San Antonio Independent School District residents want the next superintendent to be a proven leader who will build upon the district’s successes, understands the city’s culture and speaks Spanish.

Those are the traits parents, students, grandparents, teachers and other community members told SAISD’s superintendent search firm, JG Consulting, they desire in a new leader at several town hall meetings last week across the district. Many who spoke at the town halls said they wanted someone who would help retain teachers and students. Some wanted a woman to lead the district.

After six years as SAISD superintendent, Pedro Martinez resigned in September to take the job as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. The school board named Robert Jaklich, former Harlandale and Victoria ISD superintendent, as interim superintendent later that month.

The district that serves about 45,000 students, 88% of whom are economically disadvantaged, could have a new superintendent by summer.

The firm will invite more feedback at another town hall on Tuesday at Highlands High School. It starts at 6 p.m. and can be attended virtually.

SAISD also is soliciting feedback through a survey, which is available in English and Spanish.

Others at the town halls said the next superintendent should build upon SAISD’s innovative school programs, such as the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Montessori schools.

“SAISD has a lot of magnet and choice programs, and what I would like to see is those continued because I think those are driving a lot of parents to come back to the district,” said Rob Sipes, whose son attends the international baccalaureate program at Jefferson High School.

Bianca Maldonado said the new district leader should be a good listener who will leverage relationships in the community to improve student enrollment and help retain teachers by valuing their work.

“You value them by supporting them and being there for them and being their advocate,” she said.

Brackenridge High School teacher Zachary Wright said the next superintendent should foster relationships with families, who should be the focus of the district. Jennifer Tobias, parent of two kids in SAISD, said the new superintendent should prioritize the social and emotional health of students, considering the challenges they have endured during the pandemic.

“We need to make sure that our kids are safe and healthy,” she said. “That includes emotional health and well being.”

JG Consulting plans to present a profile of qualities the community wants to see in the next superintendent at the Feb. 10 school board meeting, President and CEO James Guerra said. The town halls are an important first step in developing the profile.

“Gathering input and feedback so that we can develop a meaningful leadership profile that’s reflective of everyone’s voice is very important,” he said. “It’s non-negotiable for us.”

If the board approves the leadership profile, JG Consulting will open applications for the position on Feb. 11. Guerra said applications typically stay open for 30 days, and then the firm would begin screening and vetting candidates before presenting them to the school board in March.

The board would then decide which candidates to interview and potentially name a lone finalist in April, Guerra said. 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 after the 21-day waiting period, the new superintendent could transition into the role in May with help from the interim superintendent, students and staff.

JG Consulting, which the board hired in December, has conducted 25 superintendent searches in the past six years, recently in Houston and Austin. But Guerra said he’s never seen so many vacancies at one time than right now, which may make finding SAISD’s next leader more challenging. Districts also are struggling to find teachers and substitutes to cover classrooms when they’re absent.

“That’s a mass exodus of superintendents right now, nationwide,” he said. “It’s not just an issue in Texas that we’re witnessing and experiencing at the moment, but it’s all over the country.”

Currently, there are at least 60 superintendent vacancies statewide, Guerra said. Several leaders in the Dallas-Forth Worth area recently announced they would resign or retire, including Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and Forth Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner.

“You can attribute it to a lot of different things,” Guerra said. “People are aging out. There are early retirements, resignations, the political tug-of-war that we’re witnessing with different issues, whether it’s the pandemic, COVID and the response to that.”

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.