This is the second in a series stemming from a Chiefs for Change panel discussion at the National Charter Schools Conference hosted by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. With such a dynamic and experienced group of leaders offering insights from their communities, we wanted to share lightly edited highlights of comments from each of the four Chiefs. The first part with commentary from Superintendent of Denver Public Schools Tom Boasberg is here.
Pedro Martinez currently leads the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), where he’s served as superintendent since June 2015. Before joining SAISD, Martinez was superintendent-in-residence for the Nevada Department of Education and served as superintendent for the 64,000-student Washoe County School District, covering the Reno, Nevada, area.
He also served as Chief Financial Officer at Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, under the leadership of Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education.
In his remarks below at the National Charter Schools Conference, Martinez shares the progress SAISD has made over the past three years, how he and his team are working to fulfill the promise of equitable access and support for all San Antonio students, and the shift to a culture of high expectations.
Partners With Expertise
In Texas, the state allows us to set up in-district charters. We’re trying different models with what I call “partners with expertise.” We’ve opened six schools with different models, including a public Montessori school and a school built in partnership with the technology sector in San Antonio.
Ultimately, the number one goal is to build trust with parents and provide them with high-quality options that are a good fit for their children. What we’re finding right now is that the options are meeting the needs of our district and also bringing in students from the surrounding areas since Texas is an open enrollment state.
“The number one goal is to build trust with parents and provide them with high-quality options that are a good fit for their children.” Pedro Martinez
Fulfilling the Promise of Equitable Access and Support
One of the things we’ve prioritized with partners is making sure no students are excluded. We do not compromise on that. We provide support and options for English learners. Each of our partners brings different expertise in certain areas, and they are learning to leverage the district’s expertise in best serving these populations.
We also have frank conversations with our charter operators that center on values and equity. We ask, “How do we ensure that, as we are providing choice and more options, we don’t segregate kids and exclude children?”
A Culture of High Expectations
I’m hearing the national conversation change more and more. It is becoming much more polarized across the country. San Antonio is experiencing some of that as well. I remain an optimist that as long as we stay focused and united, we will reach our goals. We are poised to have our strongest academic year since 2012, which is when the standards changed in Texas.
The conversation about charters is polarizing. We need to change that conversation to one about raising our expectations and not accepting mediocrity. Change is hard and takes time. San Antonio now has three times as many graduates finishing college-ready than when I started. The students didn’t suddenly get smarter. We are holding ourselves accountable to higher expectations of what we and they are capable of.
We must all do our part to not contribute to polarization. When we allow ourselves to take sides, we miss opportunities. All families want an environment where their children thrive.
Whether those parents have an elementary education or are university professors, they want the same thing. They may describe them differently, but that’s at the heart of it. Sometimes, we get caught up in philosophical debates about education that become toxic. Let’s all stay focused on what matters, which is creating quality, inclusive options for all families.