A few weeks ago, I was asked to run for the District 4 seat on the school board in the San Antonio Independent School District, where I live and work as a teacher. I was asked to run by a coalition of student, educator, and community organizations. I was asked to run on a platform written, collaboratively, by SAISD students, parents, community members, and school workers. It’s the product of two years of pláticas, community conversations, student organizing, and union transformation.
It’s endorsed by the SAISD Student Coalition, the San Antonio Youth Scholars Collective, Our Schools Coalition, Texas Organizing Project, San Antonio DSA, The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the immigrant rights coalition SA Stands, Our Revolution San Antonio, and PODER , the social justice caucus for San Antonio educators. It’s also endorsed by the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, the union representing thousands of teachers, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and support personnel in SAISD, and by the San Antonio AFL-CIO, representing more than 30,000 union families in our city.
This is an unprecedented, grassroots education justice movement in our city, and it has the power to transform the lives of students in our schools. The platform calls for students to be at the center of our work: for student voice, student rights, and student agency to define our collective project.
It calls for school workers – teachers, bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, and support personnel – to be respected, protected, and given space to teach beyond standardized testing.
It calls for a bill of rights for SAISD families, and for parents and guardians to be centered in all school decisions – always at the table to advocate for their children.
And it calls for the work of our schools to be understood as being connected to the life of our communities – for the mission of our schools to extend beyond standardized testing, beyond the walls of our classrooms, and to center the common good.
So why have I been the target of three critical columns in the space of just a few days? Why has my candidacy been so actively and aggressively misrepresented as part of a nefarious union scheme – compared bizarrely to both the mob and the police union – to get rid of an unpopular superintendent?
Because the truth doesn’t fit with the incumbents’ narrative about our school district. And it doesn’t fit with the superficial story of a dramatic top-down transformation that provides their sole talking point.
And the truth is damaging to the project of ever-more concentrated, authoritarian decision-making and anti-worker, anti-union policy in SAISD. Lazy smears, it seems, are more useful to powerful people’s political projects than the complexity of real life, especially when that complexity includes the fact that the incumbents’ campaigns are funded by a who’s who of big money corporate donors, developers, law firms with district contracts, and charter-linked education reform PACs, while mine is funded by the small dollar donations of educators and community members.
That’s not a story non-educators Robert Rivard and Rick Casey want to voters to hear, especially from me – a member of the inaugural cohort of SAISD Master Teachers, a proven teacher with a track record of student success and academic achievement, a certified principal with a master’s degree in educational leadership from the Urban School Leaders’ Collaborative. A teacher suspended this year for standing up for the safety of his colleagues, students, and community in the face of a reckless disregard for human life, and reinstated after three days following a huge student and community-led backlash. An organizer who has a long history of fighting with and for the students and families he serves, for student rights, immigrant families, and for the transformation of discipline in our schools.
Our schools’ continued success in the face of deliberate underfunding and constant attack is the result of the work of thousands of educators like me across our district, not school board trustees. That they and their proxies daily take credit for this work is hugely insulting to those of us in classrooms.
And there are real improvements – we should celebrate, and maintain increases in graduation rates and college attendance, for example, even if they have little to do with a transformation in instructional quality as so often claimed, and more to do with the our district coming to grips with a new accountability system in Texas, and learning how to game it in fulfillment of Campbell’s Law: once a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a useful measure. SAISD has gotten great at the kind of accounting tricks that rely on a laser focus on the lagging indicators of great schools, reducing students to numbers on spreadsheets, and their education to metrics easily manipulated to produce on-paper success.
The much-touted and not-quite-real transformation has come at a terrible cost: all that is meaningful about education is sacrificed to the goal of improving our schools’ and district’s standing in a state accountability system that cares nothing for the needs of our students or communities. Our schools have been turned into testing factories – designed and run for one purpose alone: to score points on state metrics designed by some of the most extreme Republican zealots in Austin, extremists who have found useful friends on our school board.
This means that endless test prep, an unflinching devotion to the most frequently tested state standards, and cold, calculating number crunching have replaced great instruction as the goal of our schools.
And it has meant the daily dehumanization of students and educators who are trapped in and crushed by a testing-oriented education system the stifling banality of which is hard to believe if you don’t work in a classroom yourself.
So media figures (they can hardly be called journalists after the last few days) ask us to trust the incumbents who’ve presided over what has been a catastrophe for students and educators; the project of public education as an expression of the democratic will and collective vision of a community abandoned in service of a shallow, accountability-obsessed travesty of school life.
And our broad, progressive coalition’s work is disappeared into a fabricated and reactionary anti-union caricature that deliberately leaves out everything that matters about this election and our slate of challengers, replacing it with the ultimate boogeyman of American politics – the organized worker with ideas above their station.
Don’t fall for a transparent attempt to distract you from the issues at hand – the life of our students, our schools, and their place at the heart of thriving communities.
Instead, dare to believe that our schools can be more than testing factories – devoid of joy, and hope for a better world. Believe in our communities’ capacity for collective, democratic decision-making. Believe in public education as a public good – an expression of all that is best about us and of our hope for our children’s future.
I think that’s a vision worth fighting for, and so do students, educators, and families across SAISD. In their desperation to prevent its realization, our opponents tell us much about themselves.