SAN ANTONIO – When Pedro Martinez became the San Antonio Independent School District superintendent seven years ago, he said, “We had a different attitude about our children. We saw their poverty. We saw their challenges as deficits.”
“I remember going into schools and just seeing the number of over-age children that were being retained, the number of children who were falling through the cracks,” Martinez said.
Martinez said he worked to change the prevailing attitude at the time.
Knowing “the heart” of his teachers and principals, Martinez said he convinced them to see each child’s potential instead of their deficits.
For instance, he says now English-language learners outperform the rest of the state because of SAISD’s strong dual-language programs.
“Our children have never been better prepared in their preschool and kindergarten grade levels,” Martinez said. “We are seeing the children now for the gifts they come with, even though they’re low income.”
He said word has spread about the promise and potential among its students.
Every job applicant survey SAISD has done, he said, the number one reason prospective teachers and personnel want to come to San Antonio is because of its students.
“That’s been the big shift that we’ve seen,” Martinez said. “That is what I’m very proud is going to outlast me.”
He also said he’s proud of the quality of its academic programs in its high schools.
Martinez said examples include the district’s high school graduation rates, many with college credit or career certificates, especially in technology and the health sciences, and the college attendance rate is the highest it has been.
Martinez also pointed out that last year’s graduating class was the largest ever with the largest amount of scholarships.
This year, he said, the district expects scholarships will total more than $130 million.
Thanks to two major bond issues, the district also is renovating or rebuilding its schools.
Martinez said he was just happy students finally will have the learning spaces they needed and deserved.
He said he’s grateful SAISD gave him the chance to help a low-income district that also was low-performing.
“They allowed me to really create an amazing team across the district, including my board, my principals and my school leaders and the staff here in central office, and my teachers,” Martinez said.
About to become the chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools, which he attended as a boy, Martinez said, “I’m sad. But at the same time, I also know that the work is going to continue beyond me.”
WATCH: SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez talks hopes for the district as he prepares to depart