Pedro Martinez on Leading A Diverse District, Bridging to the Community, and 'Red or Green?'

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 15th, 2018


Pedro Martinez, superintendent of San Antonio ISD, came to Albuquerque this week by invitation of our Chamber of Commerce. As head of a school district that is 90 percent Hispanic, Pedro knows the many challenges and opportunities of a culturally rich and diverse city. Coming from a family that emigrated from Mexico when he was five years old, Pedro grew up in inner city Chicago. We talked about his journey to San Antonio, the path ahead, and whether he prefers Green or Red.


You’ve had experience at both the state and district levels. One of the issues in New Mexico is a long-standing friction between our state education agency and some districts, particularly larger ones like Albuquerque and Santa Fe. What are some of the things you’ve seen or done to encourage cooperative and productive relationships between these two levels?

The biggest advice I would say is you have to have collaborative leaders. You can't have egos get in the way. You can’t assume that somebody has all the answers. What I've learned doing this work for more than 20 years is that this work is too complicated.

I think the way to promote collaboration between states and districts is really having a conversation about what the ultimate goal is. One of the reasons the (Texas Education Agency) commissioner (Mike Morath) and I get along and collaborate so well is that we both see the bigger picture that while the state has seen improvements in graduation rates, our college readiness is still below the national average.

I want to prove that our children living in poverty can compete with other children across the country and get into some of these top colleges and succeed there. We both agree on that value. What I love is that he's watching what we're doing in this district, that is so densely poor, knowing that if our strategies work they can be replicated across the state.

One of the things that my board and I decided a long time ago was that we were going to learn from others and, as long as our values and ultimate goal were the same - which is graduating children and getting them to some post-secondary institution of their choice - that that's what we cared most about.

Everything else was going to be more about how we work with teachers and parents to motivate them. I have teachers who love Montessori schools and we created a Montessori school. That's where they should be. I have teachers who love dual language programs, that's where they should be. And that's for parents as well. For us it's finding those things that motivate teachers, parents, and children, with the same values and the same goals.

How do you close gaps with children, especially children that live in poverty? It is such complicated work. Our colleges of education don't train our teachers with the best strategies. There are so many things that we have to learn.


How has that looked where maybe you have a disagreement with the TEA (Texas Education Agency)? How have you worked through that?

We're very collaborative but where we’ve had disagreements sometimes is the details of our accountability system. What I love is that they're open to our constructive criticisms and, in some cases, they make decisions and we were okay with it even when we disagree. We respect it, but we have the ability to debate it.


On the diversity of San Antonio:

In San Antonio we're trying to prove the concept that we do have families that are open to integration. I'm asking some of my middle class families, “Why are you willing to try the Advanced Learning Academy where you know you're going to have children that might be homeless or in foster care?” They can afford to put their children in any private school. But, if they do that, their children will never see what our real society looks like and their children are growing up to be better adults because they’re more socially conscious of the world around them.

And what we are showing them is that we will not compromise on quality. There are expert teachers and all of the children, whether they're advanced or they're below grade level, are growing academically. We are not compromising and that's something I appreciate because you need that pressure from parents.


To those who are fearful of some of the needed changes to bring public education into the 21st century (“power bases” as you’ve called them), what do you say? How do you think of your work to assuage concerns of adults while remaining laser focused on the needs of students?

Number one, you have to have conversations about values and the end results with children. I have shown in our work that we're willing to try different models. All of our new models are homemade. We’ve partnered with universities and national experts. That was some of our earliest work.

I won’t always be successful, but our strategy is always to try and find ways to not be divisive because I think one of the mistakes that has happened in K12 is we have become two extreme sides. There're individuals who feel that choice is the answer for everything, including vouchers and charter schools. And then the other side thinks choice is the enemy and that traditional schools are the only answer.

When I talk to families, what they care about is whether their child is going to have a shot. “Is my child below reading level?” Or, if they're a special needs child: “What are you going to do for them? Are they going to have a chance to have opportunities?”

They may not know what a tier one university is because some of them didn’t graduate from high school. But they know when their child is engaged in school. They know when their child is excited to go to school. When their child is learning and growing academically. And one of the other things I always tell people is, let's make sure we give our parents credit because they know a lot more than we realize.

Even when they're single parents and they're working two jobs, they know a lot more than we realize. So how do we work together so that we're meeting the needs of parents and how do we find a different way of doing things?

There’s always going to be some areas where we don't agree and, as I'm learning the hard way, sometimes those issues will continue to grow. But I'm still optimistic that we'll continue to work together. I ultimately am looking for quality choices for our families. And the hope is that you find people that are reasonable, that are willing to give it a try.

