The Ambitious School Overhaul That Propelled Pedro Martinez, Chicago’s Next Superintendent, To National Prominence
The Ambitious School Overhaul that Propelled Pedro Martinez, Chicago’s Next Superintendent, to National Prominence
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In 2016, I engaged in an informal telephone conversation with Pedro Martinez, the newly-appointed superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District. Despite the brevity of our discussion, I couldn’t help but be struck by the stark contrast between Martinez’s soft-spoken demeanor and the audacious vision he shared.
He informed me that he was utilizing census data to assess the level of need in each of the district’s 90-plus schools, some of which catered to families with annual incomes as low as $8,000. Curiosity piqued, I was invited to witness his work firsthand.
A few weeks later, Martinez presented himself in a small conference room at the district’s headquarters, brandishing a rolled-up paper map. This map, adorned with lines drawn in marker, delineated each block and its corresponding neighborhood school based on poverty levels. With this innovative tool, he aimed to revolutionize the district’s schools by dispersing concentrations of extreme poverty. By providing students from impoverished neighborhoods with access to highly sought-after schools, he sought to promote equity in enrollment and prevent families from fleeing the district. Furthermore, he aimed to attract affluent students from neighboring communities.
As an education journalist, I had grown accustomed to watching K-12 administrators deliver lackluster PowerPoint presentations that failed to convey much substance. However, this superintendent impressed me with his homemade map, which he proudly showcased at Rotary Club meetings and informal gatherings in hopes of garnering support for his groundbreaking approach to solving education’s most stubborn issues.
In an attempt to answer the question of who Pedro Martinez truly was, I conducted a comprehensive interview as part of a series titled "78207: America’s Most Radical School Integration Experiment." Following the publication of these stories, the district experienced remarkable improvement and was recognized as the fastest-improving in Texas. Within a single year, their state report card rating ascended from a C to a B, drawing national attention to Martinez’s efforts.
Now, Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago has appointed Martinez as the superintendent of the nation’s third-largest school system. For Martinez, this represents a sort of homecoming, as he immigrated to the United States from Mexico at the age of 5, graduated from Chicago Public Schools, and became the first member of his family to earn a college degree. He subsequently served as the district’s chief financial officer, held leadership positions in Nevada at the local and state level, and ultimately made the move to Texas.
To delve deeper into Martinez’s endeavors in San Antonio, you can find more information here. Additionally, you can watch the complete interview by clicking the link below.
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