SAISD Parents Have High Standards For Our Students And Our Leaders

Updated: Oct 29, 2018

By Sarah Sorensen


As of July 1, the school formerly known as P.F. Stewart Elementary School in San Antonio Independent School District is officially Democracy Prep at P.F. Stewart School. Even though Stewart Elementary will no longer be in “improvement required” status after this past year’s official STAAR testing results, the SAISD board of trustees’ unanimous decision, made without community input, to enter a ten-year contract with the New York-based charter management corporation, Democracy Prep, still stands.


When former Stewart Elementary students return to school later this month, they will find a school where their teachers do not have to meet the same certification standards as other SAISD teachers, where they will be subject to disciplinary practices that lead to suspension rates of 25-49% (far above the SAISD average) and where they no longer have a bilingual program. Given the superintendent and board of trustees’ track record of drastically remaking schools without seeking community input, many students and families across the district will begin the school year wondering what changes are in store for their own schools.


The contract with Democracy Prep authorizes the corporation to manage at least two full K-12

continuums with up to 2,400 students. Emails from SAISD Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury mention the possibility of Democracy Prep eventually running multiple SAISD schools on the East Side and include contract negotiations to partner with KIPP Charter Schools.


As a parent of a child in SAISD schools I am torn between laughter and outrage at the patronizing suggestion that SAISD parents do not care about the students of SAISD and that we have low standards for them. What SAISD parents do have is high expectations for our leaders.

Boosters of Superintendent Martinez have called on the SAISD community to blindly trust the

superintendent, and have attempted to provide assurances of his leadership and vision. They argue that Mr. Martinez’s plan for restructuring our district is the only solution for a district that is rapidly losing students. They argue that anyone who stands in opposition, or merely asks for more public input, does not really care about the students of SAISD and holds low standards for them.


As a parent of a child in SAISD schools I am torn between laughter and outrage at the patronizing suggestion that SAISD parents do not care about the students of SAISD and that we have low standards for them. What SAISD parents do have is high expectations for our leaders.


We expect our elected board of trustees to listen to us. We voted for them to represent us not to be rubber stamps for Mr. Martinez. In a recent interview in Forbes online magazine, the district’s Mr. Choudhury bragged that every single vote the board has taken since hiring Mr. Martinez has been 7-0 to carry out his agenda--an agenda that does not now, and has never, included any community input.


Parents of children in SAISD expect our superintendent to be an effective manager. We question why Mr. Martinez began lay-offs without providing an early retirement notice incentive for teachers and staff. This is a standard practice for districts that are down-sizing and it allows the district to have an accurate count of just how many teachers will need to be laid-off.


Instead, Mr. Martinez and the board chose to conduct the lay-offs in a manner in keeping with his training as a Broad Superintendent Academy graduate, emphasizing disruption over thoughtful implementation. A growing number of critics like Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, argue that the Broad approach promotes consolidating the power of the superintendent, weakening teachers’ job protections, cutting parents out of decision-making, and introducing unproven reform measures.


As a result of the way the superintendent and board handled the layoff process, SAISD parents have seen our hardworking teachers become demoralized and fearful that they could be on the chopping block next.


SAISD parents also question why, when the district expects to lose 900 students next year, Mr. Martinez implemented an online only registration process. San Antonio is notorious for having very low levels of household internet access. Why would anyone seeking to maximize student enrollment create more barriers for families wanting to enroll their children in SAISD schools?


As a result of the way the superintendent and board handled the layoff process, SAISD parents have seen our hardworking teachers become demoralized and fearful that they could be on the chopping block next.

As parents of children in SAISD schools, we also understand that the loss of nearly 2,000 students this year, and a projected 900 more next year, is not a sudden occurrence but a trend that has been growing faster as more and more charter management corporations start schools in San Antonio. Even as Mr. Martinez restructures our district in an attempt to compete with charters, SAISD does not appear to have actually ever reached out to the families of these students to find out why they left and what it would take to bring them back.


Instead, SAISD is actively creating new schools based not on what the majority of our community actually wants or needs but what a handful of well-connected individuals think our community needs.


The challenges faced by SAISD are the direct result of federal and state education policy that focuses solely on test scores as a measure of a quality education and incentivizes private charter corporations to locate in underfunded, struggling school systems. Just like the housing developers who take advantage of historic public disinvestment in our urban core and profit from creating housing that is unaffordable to the majority of our city’s residents, private charter corporations take our public tax dollars to make a profit for themselves while decimating our public education system.


On Saturday, July 14 the National NAACP Education Committee and the Education Task Force hosted a screening of the film Backpack Full of Cash which explores how corporate education reform efforts that have focused on creating and expanding charter schools are threatening our public education system.


The film revels that SAISD is not alone in suffering the consequences of efforts to direct public funding to private charter corporations. Nationally, the NAACP has called for a moratorium on charter school expansion until they are required to meet the same standards as public schools.


Just like the housing developers who take advantage of historic public disinvestment in our urban core and profit from creating housing that is unaffordable to the majority of our city’s residents, private charter corporations take our public tax dollars to make a profit for themselves while decimating our public education system.

Allowing private charter management corporations to profit off our SAISD students is not the only way to address the challenges facing SAISD. I have joined with other parents and community members to form the Our Schools Coalition which envisions a community-driven, student- and family-centered public education system.


I know our community cares deeply about SAISD’s students, and I encourage the district to recognize the community as a partner in building a strong school system that supports all our students.



Sarah Sorensen is an SAISD parent and a founding member of the Our Schools Coalition. She has a background in public policy with a focus on both urban and education policy. She has nearly twenty years of experience working in community-based organizations and the public sector.

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