The San Antonio Independent School District unanimously voted Monday to officially hire Jaime Aquino as superintendent, 21 days after naming him the lone finalist for the position.

Aquino begins work as SAISD’s new leader Tuesday, almost eight months after Pedro Martinez vacated the position to lead Chicago Public Schools. Aquino’s annual salary is $315,000, according to his contract, which extends through May 2, 2027. Martinez earned $315,053.93 a year as of the 2020-21 school year.

The former classroom teacher and immigrant from the Dominican Republic comes to SAISD with 35 years of experience in some of the largest school districts in the country, including New York City, Los Angeles and Denver. He most recently worked as a consultant for Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado and a charter school network in New York City.

Aquino, 57, will move to San Antonio from New York City, with the district reimbursing his moving expenses, according to his contract. SAISD also will pay Aquino a $750 monthly car allowance and $2,500 per month in a temporary housing allowance until he buys a home within district boundaries or until Nov. 30, whichever comes first.

After the vote, Aquino approached the podium in front of the dais and thanked the board. He then introduced the members of his family in attendance, including his mother, Margarita; his sister, also Margarita; his aunt Miriam and “my anchor, my rock” Tom.

Drawing on the fact that it’s national Teacher Appreciation Week, Aquino turned the boardroom into a classroom as he read the children’s book I Will Make Miracles by Susie Morgenstern aloud. The book tells the story of a young boy who’s trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up and comes to the conclusion that he must first learn to read and write.

“Today, we unite to make miracles happen for all our kids,” Aquino said after reading the book. “As I was working on my remarks a few nights ago, I felt troubled. I wanted to convey how miracles can change a life, but this task was surprisingly hard for me. I’m a product of miracles myself, yet I couldn’t find the right words. Finally, I decided to write a letter to my younger self.”

In the letter to his younger self, Aquino talked about growing up in an “impoverished country” with loving parents who would become his inspiration. He would become confused by the disparities around him, and after moving to the richest nation in the world, he would witness “even more confusing injustices and inequity.”

“Don’t despair,” he said to his younger self. “This is when you must commit your life to helping right every wrong you can.”

Aquino went on to tell the story of a suicide attempt and how he found the courage to keep living.

“At an early age, you will experience insurmountable despair, and one day this will lead you to try to do the unthinkable and end your life. Afterward, it will be hard to know why you did this. But you recall a pain so unbearable, that it blocked out all else, even your loving family,” Aquino recalled, his voice breaking slightly. “For the rest of your life, you feel guilt over the pain that that act cost your parents. Imagine your mom sitting in the hospital thinking, ‘is he going to make it?’ They will forgive you, so you should forgive yourself and trust that God saved you for a purpose. Use this experience to ensure that others find meaning in their lives. Help them understand that they matter, and help them hold on.”

Aquino recalled other difficult experiences he endured as a young man, including being subjected to discrimination when a police officer stopped him as he was leaving the school he taught at in New York City, handcuffed and frisked him.

“You will try to explain that you’re just a teacher exhausted from a day of trying to instill the love of learning in young minds,” he said. “You will carry this memory forever and relive this horrible experience when you read the news about others who encountered similar experiences, but with more deadly consequences than yours.”

After a “horrible disease” infected the world, Aquino recalled his brother — also a teacher — killed himself, and he later found his body.

“This image will always haunt you, but he will become your guardian angel as you commit yourself to helping other teachers,” he said. “You will want them to feel fulfilled as they strive to help their students. You will want them to realize that the world cannot afford to lose any good teacher.”

As his journey appeared to be dark, Aquino said he found true love and recognized that he deserved happiness. He concluded his letter to his younger self in the present, when a group of “seven amazing strangers” decided to take a chance on him to lead a district of 45,000 students.

“They will offer you an incredible opportunity to be the superintendent of schools in a wonderful community named after a saint,” he said. “‘Why me? You will ask yourself. You know there are other fine candidates. At this point, it doesn’t matter. Just remember what your father used to tell you: ‘Son, the Lord writes crooked but in straight lines.’

“Be content to know that someone has a greater purpose for you,” Aquino said. “Embrace that moment.”

After repeating his remarks in Spanish, SAISD’s new superintendent received a standing ovation.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.