July 20, 2022 1151 PM
PRESIDIO — Last week, Presidio City Councilmember Joe Andy Mendoza received an exciting call from Presidio ISD Superintendent Ray Vasquez: he had just been selected to become the new principal at Presidio Elementary School. Mendoza will begin his first year as principal this August and hopes that it’s the first of many to come.
Mendoza started working for Presidio ISD last year, when he was hired to become vice principal at Presidio High School. He spent his early life in Presidio and Ojinaga and graduated from the same high school in 1999. He left town after graduation, and ended up in teaching and administrative positions in Houston and the surrounding suburbs before deciding to move back home.
In his new position as principal, he’s hoping to merge his hometown roots with his Houston training to bring a fresh perspective to Presidio students and parents. “I think it’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “Presidians can be very cautious of outsiders, but my family has a long history here. There are a lot of challenges, but I’m bringing in 22 years of experience from the outside.”
This will be Mendoza’s first year serving a school as principal, but he feels like he’s been set up for success. A mentor at a previous teaching gig in Pasadena, Texas, encouraged Mendoza to think beyond his role as a sixth grade social studies teacher to become an “instructional coach” for his district. That got Mendoza thinking critically about how to inspire other teachers to better serve their students.
Throughout his time teaching in Houston, Mendoza developed a unique philosophy of what a principal should be. He saw his vice principal role at Presidio High School as more of a management position, serving as a liaison between staff and administration and helping students navigate challenges through the school’s disciplinary systems. “I’m making that transition from assistant principal — dutifully organizing and managing the day-to-day activities — to principal, which is modeling a vision for the school and coaching the teachers.”
Mendoza had nothing but praise for his predecessor, Juan Saldaña, but felt that the constant turnover at Presidio Elementary School through the pandemic years had taken a toll on the students and teachers. From 2019 to 2022, students and staff saw a different principal each school year. “There’s research that students’ scores drop when there’s high turnover in administration,” Mendoza explained. “Each new principal, no matter how great they are, can’t sustain a permanent positive change because of the turnover rate.”
Mendoza had a couple of theories about why the turnover rate at Presidio Elementary has been so high, but speculated that the underlying cause was economic. “It’s not a financial move [to return to Presidio], because the finances in a small rural school district will never equate with a big city school district,” he explained. “For me, it was more out of passion for change and growth.”
By buying a house, uprooting his family, and serving city government, Mendoza hopes to show local families that he’s here to stay, making personal sacrifices in order to help kids from his hometown succeed. “Primary school is the first space where the students are building their foundation,” he said. “My goal is to have those students reach their highest potential and have the strong foundation in reading and math that they need to succeed in secondary school.”
Mendoza also hopes to boost morale after the challenging pandemic years by repairing the relationship between the district and local parents. Presidio ISD faced criticism and protests in 2020 when the district made the controversial decision to cut all virtual learning options. Pandemic mitigation protocols in the schools are still stringent enough that local parents aren’t allowed to volunteer their time in person, but Mendoza hopes to build a robust parent-teacher organization in the meantime. “I need to reach a big group of dedicated people,” he said.
He’s hoping to model transparency as an educator and a leader. “Perception is reality,” he said. “The school district has had its challenges, and parents have voices that need to be heard. I hope that I can at least address that at the campus level. I think I can get people behind this team. It’s time to heal and move forward.”