What if we said that by 2040 – the year our pre-K students enter the workforce – poverty, obesity and illiteracy will no longer be synonymous with our city?
Yes, this statement is bold, especially after the loss of learning and the negative impact on the mental health of our children from the COVID-19 pandemic. But if all of our public investment decisions, policies and accountability actions were informed by data-driven headings to measure the impact on our most vulnerable and underserved children, this bold statement becomes possible.
San Antonio has a rare window of opportunity to examine the impact of the pandemic and refocus our city’s vision for the future with a focus on our youngest citizens. If local leaders, businesses and community groups rally around such a bold statement, it will turn into a united vision.
Imagine a world-class metro hub where all children become literate, emotionally intelligent and healthy citizens who lead happy and meaningful lives in inclusive, safe and diverse neighborhoods. During this transformation, San Antonio can become the global hub of creativity and innovation, which will translate into well-paying jobs in our target industries, such as aerospace, biosciences, cybersecurity, financial services, manufacturing and technology.
San Antonio will be known as a solution-driven city if we begin this transformation with a vision and a purpose. It is possible with commitment.
During my first term and a half on the San Antonio Independent School District Board between 2010 and 2015, SAISD was consistently one of the worst performing school districts in Texas. The children of SAISD, often from very poor families, performed below school level. Those who graduated from high school had low college completion rates and required significant core subject correction.
During that same five-year period, there has been a transition of new board members and superintendents. From the 2012-13 school year, SAISD joined in a visionary commitment to become “A model national urban school district where every child graduates and is educated to be ready to be an active member of the community. This vision statement became our “just cause” when Pedro Martinez was hired as Superintendent in 2015. Since then our vision has been the seriousness of all goals, as well as budget and policy decisions.
A direct result of the district’s visionary commitment was the recognition in August 2019 of Texas’ Most Improved School District by the Texas Education Agency. For the first time in decades, SAISD was achieving higher growth rates in academic achievement and college readiness indicators than the rest of Texas.
Elimination of the pandemic
Seven months after the recovery was celebrated, the global pandemic interrupted our positive trajectory and the academic decline of our students began immediately. Due to the high concentration of poverty in the district, the negative impact on SAISD has been more severe than in other local school districts and in Texas.
SAISD saw a 42% drop in the rate of third graders who were at grade level in reading, from 31% in 2019 to 18% in 2021. In mathematics, these students fell from 33% at grade level in 2019 to 8% in 2021, a decrease of 76%. The district has also seen a decline in the percentage of students who meet college preparation criteria and are enrolled in college. Last week, the district released the results of its start-of-year assessment for fall 2021. Across all grade levels, the decline continues this school year, hitting younger people the hardest.
And while we were vindicated, the district moved away from the commitment to the vision and shifted to a new commitment that focused on health and safety rather than student success in school. The student-teacher, face-to-face connection has been lost.
Powerful partnerships for recovery
There are not enough hours in a school day for districts to adequately engage every student who needs academic and socio-emotional interventions. This will require strong local partnerships and strategic investments with city, county, colleges, universities, school districts, nonprofits, target industries and residents.
Examples of how public funds can be harnessed and aligned to transform children’s lives include data-driven after-school and extended day educational enrichment programs located in parks and other community centers. near Title I schools, free broadband Internet service in neighborhoods and apartments. complexes, free health and nutrition programs, access to academic and life skills mentors, and new college prep resources located where our children congregate after school, in our neighborhoods.
Vision asks, “What if? »What if we declared that by 2040 poverty, obesity and illiteracy will no longer be synonymous with our city? But for this vision to come true, we have to ask ourselves, “How? How do we get there?
The continuation of this bold statement will allow students attending schools today and graduating from high schools in Bexar County between 2023 and 2040 to become the first generation to reverse the cycle of poverty. As these empowered young graduates grow into adult members of our community, the San Antonio Metro Center will eradicate poverty, illiteracy and obesity.