Unprecedented Collapse In Student Enrollment Under Patti Radle & Pedro Martinez

No other SAISD superintendent, and no other school board president have ever presided over such a catastrophic downturn in student enrollment.

The start of Pedro Martinez' partnership with Patti Radle in 2015 - the blue line on the graph above - corresponds with the start of an unprecedented collapse in student enrollment in SAISD

Internal SAISD documents show that the district began the 2018-19 school year more than two thousand students below projected enrollment.


Less than a year after SAISD’s first ever RIF (reduction in force), caused in no small part by decreasing enrollment, district administration’s own figures show that the number of students attending SAISD schools continues to decrease at startling and unprecedented rates.


Under Martinez’ leadership, SAISD students, parents, and teachers have left the district in record numbers. For a superintendent who famously believes that parents vote with their feet, the figures should make for uncomfortable reading. For those supporting and enabling his plans, the latest figures should be a wake-up call.

While superintendent Martinez has argued that the ongoing changes his team is introducing to the district’s schools provide the best solution to the unfolding crisis, an analysis of internal district figures reveals that this dramatic collapse in student enrollment coincides closely with his tenure as superintendent, and that, far from alleviating it, his policy decisions may be making it worse.


Pedro Martinez, last man standing for the job of superintendent of SAISD in 2015 after all other candidates dropped-out of the race, has presided over the most damaging collapse in student enrollment in the San Antonio district’s history, but has seemingly inoculated school board members against the idea that his tenure could do anything but transform SAISD into a model urban school district.


Instead, under Martinez’s leadership, SAISD students, parents, and teachers have left the district in record numbers. For a superintendent who famously believes that parents vote with their feet, the figures should make for uncomfortable reading. For those supporting and enabling his plans, the latest figures should be a wake-up call.



SAISD's leaders are failing at one of their core responsibilities - maintaining student enrollment, and, by extension, the financial solvency of the school district. No other SAISD superintendent, and no other school board president have ever presided over such a catastrophic downturn in student enrollment. And, in a sector in which “data” has become king, the numbers don’t lie.


We need to ask the question - what would happen to a teacher who so completely failed to fulfill a core responsibility of their job? Would they be given the chance, year after year after year, to continue to double-down on the policies that had failed so badly? Would they be given the support of a rubber-stamp school board which would support their decisions no matter how bad the results?



We know the answer to this hypothetical question. Indeed over 130 teachers lost their jobs last May for much less significant failures. But Pedro Martinez and Patti Radle have proved impervious to failures far more damaging than those of any classroom teacher.


What are the superintendent’s plans to stop the hemorrhaging of SAISD students to the charters together with whom he has repeatedly suggested that public schools should work? Choice schools - Magnets 2.0 - that would both keep current district students at the district’s schools, and attract out-of district students into the district.



How have these choice schools performed? In this year’s data, almost every ‘boutique’ SAISD school began the school year below projected enrollment. The schools touted as the great hope for SAISD’s future were under-enrolled, even as many traditional neighborhood schools found themselves serving more students than projected.



The truth is that the data doesn’t support the assertion upon which Martinez has doubled-down in recent months - that SAISD needs to provide more charter-style, market-driven choice to keep students and families in-district.


But evidence-free assertions are all the rage for this administration. Martinez has been quoted as saying “Seeing this enrollment decline just confirms for us that we need to be a district that has choices for families...Families are using their voice, and their voice is not here, coming to a board meeting. Their voice is, they just leave.” No evidence has ever been presented to support this assertion, and, indeed, many families have come to board meetings, have reached out to the superintendent, and to their elected representatives, calling for an increase in community voice in district decision-making.



Would families “just leave” if they were given meaningful agency and involvement in decisions that directly impacted them? Would parents viewed as partners in, rather than consumers of education be leaving in such large numbers? Would a shift in district thinking from the pervasive deficit-mindedness to a community asset-based framework which encouraged meaningful community and parent participation in neighborhood schools encourage more families to stay?


And how are district leaders seeking to provide outreach to encourage SAISD families to remain within the district?


They're not.


What has district leadership done (other than choice schools) to keep students? Martinez has repeatedly shown that he prefers collaboration with charter corporations over conflict; and has no intention of seeking a way to convince parents to remain in or return to SAISD schools.

This superintendent, and the board members who have staked their political careers to his success, should be judged by their record. Their selective celebration of some academic indicators of success consistently leaves out current measures of student enrollment. Indeed student enrollment was entirely and conspicuously absent from this year's celebratory state of the district presentation.


Martinez and Radle should be judged by their inability to prevent the collapse of student enrollment in SAISD - a collapse that presents an existential threat to the district, its teachers, and its neighborhood schools.


Families are using their voice, and their voice is not here, coming to a board meeting. Their voice is, they just leave. - Pedro Martinez

Earlier this year, Martinez told staff that he foresaw no need for another RIF. But he and the board have refused to commit to ensuring that there will be no reduction in force this year.


We wonder why? And wonder whether such an announcement might be saved for after politically delicate board election.


No other SAISD superintendent, and no other school board president have ever presided over such a catastrophic downturn in student enrollment.

If Pedro's right, and families are using their voice by leaving the district, what does it say that families have left at a faster rate under his leadership than at any other time in SAISD history?


It looks like SAISD families have spoken, and their judgement is a resounding rejection of the superintendent's plans.


We should listen to them before it's too late.




Note: yes, we know that there are many (often dogmatic) arguments against starting a graph anywhere other than zero. We've heard them all. We feel that starting at 48k is appropriate because it more accurately shows the change in rate of decline - the change in steepness of the curve. Indeed, starting our y-axis at zero would serve to obscure the rapid and unprecedented change in student enrollment over the last few years. See https://qz.com/418083/its-ok-not-to-start-your-y-axis-at-zero/, https://measuringu.com/graph-zero/, https://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00003q, or just about any piece of peer-reviwed scientific research for more.

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