East Central ISD Superintendent Roland Toscano signs the ASPIRE agreement. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio’s South Side is one of the poorest areas of Bexar County, impacted by low education attainment rates and deficiencies in infrastructure. School districts in the area have historically worked independently to tackle the problems but are joining forces under a new initiative led by Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

On Friday, seven school district chiefs from south Bexar County announced a new partnership that will work to address the biggest challenges in their education systems. Together the districts collectively enroll close to 67,000 students, most of whom are economically disadvantaged.

The partnership will include East Central, Edgewood, Harlandale, Somerset, South San Antonio, Southside, and Southwest ISDs.

“As a group we meet, Bexar County South [Side] superintendents, and we always talk about ways to make the system work for all of us,” Southside Superintendent Mark Eads said. “We were all trying to do the same thing, to accomplish, and to make it happen for our students and our staff. But we were working as independent islands.”

Texas A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson spoke to the group of seven education leaders at the beginning of the school year and suggested the superintendents formalize a partnership to work toward common goals.

“We all kind of work together informally, but creating a formal structure around that and getting all of our arrows pointed in one direction is going to benefit youth for generations to come,” Southwest ISD Superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft said.

On Friday, the group announced the creation of ASPIRE, which stands for A&M-San Antonio and South Bexar County ISDs Partnership to Impact Regional Equity and Excellence, and the donation of $1 million from the Charles Butt Foundation to fund the group’s objectives.

The group will tackle three main issues that superintendents found affected all of their districts and students.

After brainstorming what issues were common areas of concern, the superintendents identified some of the same challenges, Harlandale ISD Superintendent Samantha Gallegos said.

The collaborative will create new university academic programs to address in-demand needs for districts, including preparation programs for educators who can serve students with special needs and STEM teachers; establish a new partnership between the university and school districts in which the university will operate lab schools inside the districts; and develop targeted programming to enhance college readiness.

It was not immediately clear which school districts were pursuing partnerships for new lab schools with Texas A&M-San Antonio. Those conversations were still preliminary, several of the district chiefs said.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson signs the ASPIRE agreement.

The lab schools will allow TAMU-SA faculty to have in-residence positions at the campuses and create model classrooms for other educators to learn best practices.

“We have to leverage our geography, and today is a prime example with our brilliant Southside partners,” Teniente-Matson said. “Simply put, ASPIRE will double down on common regional needs with joint initiatives that can escalate collective impact cross the nearly 70,000 students that are in these seven ISDs.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.