Jaime Aquino, immigrant and former teacher, the “leader SAISD needs”

At first, a young Jaime Aquino didn’t want to move to New York to launch his career as a bilingual elementary school teacher.

The next superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District wanted to stay in the Dominican Republic, close to his mother and everything he knew.

But with a little nudge from the dean of the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo, Aquino applied for the job. A few months later, he learns that he got the job.

His first reaction?

“It’s exciting. But, oh my God, how can I say that to my mother? he said. “There were a lot of tears.

Aquino told his mother he could always come back if the job didn’t work out. But 35 years later, he is still in the United States, and on May 2, he will officially become the new head of SAISD.

The SAISD board of directors voted April 11 to name Aquino the sole runner-up for superintendent, seven months after Pedro Martinez stepped down as superintendent of Chicago Public Schools. Under state law, the board must wait 21 days after nominating a finalist to hire the superintendent.

Aquino’s journey as an immigrant and teacher has uniquely prepared him for his upcoming role as superintendent of SAISD, several board members said. During his 35 years in school, Aquino, 57, has served as a teacher, director of studies and assistant superintendent in some of the nation’s largest school districts.

“It was the right time for him and his journey, and his journey matched the type of leader SAISD needs right now,” District 7 Administrator Ed Garza said.

After working in New York for several years, Aquino earned New York State’s Bilingual Teacher of the Year award in 1990. He went on to earn a master’s degree in bilingual education and a doctorate in curriculum. and in teaching, both from Fordham University. .

SAISD’s bilingual curriculum, which is now in 61 of nearly 100 schools, is part of what drew Aquino to the district.

“The way bilingual education was created in this country in the 1960s was out of a compensatory mindset. It had to be repaired, and bilingualism is not a handicap but an asset for humanity,” he said. “I think that all students, not just students from linguistic minorities, but all students have the opportunity to become bilingual or why not multilingual.”

After reviewing more than 40 applications, SAISD nominated Aquino as a finalist to fill his role as superintendent. Credit: Bria Woods/San Antonio Report

Aquino sees himself in the students of SAISD. About 90% of the district’s 46,000 students are Latinos, and 88% are economically disadvantaged. He said many kids in San Antonio have a parent who is an immigrant or is learning English, and that’s who they are.

“It’s really me, the kids sitting in the classrooms,” he said. “I think my life journey is probably very similar to a lot of them.”

In New York, the superintendent recruited Aquino to become an administrator who trains teachers, but Aquino didn’t want to leave the classroom. He spent a year in the new position before returning to the classroom, where he spent about nine years teaching grades 4 through 6.

“I see myself dying in the classroom,” he told the superintendent in New York. “You’re going to have to drag my body out of the classroom.”

Eventually, other opportunities lured Aquino out of the class. From 2000 to 2005, he served as a trustee of the Hartford, Connecticut Public Schools and later as Superintendent of Education for the New York City Department of Education. In October 2005, he began working as Director of Studies for Denver Public Schools, where he remained until October 2009. He also served as the assistant superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District from June 2011 to January 2014 .

This experience in large urban districts that also have high rates of poverty among students convinced board members that Aquino was the right person to lead SAISD. District 5 administrator Patti Radle said Aquino understands the impact of poverty on education.

“I feel like it’s been hard at times to convince society that just because someone’s poor doesn’t mean they’re not brilliant. Poverty is not an obstacle to learning. It’s a challenge,” she said. “He’s got a real awareness of that, and not just that he’s aware of it, but he’s going to make sure people understand that we’re not going to accept any excuses for poverty. We must educate the child, regardless of poverty.

In August 2018, New York State Department of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia named Aquino a Distinguished Educator of the Rochester City School District, where he worked until April 2020. Aquino conducted a review thorough review of the district, which was struggling with financial problems and poor performance. schools and has drawn up a recovery plan.

From April 2020 to July 2021, he served as Senior Vice President of Discovery Education, a K-12 digital curriculum provider, working with districts to support virtual education during the early days of the pandemic. Since then, he has worked as a consultant for Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado and a network of charter schools in New York.

Aquino’s classroom experience and passion for teaching resonated not only with board members, but also with the San Antonio Teachers and Support Staff Alliance. Alejandra Lopez, president of the union, met Aquino and said she felt encouraged by his commitment to be present in the schools. He even offered to replace if needed.

“What happens day in and day out in our schools needs to be at the forefront of policymakers’ minds, and the higher you go in administration, the further away you get from that experience,” she said. “But it looks like Jaime is committed to keeping that connection with the classroom and with our schools.”

Aquino and the Alliance recognize the challenges the pandemic has brought to public education. Once it officially begins, Aquino’s top priorities will be to improve student achievement, enrollment and attendance, all of which have declined sharply over the past two years.

“We both recognize that the current education crisis is serious and the only way to overcome it is through meaningful collaboration and partnership and shared decision-making,” Lopez said.

School board president Christina Martinez said Aquino’s passion for education, impressive resume and classroom experience are the assets SAISD needs right now to recover from the crisis. ‘education.

“As school board members, we are very passionate. It’s a St. Anthony thing. It’s part of who we are,” she said. “We are passionate people and we want that to be reflected in our leader. We want someone who is as happy, as excited and as angry as we are.

Radle echoed his fellow admin, “We’re pretty well matched for each other.”