And, when we make a mistake, we will admit it because this work is hard. It's complicated. There is no magic bullet. Let's learn together. And, lastly, let's not make it personal and let's keep the interests of children as our top priority.


For advocates here in Albuquerque, what advice would you share from your experiences in Chicago and San Antonio about the importance and best ways to rally and sustain community energy?

First of all, it's important to engage the community early on about a clear vision. We laid out ten academic goals my first year. My staff and I went into our communities and asked, “Is this where you want to be? And, by the way, here is where we're at.”

And we're very transparent about the fact that less than five percent of our children were college ready on the SAT. Less than half of our children were going to college. Less than a fourth were going to four-year universities. Less than two percent were going to tier one universities.

And people were shocked. They didn't realize what our numbers looked like. I also showed them where Texas was at, and the state was underperforming the nation. Then I showed them national statistics. We did that our first year and we united the board around that.

Then as we started creating proof points, which are our quality options, people started understanding. This is what we mean by a high-quality school. Then we opened up our all boys school (Young Men's Leadership Academy) and we saw positive results in the first year it was a complete shift in what people had been seeing. Even our two schools that were already strong, they got stronger.

It starts with setting a vision. Creating something tangible that people can see and touch. We’ve also been open about the fact that we're inclusive and that we are not going to create models that just reach the top kids.

When I asked the business community what's the one thing that distinguishes what we're doing from what they've seen anywhere else? And they say, “Your priority is equity.” For them that's important because they know, especially those who have lived in San Antonio for decades, that nobody talked about it enough that we have the “haves” and “have nots”.

We have companies moving into San Antonio and many thousands and thousands of children who never could take advantage of those opportunities. Our business leaders started seeing that now we're going further in some of the equity work and they understand that at a deeper level.

I would say that it takes a lot of time. We're doing it slowly. We're showing individuals what it could be and still have transparency. We're not there yet, but this is what's possible. What I'm excited about is the conversations that are changing from our students, from our parents, and from the business community, even though I have some resistance right now.

I still believe that the resistance isn't coming from a bad place per se. We just have a philosophical difference. My hope is to continue the work and see how we can find new ways to work together because what really matters is not so much what I believe or even what unions believe, it's what's happening for our children. If you get stuck on philosophical differences you don't move forward, and nothing changes.


What's something that you are seeing or would like to see in terms of those who seek to improve public education did differently in our approach to the work?

What I would love is, and I got this from John King our most recent former Secretary of Education. I wish that we talked about a different way of doing things. Instead of talking about traditional schools versus charters as you saw in Massachusetts when they were fighting to raise the charter school cap. We keep going on these two different debates and a lot is lost.

What motivates me is that when I look at college graduation rates and see, in the 40 years since the 70s, when I started being tracked, to the most recent data, the gaps have never been wider. And that predicts whether you're going to graduate from college.

I now have two children, a seven-year-old and four-year-old that I think about. And about my students on the west side of San Antonio who, just because of where they live, have less than a ten percent chance of graduating from a university. I think we have to really grapple with that.

Whether it's a traditional school, whether it's a charter school, what's the difference? The real question we should ask ourselves is: How do we work together?

When I talk with the business community here about the challenges of poverty and how they are correlated with so many other ills of society, from drug abuse to teenage pregnancy, I try to make that connection. And it's not just the bottom quartile of students, but also that second quartile of students we focus on.

Ultimately, we're not trying to do this for any other reason than trying to figure out a very complicated problem. We have to ask those tough questions about what is happening to these children and how do we work together and get better outcomes?


Lastly, and most importantly, here in New Mexico we care a lot about our chile peppers. Are you a “green” or “red” kind of guy?

I’ve visited before, three years ago probably. I’ve tried the Red and I like the Red. The Green is fine, but I like the Red more!

[6/8] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │Friday, June 8th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

Now that our primary week is over, it's clear that progressive Dems are riding a wave in New Mexico. In a state that's usually a more moderate shade of blue, we look headed to a deeper hue. We are also poised to be the first to send a Native American woman to Congress, a seminal moment for our state and country.

