Presidio ISD names new campus leadership

PRESIDIO — At a special school board meeting on Saturday, Presidio ISD announced new leadership at the elementary, middle and high schools. Joe Andy Mendoza and Taro Gutierrez will lead as substitute administrators at the elementary school and middle school, respectively. Carmen Rubner, the current interim superintendent, will also serve as high school principal alongside substitute administrator Belinda Dolino. The district is still hiring for a permanent superintendent.

The decisions came on the heels of a season of major change within the district — Lucy Rede Franco Middle School Principal Rogelio Zubia resigned in May, and Superintendent Ray Vasquez resigned a few weeks later. Former Presidio High School Principal Hevila Ramos was reassigned to the role of curriculum coordinator. 

The Presidio ISD School Board also saw unprecedented change: eight candidates ran for four seats during May’s election, meaning that the new members make up the majority of the board. Iris Galindo was tapped as board president, Marco Lujan as vice president and Perla Natividad as secretary. 

The new leadership announced on Saturday comes with a few caveats. The “substitute administrator” title means that the district is technically still hiring for the role and may replace the substitute with someone else — they indicate that each school leader still needs to wrap up formal principal certification with the state of Texas. 

Joe Andy Mendoza, substitute administrator for Presidio Elementary School, started off his career with Presidio ISD with the right certification — Mendoza was certified in Arizona, where he earned his college degree. Arizona and Texas were “reciprocal” states when he was hired at Presidio ISD, meaning that he did not need to earn a separate principal certification in the state of Texas. 

The rules changed post-pandemic. Mendoza has been frustrated with the process — he will likely have to travel across the state to retake the necessary exam. Still, he hoped that district parents wouldn’t take the “substitute” title to mean that he was leaving the district. “It’s a technicality,” he said. “The school district goes by the book and follows the rules and is transparent — they’re doing their job.”

With the help of new Administrative Assistant Samuel Carrasco, Mendoza has a lot he wants to accomplish during the 2023-24 school year. He’d like to see — in his words — “better customer service,” communicating more openly with the public and helping parents and staff members field their hopes and concerns with school leadership. 

After the upheaval in the spring, Mendoza was relieved that the district had named new leadership and was looking forward to the future. “It was nerve-wracking in the middle of summer, but now summer is over and it’s time to get back to business,” he said. “Now we’re asking, ‘What is our mission as a district?’ We want our students to feel safe and comfortable and to learn.” 

Taro Gutierrez, the new middle school substitute administrator, also saw his path to full certification thrown off by the pandemic. Gutierrez got his start with the district in 2002 teaching English language acquisition students — over time, he started teaching different levels of math and was encouraged to pursue his master’s degree in educational leadership. “When COVID hit, I stopped working on the certification because health and safety was a priority,” he said. 

Gutierrez gained valuable experience last year, serving as assistant to Mendoza at Presidio Elementary. When the leadership position at Lucy Rede Franco Middle School opened, Mendoza and a few other colleagues encouraged him to apply. He saw an opportunity to be a part of a season of change for the district. “It was the best position for me to help the district,” he said. 

Over at the high school, students and teachers will also be led by familiar faces. Middle school teacher Belinda Dolino will assume an administrative role, helping Carmen Rubner fulfill her duties as Presidio High School principal. 

Rubner served Presidio ISD for almost two decades as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and technology director. She moved back to her native Iowa in 2019, but was excited to return to the border and be a Blue Devil once again. “I’ve been saying, ‘I was born in Iowa, but I was raised in Presidio,’” she said. “This is my home, and people have been so welcoming. I’m encouraged by all the excitement for this school year.” 

In the short term, Rubner will assume double-duty as high school principal and superintendent. A formal search will begin in November for the new superintendent, in hopes of making a decision by March or April of next year. 

She hoped that the new district leader would assume their role with an appreciation for the unique culture, challenges and talents of Presidio ISD. “It’s important that whoever comes into the superintendent role understands how much the community values education and the school district as a whole,” she said.