San Antonio Independent School District trustees could begin interviewing applicants for superintendent in late March and hire the district’s next leader as early as May 2, according to a timeline discussed by the school board Thursday.

The school district opens applications for superintendent Friday after conducting 56 stakeholder meetings to garner feedback from staff, families, students and community members. That includes seven town halls that were attended virtually and in person from Jan. 21 to Feb. 8.

About 740 people participated in the town halls, said Patricia Linares, senior search consultant with JG Consulting, the district’s search firm, at Thursday’s board meeting. More than 1,530 people completed an online survey SAISD offered in English and Spanish, including 320 current students and 80 former students.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that high a number of students participating in a survey regarding the superintendent search,” she said. “This was probably one of the most robust searches that I’ve been through as far as getting community engagement.”

Linares said more people responded to the SAISD survey, which was shared via QR code, than any other school district survey the firm has conducted before. When JG Consulting surveyed the Houston ISD community, about 300 people responded. Houston ISD serves about 200,000 students, while SAISD serves about 45,000.

Moreover, the firm interviewed all seven school board members, state and city officials and members of various community groups to see what they want in the next superintendent.

Overwhelmingly, people want a superintendent who is going to stay in San Antonio for a while, Linares said. They also want someone who is familiar with the city’s and school district’s culture and values, who has “an equity mindset” and believes in collaboration with community members, businesses and staff.

People want SAISD’s next chief to be transparent, knowledgeable of curriculum and instruction, ethical, approachable, visible and an experienced educator who also understands finances, Linares said. With an ongoing pandemic, people also said they wanted a leader who’s knowledgeable of trauma-informed instruction and methods of closing learning gaps.

“We want somebody who is running to something, not running away,” Linares said. “We don’t want them running away from problems. We want them running to San Antonio ISD because this is where they want to be.”

The application deadline is March 15. On March 19, the school board plans to meet to whittle down the number of applications they received. From Friday until then, JG Consulting will review each application, which will include a video, and present their findings to the board, Linares said.

JG Consulting President and CEO James Guerra said the school board should expect to receive many applications. At a conference last week, he conducted a presentation to a group of 175 educators, many of whom expressed interest in the job.

“We couldn’t walk five feet out of the door before somebody was stopping us to inquire where we are in this process,” he said. “Candidates are literally watching this meeting right now, I can assure you.”

The school board is scheduled to begin interviewing candidates starting March 28, with the final round of interviews on April 5. If the board follows that timeline, it would name a lone finalist for the job April 6, and SAISD’s next superintendent would start May 2.

State law allows school districts to withhold the names of superintendent applicants, but the board must name the finalist or finalists for the position at least 21 days before voting to hire the person. Most school boards name a single finalist.

Guerra said the state public information law that protects the names of superintendent applicants from disclosure through an open records request leads to a greater number of applicants. In states where interviews must be conducted in public, the firm typically receives about 20 applications. He said SAISD could expect to receive around 50 or more.

“If you’re a sitting superintendent, you’re less likely to submit an application if you know that at some point your information will be provided prematurely of our standard best practice,” he said.

SAISD’s previous superintendent, Pedro Martinez, resigned in September to take the job as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Robert Jaklich, former Harlandale and Victoria ISD superintendent, was named interim superintendent later that month.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.