The education implications for this wave are worrisome for this advocate. Though my hope is the regressive "get rid of everything" rhetoric of 2018 tones down after November's elections. And here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] APS's Plan for Hawthorne Elementary Conditionally Approved. In a letter sent from NMPED to APS yesterday, Secretary of Education Ruszkowski approved Hawthorne's "Champion and Provide Choice" submission. Hawthorne requested almost $1 million for their efforts, which NMPED agreed to provide in installments contingent on these six conditions:

  1. Any and all financial resources provided serve only current Hawthorne students;

  2. Hawthorne students receive highest-priority for their schools of choice and are guaranteed a seat in a higher-performing school if they seek one;

  3. NMPED reviews and approves all communications materials provided to Hawthorne students and families;

  4. APS provides NMPED with quarterly school enrollment updates;

  5. NMPED staff are present for, and/or co-host, each school choice expo; and

  6. NMPED may provide additional materials to Hawthorne parents and families.

The conditions aim to make two things clear. First, Hawthorne students and families are at the center of these efforts. And, second, APS must earnestly work to improve the school for teachers and students and not play for shadow games.

Without doubt, district leadership is banking on our next governor relieving them of their duties to Hawthorne families. We advocates must remain vigilant and remind APS that, regardless of school grade, too many of our schools continue to mis- and under-educate our children.


[LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Teachers Release Reports on Pre-K and Teacher Preparation. Growing powerhouse Teach Plus New Mexico issued recommendations on: "Tailoring Preparation Programs to Better Fit Student, Teacher, and Community Needs" and "An Equitable Approach for Pre-K Enrollment".

Both are commonsense reports, grounded in equity, from some of our state's best teachers.


[LOCAL: NEWS] Southern NM Districts Tackle Budget Challenges Head On. Carlsbad and Hobbs Municipal Schools superintendents shared their efforts to reach all their students. This despite the volatile ups and downs of the oil-and-gas extraction industries both cities rely on. The article includes these gems:

Our blame should be never be on the kids and their families. Our blame should be on what we do in the classroom.
— Carlsbad Superintendent Greg Rodriguez
In education, people always make excuses. They say poverty. I don’t think that has anything to do with it.
— LFC member and State Rep. Larry Larrañaga
The perception of the HMS is that it is a wealthy district. We are one of the least per-pupil funded district in the state of New Mexico.
— Hobbs Superintendent TJ Parks


[LOCAL: VIEWPOINT] Local Advocate Points Towards Our Acclaimed ESSA Plan. Executive Director of NMKidsCAN, Amanda Aragon, calls for state leaders to follow one of the nation's best ESSA plans as they improve schools: OUR OWN. She also asks, "If we don't show up for students, who will? If we do show up with a committed approach to school turnaround, who will take inspiration from our success?"

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Academic Preparation Is a Key Predictor of College Success. A recent study from the American Enterprise Institute finds:

  • High school grades are correlated with degree attainment. Earning good grades in high school typically requires developing habits that are relevant for college success;

  • After controlling for selection bias, students who take more rigorous coursework are more likely to succeed in college; and

  • Researchers and educators should collaborate on pilot interventions aimed at improving success in high school courses. These could be focused on content or more general strategies aimed at helping students learn how to learn.

Read the full PDF report.


[1/23] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

Things are moving along somewhat quietly in the Roundhouse as everyone anxiously awaits messages from the fourth floor. That doesn't mean education news stands still. Quite the opposite in fact. A new advocacy nonprofit I've been involved with launched last week and some of the best local education reporting I've read came out over the weekend. The "PreK Bill" (HJR01) is winding its way through the House, while local television aired multiple education-related stories. Scroll down for more on all these. As always, thanks for reading. Here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] NewMexicoKidsCAN Launches in New Mexico. One of the few things all New Mexicans agree on is that our public education system needs improvement. NewMexicoKidsCAN exists to provide productive outlets for that sentiment, and to ensure we keep our kids at the center of those conversations. I've been involved as a local advocate and advisor on this work for the past year. So, I'm thrilled to congratulate Amanda Aragon as the founding executive director for what will be a strong voice for what’s possible for the children of New Mexico .

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Launching NewMexicoKidsCAN has been a lifetime in the making. As a native New Mexican I have experienced first hand the triumphs and shortfalls of our public education system. I believe we can do better and provide every New Mexico child with an education that prepares them to pursue their dreams and fulfill their potential. To do that, we’ll work to promote student centered, research-backed and community informed education policies, starting today. Our kids can’t wait.
— Amanda Aragon

Find out more by:
     - Reading their inaugural State of Education report and sharing your insights using hashtag #NMStateofEd2018;
     - Following NMKidsCAN on Twitter; Instagram & Facebook; and
     - Texting NMKidsCAN to 52886 to receive updates.

