June 23, 2021 128 PM
PRESIDIO – When Becky Sanchez decided to quit her position as a special education teacher at Presidio Independent School District, she did it with a heavy heart. Sanchez –– who was born and raised in Presidio –– had been employed at the district for 20 years and, until very recently, woke up every day excited to get to work.
“I loved my kids. I loved my job at the beginning of the school year. I loved working with each and every one of them. I had a kid that I got, for example, in January. Before I got her, she was almost nonverbal. By the time the school year ended, she was arguing. She was loud,” Sanchez said with pride.
But Sanchez felt as if she had to quit for her own personal well being. The district’s upper administration, she said, wasn’t treating her well. In November of last year, Sanchez caught COVID and taught remotely for two months to her students, many of whom were also homebound due to medical reasons. When she came back to school in January, Sanchez said the school administration told her not to focus on her students who were still learning remotely.
“Basically they told me that because my kids were at home, I shouldn’t worry about them. That if their parents decided to keep them home because of medical reasons, that’s their problem,” she said.
In an email to the Presidio International, PISD Superintendent Ray Vasquez denied Sanchez’s claim, writing, “Our administration would never tell a teacher to not worry about special education students during COVID. We encouraged and welcomed all special education students for in-person instruction, and provided virtual instruction for all those students who were not coming in for in-person instruction.”
Sanchez is not the only one to have left the district recently. According to Vasquez, 19 employees left PISD this past school year, six of whom retired. At print time, there are 34 job postings on PISD’s website, which Vasquez said are all of the current vacant positions within the school district.
The Presidio International spoke to four former counselors and teachers who parted ways with the district in 2021. Much of what Sanchez said was echoed in those interviews: The mismanagement and mistreatment of employees at the hands of the school administration pushed them out of the door.
In response to detailed questions by The Presidio International, Vasquez said, “Former employees can say whatever they want, but the facts are that we treat all PISD employees with respect and professionalism.”
Cruz Tovar –– who had been a school guidance counselor at the district for a decade until he quit last month –– said Vasquez did not treat him with respect.
“Our superintendent’s beginning speech when he came here was, ‘You’re all replaceable. I want to take this district to the next level, but keep in mind we’re all replaceable. You are all replaceable,’” Tovar said. “When you open up your beginning as a superintendent with your district that way, that just sets the tone, and that’s been the tone for the past years he’s been the superintendent.”
As The Presidio International and Marfa Public Radio previously reported, when asked about that comment, Vasquez said, “I have explained to our staff that all employees, including myself, can be replaced if their career plans take them in a different direction.”
Vasquez became the head of the district at the start of the 2019 school year, as The Presidio International previously reported. Prior to joining the district, Vasquez was an assistant superintendent at Brownfield ISD, about half an hour outside of Lubbock.
Under Vasquez’s new administration, Tovar said he was spending more time administering state practice exams than overseeing the mental health programming at the district. “So as school counselors, we have the role of testing coordinators. We deal with the STAAR test, the state exam, that’s nothing unusual,” Tovar said. “Now rather than focusing on that one particular state exam, it became test after test after test that we were having to manage and handle.”
Victor Hernandez, another guidance counselor who left in March, reiterated the same points. “All the focus went straight to testing. I believe in testing. But not to this magnitude,” he said. “It was not only unnecessary, it was unhealthy for the kids.”
“Put it this way, this week we have a practice STAAR-like test. When I say STAAR-like I mean it has to be almost like the STAAR exam, so I have to stress out the teachers, I have to stress out the kids,” Hernandez said. “The next week, we have another state assessment. And the week after, another state assessment. All of this testing is like four or five hours for a kid to be sitting down in a cubicle.”
Both Hernandez and Tovar said that they were so busy administering tests that they didn’t have time to be counselors. “It was to the point where kids would come with heavy issues to me, and unless it was an emergency, I’d have to put it on pause because I have a state assessment practice test,” Hernandez said.
The former counselors decided to quit after feeling ignored by the superintendent in meetings they had scheduled with him to air their grievances. They said that the school district is down to just one guidance counselor. “I expressed my concerns multiple times, but we’re not heard,” Tovar said. “To what point are you an accomplice of that management?”
Tovar, who is a licensed psychologist at the masters level, is now working on getting his PhD in clinical psychology. “To some of us, those comments about us being replaceable — that just speaks to how poorly you are managing a district, because a lot of us are not replaceable. I mean yes, he can replace us with just a body or someone else, but a lot of us were really professionally-credentialed individuals.”
Superintendent Vasquez said that retaining teachers is a problem for all school districts. “There are teacher openings all over the state of Texas. If you compare our tri-county school districts, we are all in need of teachers,” he said. Vasquez would not comment on whether he had a role to play in the vacancies within the administration. Ethel Barriga, the president of the school board, referred all questions to the spokesperson for the district, who is Vasquez.
After teaching for 22 years, Pablo Rodriguez retired from PISD after feeling like he had no reason to stick around. He said, “I feel strong enough that I think I could’ve given the district another two or three more years. But the environment, or the vibe, from the administration is such that I had no desire to continue.”
“I also taught in Midland. When the year starts, they welcome you. They make you feel appreciated. And that’s the way it was here [in Presidio] for many many years,” Rodriguez said. “The past three years that I worked here under Mr. Vasquez’s administration, we would hear stuff like, ‘Hey the door is open if you want to leave, we have a long list of applications.’”
“I guess he does not understand the logistics here in Presidio because it’s very hard to get good teachers to come to Presidio. And once you have them here, you should at least show enough respect to keep them. However, I don’t feel like the respect is there for those teachers that really strive to do well for their students,” Rodriguez said.
Vasquez said the district is working on filling all of the vacancies. “The district has done virtual job fairs since there have not been many in-person job fairs available this school year. Our teacher salary scale is very competitive for schools in our area. We also plan to give salary increases for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year,” he said. “We are very hopeful that we will hire all the staff that we need to meet the needs of all our students before the start of the new school year.”