This story has been updated.

San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez is a finalist to lead the Chicago Public Schools system, the superintendent confirmed Monday in a statement.

Martinez grew up attending Chicago’s public schools and is the school system’s former chief financial officer. He emerged from a pool of 25 applicants to be considered one of four finalists for the job leading the country’s third largest public school system, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday. One of the other finalists appears to be Chicago Public Schools interim CEO José Torres.

In a statement, Martinez said it is “a compliment” that Chicago Public Schools is considering him as a CEO candidate and that it speaks of the “great work” happening in San Antonio ISD.

“I am very happy in San Antonio ISD and proud of the transformation that is improving our children’s educational equity so that each receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential,” he said in the statement. “Because Chicago is my hometown — it’s where I went to school and it’s where I started my career in K-12 education — I felt it was an opportunity that should be explored. But it is still an ongoing process, and I will wait to see how it plays out. My focus continues to be on San Antonio and making sure we are supporting our students and teachers, paving the way for a strong year ahead.”

A spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools said she is unable to comment on the CEO search process because it is ongoing.

Martinez appears to be the favorite for the CEO position. A Chicago Public Schools official told the Sun-Times that Martinez is the only finalist who has been interviewed for the position by the Board of Education. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who makes the final recommendation along with the board president, is reviewing her options.

The SAISD board hired Martinez in 2015. His supporters credit him with turning around the district that serves about 46,000 students, improving SAISD’s state academic accountability rating to a B from a C.

A native of Mexico, Martinez moved to Chicago with his family when he was 5 years old. He served as superintendent-in-residence for the Nevada Department of Education before coming to SAISD. He also worked as the Washoe County School District superintendent in Reno, Nevada. Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago’s public schools and later the U.S. Secretary of Education, recruited Martinez to join a team working to turning around the school system. As the chief financial officer, he managed a $5 billion budget.

Recently, Martinez and the board imposed a mask mandate for all students, staff, and visitors to SAISD campuses, defying an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in July barring governmental entities from requiring masks in their facilities. Martinez also instituted a staff vaccination mandate, requiring all SAISD staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued SAISD and Martinez over the vaccine mandate, but it is likely moot now that the Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

During the pandemic, Martinez has made headlines for his ambitious plans to keep students in schools by partnering with local nonprofit Community Labs to implement free COVID-19 testing for students and staff and holding numerous vaccinations clinics at district facilities.

The SAISD board of trustees unanimously voted in May to extend Martinez’s contract one year through 2025. He earns about $315,000 a year.

SAISD board president Christina Martinez said in a statement that the board will continue to work with the superintendent to “transform our district,” regardless of whether Pedro Martinez is named the new Chicago Public Schools CEO.

“We have loved every minute of working alongside Superintendent Martinez,” she said. “He cares deeply about the children and families of SAISD.” 

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.