates’ visions, leaving that to Muri and Martinez when they visit San Antonio on Thursday for brief meetings with the board and media.

“I would allow them to tell their story, but I can say on behalf of the board that both of them received support from all the board members,” he said. “(They’re) both qualified and strong leaders.”

The end of the search comes several months after the hiring of George McShan, the one-man search firm based in Harlingen who partnered with Rúben Olivárez, a University of Texas education professor and former SAISD superintendent, to help the board find a superintendent. A highly contentious hiring process ended with their hiring in December by the board’s 4-3 vote.

The candidates’ backgrounds are provided below, as provided by The DeBerry Group, a local public relations firm that McShan-Olivárez and Pablo Escamilla, the district’s legal counsel, hired to avoid requiring SAISD staff to get too involved with the vetting process, said DeBerry Group President Trish DeBerry.

Garza pointed to one possible sticking point in Martinez’s past – but he was quick to dismiss it as a case of district politics that was to blame, not any misconduct. Martinez was terminated from his position – then reinstated – as Washoe County School District superintendent last year.

“He was elected by one board, a majority of the board changed after the first year,” Garza said. “Eventually they had an amicable separation.

“It was more board politics than anything,” said DeBerry.

The Reno-Gazette Journal has a breakdown of the case in Washoe County.

Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez

Martinez is the current superintendent-in-residence for the Nevada Department of Education in Reno, and is responsible for advising the governor’s office and the state superintendent of instruction on education policy decisions.

Most recently, Martinez served as the superintendent for Washoe County School Districts.  While in Washoe County, he improved graduation rates and increased the percentage of students participating in and passing the advanced placement exam. He also previously served as CFO at Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest school district, under the leadership of former Superintendent Arne Duncan, now U.S. Secretary of Education.

His employment history reflects that he is a data-driven leader with a strong financial background and in-depth knowledge of academic reform strategies. Martinez has more than 20 years of experience in the private, nonprofit, and public education sectors, which he believes give him the leadership and management skills necessary to transform large urban school districts. Martinez holds an M.B.A from DePaul University and a bachelor’s from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Scott Muri
Scott Muri

Scott Muri

Muri, a former teacher and principal, is deputy superintendent of academics at Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. As an executive leader at Fulton Schools, which serves more than 96,000 students and employs more than 14,000, Muri developed a personalized learning framework that allows each student to receive individualized learning experiences.

He has used technology as a way to innovate the classroom experience and individualize instruction by forming a partnership with the acclaimed New Classrooms organization to implement the “Teach to One” method of learning. This method redesigned the traditional teaching model and increased student achievement by increasing the achievement levels of underperforming students in math by 20%.

That success secured a $1.25 million grant to expand this technology-driven approach within the district. During his time as CIO for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, he played an integral role in the school’s achievements that resulted in being awarded the Broad Prize for Urban Education. Muri holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Stetson University and received his bachelor’s degree in Intermediate Education and Middle School Education from Wake Forest University.

*Featured/top image: The SAISD Board meets to nominate finalists in superintendent search. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org