Not only is the State of Education report super New Mexican in look and feel, it highlights some surprising aspects of education here:
     - 25 percent of our students identify as White, while 60 percent of teachers do the same;
     - We spend more per student ($9,535) than any of our immediate neighbors, which is 36th nationally;
     - Our high school graduation rate has risen eight percent over the past seven years, though still lags the national average by 13 points; and
     - Charter school students account for about 15% of our 361,843 students statewide.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Self-Important Blogger Goes on TV. Yours truly had the opportunity to join the inimitable Lorene Mills of Report from Santa Fe and the esteemed Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico to rap about education. As always Lorene and Fred are seasoned professionals with great experience in and optimism about the state. I am thankful I was able to add my voice and tag along for the ride. The more New Mexicans who talk about education and how we work together to improve, the better.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Pre-K Bill Makes It Out of House Education Committee. In a 7-6 vote along party lines (committee members can be found here) House Joint Resolution 1, better known as the constitutional amendment which would annually divert 1% of the Land Grant Permanent Fund (NMLGPF) to invest in early childhood education, now moves onto House Judiciary and the House floor, where it will likely pass with ease before facing an uphill battle in the Senate. See below for more on the NMLGPF and its current beneficiaries.

[LOCAL: NEWS] Two Stories Highlight Policy Challenges in NM Pre-K. In some of the best local education reporting I've read, Lauren Villagran of Searchlight New Mexico, digs into the underbelly of New Mexico pre-k. The short story is that "the state is paying to educate more 4-year-olds in private child care centers or elementary schools", which is good. What's not so great is that as a result, due to perverse policies, federal Head Start programs continue to lose hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions, of dollars we can't get back. The worst part? It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, as Lauren brilliantly reports, there are many examples of how states have expanded pre-k without losing Head Start monies and maintaining options from private providers. With HJR01 moving along (see above) we need to get ahead of this thicket sooner than later.

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[LOCAL: INTERVIEW] Kids Count Data Book Interview. As I wrote about last week, NM Voices for Children recently released their 2017 Kids Count Data Book. Bill Jordan, Senior Policy Advisor & Government Relations Officer, sat down with Megan Kamerick at New Mexico in Focus to talk about how we got where we are, what's working, what isn't, and how we can continue to move forward. Bill's point about how The Great Recession has lingered in New Mexico - and will continue to do so without a shift in our economic makeup and improvements to public ed - is spot on.

This week on New Mexico in Focus, correspondent Megan Kamerick sits down with Bill Jordan from New Mexico Voices for Children to discuss the latest KIDS COUNT Data Book, released this month to coincide with the start of the legislative session.

[11/21] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

In this relatively light news period I have updates on APS's budget, the state of early childhood in New Mexico, and two national stories related to teacher equity and emerging insights into Millennials' views on education. As always, your feedback and shares are greatly appreciated. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] APS Budget Gets Boost. After some belt tightening this spring and summer, in anticipation of an overall reduction in state revenue, APS is putting nearly $7 million back into the 2017-18 budget. Buoyed by an anticipated bounce in oil and gas revenue, the extra money will be included in what's nearly a $1.4 billion annual budget. I'd like to see ALL that extra dough go straight to instructional support where teachers and students will benefit most.
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] More New Mexican Students Need Pre-K. Coinciding with nearly sixty years of research indicating that high quality early-childhood education has long lasting effects on children, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee issued a report finding that many of our kindergartners come to school already below grade level. The report also found that "New Mexico students – especially from low-income families – tend to change schools often, which contributes to low test scores." This echoes a recent ECE report from the AERA which finds "access to early-childhood education significantly reduces students’ chances of being placed in special education or held back in school and increases their prospects of graduating high school."
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] States' Receive Equity Grades For ESSA Plans. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)'s issued analysis of states' plans for ensuring that low-income and minority students are not disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Each state-specific analysis recognizes notable "strengths," or areas where a state's work is laudable, as well as "opportunities," or areas where improvement is necessary to meet the spirit and letter of the ESSA's educator equity requirements. New Mexico receives high marks for overall equity with a suggestion for us to redefine "inexperienced teacher" as a teacher who has taught two years or less, instead of the current definition of three years.
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Millennials Bring New Beliefs Into Public Education. Research firm Echelon Insights published a fascinating report on the views of Millennials regarding education. Long maligned for perceived narcissism and their rejection of traditional structures, at 75 million strong Millennials are now the biggest generation in the U.S. (and world), and beginning to reach positions of authority and power - with the oldest members about to turn 40.

