San Antonio ISD has replaced the CAST Tech High School principal, officially naming a new leader on Monday. New principal Melissa Alcala is the current director of the STEM Academy, a magnet program in the North East ISD.
The career-themed high school will open to its first class of 175 freshmen in August 2017 on the Fox Tech High School campus. Kelly Isbell (formerly Flieger) led the school while it was under development, from August 2016. Isbell was on a one-year probationary contract, which is standard practice to employees new to the district. The district placed Isbell on administrative leave on April 20, and on May 8 the board voted to sustain the leave until her contract terminates on June 30, according to district spokesperson Leslie Price.
On May 8, Isbell addressed the board during the citizens-to-be-heard portion of the SAISD board meeting.
“[In] the opportunities I’ve had to carry the mission and vision of this school to the community, to the tech leaders, and to City officials, to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, I think I’ve done an amazing job of really promoting the superintendent’s vision for this district,” Isbell said. “I think that the challenges that have been put before me are things that I’ve risen [to] and done.”
Isbell referenced the school’s charter, which was drawn up in December. It includes a standard 10-year performance-based contract. Such provisions should protect the CAST Tech leader from “political difficulties,” Isbell said. The benchmarks instituted by that contract were supposed to be evaluated in December, and tied to her evaluation as principal.
“It is my understanding that I’m being non-renewed not based on these benchmarks, but on the basis that this is ‘in the best interest of the district,’” Isbell said. She suggested that her termination was political in nature, and that she had received no warning that her performance was unsatisfactory.
District officials declined to comment on the reason for Isbell’s termination.
CAST Tech has spent the last year preparing a technology-centric campus with visible infrastructure and collaborative workspaces. Internships and mentorship from local tech firms will connect the students to the city’s growing industry from the moment they step on campus.
“We look forward to Dr. Alcala’s leadership and extensive experience as we open and grow this exciting new school,” said Mohammed Choudhury, SAISD’s chief innovation officer. “CAST Tech joins a growing network of next-generation models providing a rich and rigorous learning experience to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st century. At SAISD, we are expanding the range of options for families so that all students can attend a best-fit school that taps into their interests and aspirations.”
Alcala holds a bachelor’s in mathematics and computer science and a master’s in educational administration from Texas State University, as well as a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She begins as principal of CAST Tech in June.
“I am excited to join the SAISD community and to help design this innovative high school,” Alcala said. “The specialized curriculum in technology and business provides CAST Tech students an edge as they launch into college and careers upon graduation. We look forward to developing tech-savvy graduates with an understanding of business and entrepreneurship to lead us into the future.”
CAST Tech is the first of several planned career-themed schools across the city, each representing a partnership between H-E-B, a growing industry sector, and one of the city’s ISDs.
Alcala will be the second principal recruited from NEISD to join SAISD’s growing network of in-district charters. Emily “Kathy Bieser,” principal of the Advanced Learning Academy, also on the Fox Tech campus, left NEISD’s International School of the Americas. Isbell also had employment history with NEISD. She led the creation of DATA, the Design and Technology Academy magnet at Roosevelt High School.