A 19-year-old father, and two mothers of SAISD students will be running against incumbents in District 5, and District 6, and for a newly empty seat in District 2.
Earlier this week, the San Antonio Alliance - the democratic voice of teachers and support personnel in SAISD - endorsed three candidates for the May 4 school board elections. Alicia True Perry (District 2), Janell Rubio (District 5), and Eduardo Torres (District 6) beat the rest of the field to the union’s endorsement, speaking on Sunday about the values and goals that they share with SAISD educators, and on the central importance of restoring voice to students, teachers, and community members feeling increasingly marginalized and ignored under the leadership of Superintendent Martinez.
“I’m running for school board because I’m passionate about putting the community back in the schools.”
Perry is the mother of six children in SAISD schools. She is running on a platform of returning decision-making power to the community, opposing the charter takeover of SAISD schools, and reestablishing community control, voice, and ownership of neighborhood schools.
Perry, a native of New Orleans, spoke at length in her candidate screening session, of the impact of the charterization of public education in New Orleans, the sweeping gentrification of the city that accompanied it, and the role played by Paul Pastorek (advisor to the SAISD board and superintendent on their “System of Great Schools”) in masterminding the growth of the portfolio model in that city, and its expansion nationwide.
She articulated a vision of communities collectively raising children - of everyone, neighbors and friends working to support one another and guarantee each others’ success. We need, she explained to a room full of educators and community members, to stop seeing our communities as places that our kids have to escape. We have to stop thinking that success must mean leaving the community to which you belong.
On Sunday, Perry explained her motivation for running:
“As a mother of six children in the district I see a lot of inequality, I see a lot of resources going to other schools and I think that same level of care and value should be placed in our community schools.”
She continued, “I’m also running because I really take a serious interest in the problem with the infiltration of the charter schools, and I believe that we need to support our public schools more.”
We asked Perry: Who do public schools belong to?
Her response: “The people. They belong to the community.”
Whose voices aren’t often heard in our schools?
“The children. The students. The community. We are left out, and we make the schools, so we have to bring that back to the way it used to be: it’s our schools, it’s our babies, it’s our community.”
“I’m running for transparency, consistency, and accountability for the students”
Rubio graduated from Lanier High School in 1999. She’s the mother of three daughters in the Lanier cluster, and a lifelong Westside community member. As one of many Westside parents unhappy about ongoing issues at Lanier, the impending closure of Rodriguez Elementary, and the lack of community voice in decision-making, Rubio first considered running for school board when she saw how dismissive and belligerent Superintendent Martinez was at a Westside community meeting last year.
Her decision to run, she says, is motivated by what she sees happening at her daughters’ schools, and to the proud Lanier community.
The solution, according to Rubio, is engaging communities and involving them directly in the decisions currently made on their behalf. "Voice" was a recurring theme as she held listening sessions with different audiences in late February and Early March. And voice became a central theme of her candidate screening at the Alliance office, her speech on Sunday and her conversation with Educación Popular.
And if she wins?
Rubio says that she will renew the district's focus on the neighborhood schools that lie at the heart of SAISD communities, and advocate for equitable funding for, and focus upon them. And, she says, she'll ensure that students, teachers, and community members have a direct, and meaningful channel through which they can shape district policies. She's offering a real, tangible voice in district decision-making, and a board member who takes seriously her position as a public servant - making decisions with, not for, the Lanier community.
For many in District 5, that sounds like a breath of fresh air.
“I’m running for school board because I don’t feel like students have a say in their own education, and I think we should do something about that.”
19-year-old Eduardo Torres is a member of Edison High School’s graduating class of 2018. He’s a husband, father of a one-year-old child, non-profit worker, and student of public policy and political science at UTSA. On Sunday, Torres spoke of the power of student voice, and the importance of including students in district decision-making. He’s taken a clear position on the role of charter schools in educating San Antonio youth (“corporations will never care about our neighborhoods”), and has celebrated the central role played by the labor movement in American prosperity, democracy, and social progress.
Why did Torres choose this moment to run?
“I think I felt like the moment was right, in the country, for young people to stand up and express their opinion, and it’s time to stop marginalizing people who have been left out of the process.”
For Torres, the marginalization of students and community members under the current district leadership is a major motivating factor; his personal experience of that marginalization still clear in his memory. “I think,” he said, “that students’ voices have been left out for too long. I was just one of those students who had their voices left out, so it’s personal for me.”
How will Torres seek to change district decision-making if elected? By advocating for the formal involvement of students and community members in district governance.
The May 4th election offers a clear choice: continue with a status quo that disempowers, ignores, and silences the communities who own our public schools, or embrace a vision of authentic, grassroots leadership by SAISD students, teachers, and community members in rejecting the concentrated, unaccountable, and anti-democratic decision-making of current district leaders.
These candidates’ vision is clear:
-Public schools belong to the people, and they should reflect the community’s will, not the dictates of private charter organizations, unelected superintendents, or Republican politicians in Austin.
-Students, parents, community members, and educators should be involved in a process of shared decision-making across the district. This does not mean having “input” (usually ignored) before district leaders make decisions for the rest of us. This means that students, parents, and teachers should all have a seat at the table when decisions are being made.
-Equity means more than claiming to be desegregating San Antonio schools. It means centering the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized students and communities in decision-making. It means amplifying the voice of those historically ignored, marginalized, and silenced, and centering it in discussion.
-Educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. Successful students need teachers and support personnel who are respected, supported, and listened to by district leaders.
As Shelley Potter explained on Sunday, the Alliance has a core set of beliefs - the interconnectedness of schools and communities, the importance of celebrating the uniqueness of all students and meeting their needs, the centrality of social justice to teacher movements, a belief in the power of collective action to bring about positive change.
And as Alicia Perry said on Sunday, summing up: “It’s all about the people.”