Pedro Martinez has been the superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District for slightly under two months, so the agenda for Monday evening’s school board meeting that included an “Overview of the Superintendent’s ‘First 100 Days’” seemed like a case of bad math.

It was anything but bad math. What Martinez presented to trustees was his agenda from now until November, when he will have held the job for 100 days: an ambitious, five-year plan to elevate the performance of every district school to levels unimagined by any of his predecessor superintendents.

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez answers reporters' questions during a press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.
SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez answers reporters’ questions during a press conference. Photo by Scott Ball.

The five-year plan coincides with the extended five-year contract trustees gave Martinez when they recruited him here from Nevada in May.

“Plan Pedro,” to simplify the superintendent’s 10-goal blueprint, aims to take the district’s mission statement –  “To transform SAISD into a national model urban school district where every child graduates and is educated so that he or she is prepared to be a contributing member of the community” –  and turn rhetoric into reality.

The foundation of the plan is to elevate district metrics from below the average performance of public schools in Texas to equaling or exceeding those state averages, and equaling or exceeding national averages in some instances.

The five-year plan sets specific, measurable improvements in 10 key categories of academic achievement that include:

* Noting that all Texas schools will be given a state-mandated A-F grade starting in the 2017-18 academic year, the result of HB2804 passed in the 2015 session of the Texas Legislature, the plan calls for 70% of all SAISD campuses to earn a B or higher grade under the new accountability standards. In 2011, one of the district’s higher-performing years, Martinez said, one-half of all Texas public schools received a rating of Exemplary or Recognized, while only one-third of SAISD schools achieved that ranking. Assuming that grades of A or B, plus or minus, will reflect those same standards, that would mean SAISD needs to more than double the number of district campuses performing at a high level.

* Reducing the district’s current dropout rate from 14% to 10%.

* Increasing the percentage of SAISD graduates attending community colleges, a four-year college, or one of the nation’s 200 Tier One universities from the current rates of 52%, 25% and 2%, respectively, to 80%, 50% and 10%.

* Increasing the percentage of SAISD graduates who complete their first year of college without remediation from 40% to 74%.

* Increasing the percentage of SAISD students with SAT/ACT college-ready performance scores from the current 5% to 43%.

See below for the complete 10-goal chart.

Click image to enlarge.
Click image to enlarge.

Politically, Martinez is making a bold move in what others might regard as the “honeymoon phase” of his tenure, presenting an “all in” game plan that is unlike anything the district has seen in the past. It’s also a plan that is likely to discomfort many longtime district and campus administrators who will wonder if it is attainable given the social and economic challenges that beset families and educators in the inner city.  The district’s 54,000 students are 92% minority, most from low-income households where there are few role models for significant education attainment.

“Seeing something like this, a tangible manifestation of high expectation, it’s refreshing to me,” said Trustee Steve Lechelop (D1). “I applaud you, Pedro, for producing a document like this only two months into the process.”

Trustee Olga Hernandez (D6) worried that such an ambitious plan might condemn some low-performing campuses that lack the necessary resources to failure.

Martinez said his plan would not improve some geographic parts of the district at the expense of other, more challenged campuses.

“The plan has to include all the neighborhoods for this to work,” he said. “You have to hold me accountable and then it has to trickle down.”

Hernandez smiled: “That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Each trustee, in turn, applauded the magnitude of the plan and Martinez’s change agenda.

“It’s not an improvement plan, it’s a transformation plan, and I really think it speaks to the mission statement,” said Trustee Ed Garza (D7), who served as board chair during the search for a new superintendent. “It’s bold.”

As Martinez laid out his schedule for sharing the plan with campus principals this summer, Trustee James Howard (D2), interjected: “Did you say this process will be messy?”

Martinez responded: “It will be very messy.”

Nervous laughter arose from a room packed with the district’s senior managers and other staff – evidence that summer break is for students and teachers only and that Martinez is pushing the planning process at a fast pace.

Board Chair Patti Radle and Garza both expressed concern that an intensified program to improve academic performance won’t detract from recent district initiatives to improve student wellness, character and community engagement. Martinez said the district will be pushing to enroll every student in an extracurricular activity, be it a sport or club, to round out their formation.

Newly announced SAISD Board President, Patti Radle leaves the board room. Photo by Scott Ball.
Newly appointed SAISD Board President, Patti Radle leaves the board room. Photo by Scott Ball.

He also talked about a proposed alumni program that would track college-bound high school graduates, especially first-in-family attendees, to provide them with a support network and to better measure outcomes.

“This is only the beginning of a process,” Martinez told trustees Monday, detailing his timeline now to unveil the five-year goals with school principals and then have his staff work with campus teams to produce real plans for change. He expects pushback and some changes to the plan along the way.

Public meetings with parents at district high schools will be part of the process as Martinez works not only to improve education outcomes but also public perceptions about the schools.

“The question I want to ask the community: Are these goals rigorous enough?” Martinez said Monday. “Is this going to change the way you see us?”

*Featured/top image: The SAISD Board of Trustees meet in July of 2015.  Photo by Scott Ball. 


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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.