After three years of state-appointed management, the Southside Independent School District has three new leaders — a superintendent and two publicly elected trustees.
Their focus is to gradually guide SISD back to self-governance after the Texas Education Agency appointed a board of managers in 2017 to oversee the troubled district.
June 1 marked Rolando Ramirez’s first day as superintendent. He succeeded Mark Eads, who retired after three years. The state’s board of managers unanimously voted in March to name Ramirez the lone finalist.
Katie Farias and Margarita Morales took their seats in June as trustees. They were elected in 2019.
With more than two decades in public education, Ramirez most recently was superintendent of Valley View Independent School District in Hidalgo County.
During his tenure, Valley View ISD received a 95 rating in the state’s accountability system despite serving a 92 percent economically disadvantaged population and a 62 percent limited-English-proficient student body.
He’s looking forward to assisting SISD in achieving similar success.
“After 22 years at Valley View, the thought had crossed my mind about a new challenge,” the Pharr native said.
Leading the district is “an opportunity that I don’t take for granted and will do my very best to make a difference in the lives of the students and staff at Southside ISD,” Ramirez added.
SISD’s newest superintendent arrives at a critical juncture. The TEA in May launched a process of cycling out the five members of the school district’s board of managers.
They were appointed to oversee its operations in 2017 after TEA found what state officials termed governmental dysfunction.
As the district itself noted on its website, “On Feb. 1, 2017, the Southside Independent School District received word from the Texas Education Agency of the decision to appoint a board of managers in conjunction with the district’s 2015-2016 lowered accreditation status to Accredited-Warned, coupled with findings of an agency Special Accreditation Investigation into the district.”
Each year through 2022, one-third of the managerial board membership will be replaced with publicly elected trustees as SISD transitions to self-governance.
Farias works for state Rep. Roland Gutierrez. Married to Gabe Farias — a businessman and frequent columnist for LOCAL Community News — they have two children who attend Gallardo Elementary School.
The parents volunteer with school activities and other area programs.
“This experience has provided me with the opportunity to understand our public-education system and how that applies to school-board governance in our community,” Katie Farias said. “My top priority on this board will be to work with my fellow trustees through our new superintendent in improving student outcomes.”
Morales, an SISD alumna, is a campus organizer with the national nonprofit Faith in Public Life.
“I think that my educational background and training has helped prepare me for what is to come in the next few years,” said Morales.
She expressed confidence in Ramirez: “His former district is very similar to ours, and he brings with him a record of high-rated schools.”
SISD leaders collectively continue to address fallout from the COVID-19 emergency, including possibly reopening campuses.
“This has been a difficult end to the school year with the pandemic for everyone including our parents/grandparents and teachers,” Farias said. “I have confidence that our superintendent will help our district and community navigate through this next school year with all of the unknown factors.”
Ramirez is introducing himself to neighbors by carefully conducting home visits with pupils, their families and others, plus providing online recordings to give SISD status updates and details on upcoming events.
The new district head and colleagues also are planning for whatever the state requires in 2020-2021, including guaranteeing teachers and learners are technologically prepared for any additional distance tutelage.
“Our main and most important goal is to maximize student learning in a safe and secure environment,” Ramirez said. “If classes will be offered virtually, then we must take all measures to ensure students have the devices they need and have Wi-Fi access.”
Morales and Farias agreed SISD should be ready for any eventuality as the community tries to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
“Currently, we are sending out surveys to our parents to get to know what we can do to help our community stay safe,” Morales said. “I hope that in the coming months, we can help ease parents and students back into classes in the safest and most secure way our district can provide.”
Farias added, “Our hope is to continue with student-outcome improvement regardless of whether the students are in the classroom through traditional style education or through distance learning.”
In addition, there’s a rescheduled $64.7 million bond election to arrange for the Nov. 3 general election.
Ramirez said he’s committed to promoting increased student enrollment, higher instructor pay, and better SISD accountability ratings.
“The public is now experiencing the value of the teaching profession,” he said regarding the pandemic-caused closures. “Teaching is not easy and it takes very special individuals to practice this profession. Therefore, they should be compensated accordingly.”
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