Elisa Villanueva Beard, Teach for America CEO, speaks at a luncheon at Supper on September 18, 2018.
Elisa Villanueva Beard, Teach for America CEO, speaks at a luncheon at Supper on September 18, 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Teach for America Chief Executive Officer Elisa Villanueva Beard understands that as the needs of the job market change with technological advances and varying demands, it’s nearly impossible to predict how to adapt school curriculum and those who teach it to fit the needs of future students.

The best approach, Beard believes, is investing in leaders who can adapt to the changes, a message she shared with San Antonio education advocates during a luncheon on Tuesday.

“If someone comes in and says I got the answer, then I would be super skeptical,” Beard said.

Beard, a McAllen native, was TFA’s chief operating officer in 2010 when the organization began in San Antonio. In the eight and a half years since, TFA has grown from 100 initial teachers, which TFA calls corps members, to a local network of more than 500 past and present teachers living in the area. Many of these past corps members remain in the education sector as administrators, teachers, and otherwise, Beard said.

In the TFA program, teachers enter into two-year contracts to work in schools in the organization’s 51 regions. The majority of TFA teachers work in low-income communities.

Currently, 125 TFA teachers are in place in the San Antonio Independent School District, KIPP Texas, IDEA Public Schools, and New Frontiers Public Schools. Each year, TFA brings in about 65 new corps members to start their two-year contract in a San Antonio school.

Beard told the audience Tuesday that San Antonio is an especially notable hub among the areas where TFA has a presence because of the innovation occurring in school districts.

San Antonio Executive Director Laura Saldivar Luna, who helped bring TFA to the city the same year SA2020 launched with ambitious education goals, said she hopes to work with the community to redefine the next educational transformation San Antonio needs after the turn of the decade.

“There is a real need to reinvent and reimagine pieces of the system that don’t yet exist,” Saldivar Luna said. “[The education system] is preparing a subset of kids for a subset of jobs that are out there and as Elisa said, those jobs are rapidly changing.”

To accomplish this change, Saldivar Luna said she wants to see her organization grow. TFA is in the middle of a five-year campaign with the intent to raise $23 million. After the first year, 56 percent of that total already has been committed, Saldivar Luna said, and the organization will seek additional funding beyond what is already given at the state level.

If TFA raises the money, it could come close to doubling its cohort of new corps members every year from 65 to almost 110, drastically increasing the number of active TFA teachers in San Antonio.

With new funding comes new potential growth into new school districts and charter schools.

Specifically, Saldivar Luna mentioned Edgewood ISD as a potential partner district in the future. She said past administrators who worked in SAISD now work in Edgewood and have expressed interest in extending the program there.

“The demand is there,” Saldivar Luna said. “I’m constantly getting calls from different districts from in San Antonio and beyond San Antonio. What would it take for you to go to Victoria, what would it take for you to go to Alice?”

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.