At the annual State of the District for SAISD, superintendent Pedro Martinez’s overarching message was that the district is “on course” with turning around underperforming schools and raising student success across the board. Co-hosted by the San Antonio Chamber, SAISD Foundation, and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber, the event serves as an opportunity for business to gain insight into the progress and challenges of the largest urban school district in the city. In addition to the successes gained with student learning outcomes, Martinez announced a $1.5 million award from the Greehey Family Foundation to expand dual credit opportunities for “students in the academic middle who have the desire to go to college.”
“The partnership between business and education is a critical one for our future economic prosperity,” commented Richard Perez, president & CEO of the San Antonio Chamber, “SAISD is driving necessary change to educate its 50,000 students to meet the demands of and prosper in a knowledge-based economy.” The Chamber has been a long-time champion of educational and workforce initiatives that expand student access to opportunities for high-quality careers and economic mobility.
Martinez framed his address by stating the challenge, “we needed a combination of new school models that would challenge the perceptions that we couldn’t create high-quality schools, while also creating a district turnaround to improve existing schools.”
In a little over three years, Martinez has systematically approached tackling this challenge. In response to the growing number of charter schools, SAISD increased new school models to provide more options for parents, such as the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, the Advanced Learning Academy, and CAST Tech schools. Since 2016 the district has also made strategic investments in: recruiting, retaining and promoting top talent; expanding dual language programs from less than 15 to 45 programs; expanding fine arts and sports offerings; and establishing nine International Baccalaureate schools. Its innovative programming includes the only Pathways in Technology Early College High School in San Antonio, Cyber P-TECH USA at Sam Houston High School and the Brackenridge Early College High School partnership with St. Phillip’s College that allows students to earn up to 60 hours of college credit within the traditional high school experience.
Garnering corporate philanthropic support has also been a game changer for the District. In addition to the Greehey Family Foundation award and the Valero Pipeline for College Success, SAISD received support from Version Innovative Learning that will provide iPads and 24/7 internet connectivity for all students and teachers in the classroom and at home. The grant covers four middle schools, impacting 3,100 students and 190 teachers. Martinez described this as taking on the digital divide and not letting infrastructure get in the way of students’ digital literacy.
The results of Martinez’s initiatives show great promise. The District has overall progressed from a TEA accountability score of “F” in 2015-216 to a “C” in 2017-2018 and is on track to score a “B” by 2020. There has also been a 55% decrease in Improvement Required schools, moving the count from 35 to 16 schools. Progress is being made in student graduation, number of students taking AP exams, and college readiness. In 2016 only 5% of students tested college ready on the SAT, that percentage is now at 11%, representing a major accomplishment. Martinez is clear that the message every student receives is about going to college. The reinforcement is paying off with increased numbers of student enrolling in four-year college/universities, including top-tier universities. In spite of the progress made, Martinez remained steadfast in his message that the road ahead is still long and will continue to require partnerships with business, philanthropy, and communities to see the journey through for the sake of the city’s future.