    So whether you love us or hate us, Millennials are on the cusp of leading many more schools, districts, state departments, and elected offices. Thus, this report is a sneak preview of things to come over the next 30 years or so. I highly suggest you read the 20-page report. Here are some quick tidbits:

         - 68% of Millennials identify “having access to a quality education” as one of the most important factors to ensure someone has the opportunity to succeed
         - The most important factors to a "quality public school" are: (1) teacher creativity, (2) teacher flexibility, and (3) a positive and safe school culture
         - 74% of millennials think “schools today need big changes in order to create opportunity for students"
         - 65% of millennials think that being a public school teacher is more difficult “than it was twenty or thirty years ago"
         - 67% of millennials in rural areas support alternative pathways to teaching, saying it should be possible to teach without an education degree

[7/12] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

As summer reaches a blazing crescendo here in New Mexico, we are also hot on the national education news scene. The Land of Enchantment recently garnered notice for our best-in-class state education plan and for our decisive teacher evaluation program. While these topics have been hotly debated at home for many years, it's nice to see us get national education press on something besides being last for high school graduation or college remediation rates. As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico has won high marks for its plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Over at, a nonpartisan collection of expert reviewers from across the country provide their analysis of all state ESSA plans submitted so far. The good news? New Mexico ranks highly in nearly every category with specific praise for school ratings which are clear to parents and other stakeholders and an "aggressive, concrete list of interventions in low-performing schools, which suggests that New Mexico is taking seriously the challenges faced by those schools." The not so good? We have room to improve in defining the criteria schools must meet to be exited from intensive support and in setting the vision for a new school rating system "so that educators, parents, and other stakeholders know what is coming and can engage and respond effectively." In separate but similar analysis, All4Ed provides nearly identical praise and feedback for what should work and what might not.
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico also made news as having perhaps the strictest teacher evaluations in the nation. With nearly 30% of teachers rated "ineffective" or "minimally effective", we outpace the the next closest state, Oregon, which comes in at just below 12%. We also buck the national trend where many states still rate nearly all their teachers as effective and above. As with any evaluation system, the devil is in the details of how that system supports struggling teachers to improve their practice and also encourages meaningful paths for the bulk of teachers to move from good to great. Whether an evaluation is punitive or growth-minded depends in large part on how it is presented and whether professional development and supports align well with the evaluated criteria. There need to be paths for all teachers to continually grow in their practice as well as direct off-ramps for teachers who do not successfully educate our children.
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] As I've written about previously, the next twenty years will see tectonic shifts in our economy as artificial intelligence and automation capably replace humans more and more. In fact, researchers at the University of Oxford estimate "that nearly half of all U.S. jobs may be at risk in the coming decades, with lower-paid occupations among the most vulnerable." Human truck drivers and food servers will soon be relics of time past. Despair not however as all is not lost: research tells us that a college degree provides career insulation against automation and the more education one gets, the less vulnerable one becomes. Curious to know which occupations are best paid and least vulnerable, or the opposite? Bloomberg has an interactive infographic you should check out. Take note of the orange and red in the bottom right...
  • [HISTORY: ADVICE] We are all aware of Albert Einstein's genius and hard work, though rarely do we get insights into the most intimate details of the lives of history's thought leaders, particularly when it comes to education. In a recently unearthed message to a his 11-year-old son, Hans Albert, we find Einstein was well aware of the import roles passion, joy and diligence play in learning:
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don't notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .
  • [NATIONAL: WATCH] In a segment titled “Schools of Thought: The War Over Public Education and Charter Schools” NBC News’ Craig Melvin examines the tension over charter schools by visiting Boys’ Latin in Philadelphia. Despite charters serving largely low-income and minority students, much of the pushback against charter school expansion in Philly is from the NAACP. Melvin also interviews U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for her first network news interview: “Great public schools are going to continue to do a great job for the students that they’re serving, and I think that instead of talking about schools and school buildings we should be talking about funding students and investing in individual students.”
  • [NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Education Spending Return on Investment - While businesses have long understood the importance of an educated workforce for a strong economy, “our nation’s K-12 system is falling short in preparing new generations for the ever-changing demands of the 21st century workplace,” according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. At the root of this: “we’ve underestimated the importance of the earliest years of life.”

    The report lays out how critical early childhood education is, and how in terms of return on human capital investment, early education gives you the most bang for your buck, relative to K-12 and beyond: “Careful academic research demonstrates that tax dollars spent on early childhood development provide extraordinary returns compared with investments in the public, and even private, sector. Some of these benefits are private gains for the children involved in the form of higher wages later in life. But the broader economy also benefits because individuals who participate in high-quality early childhood development programs have greater skills than they otherwise would, and they’re able to contribute productively to their local economies.” And yet, as we see in the graph below, a very small percentage of total U.S. education spending (~3%) is directed to children’s critical first years.