Because of Jacinto Ramos’ resignation in March, the Northside community will choose its next school board trustee on May 7. The race is between a doctor and police officer, both of whom grew up in the neighborhood.
Community is important to the largely Latino district, and both candidates have placed their Northside roots at the center of their campaigns.
The two candidates for the District 1 seat on the Fort Worth ISD school board have similar stances on many topics, but voters will have to decide if they want a trustee with previous school board experience in Dr. Camille Rodriguez, or a newcomer in Fort Worth police officer Aaron Garcia.
Rodriguez has received endorsements from big names like the Focus on Students political action committee and former Mayor Mike Moncrief. Garcia’s endorsements come from the United Educators Association and the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
Early voting begins April 25 and ends May 3. Election Day is May 7. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Rosalinda Martinez, 48, is an 11-plus year volunteer in the district and the secretary of the North Side High School Parent Teacher Association.
She said she hopes District 1 gets someone who will represent the community, not special interest groups, and who is tuned into the needs of the community and students.
Those needs include pandemic recovery, better technology, more time with teachers and other resources.
“I feel like a lot of times our students are not represented and they are underserved,” Martinez said.
With both candidates demonstrating a history of community involvement, it is possible parents like Martinez can get their wish.
A product of Fort Worth schools
Rodriguez, 53, served on the school board representing District 1 from 2004 to 2008 and calls herself a product of Fort Worth ISD.
“I went on to (Prairie View A&M University) on a full scholarship, and I applied in a college fair that was held at my school in the school cafeteria,” she said. “And after I graduated college, I was a substitute teacher for a year so I know exactly what the teachers go through.”
Rodriguez said she is ethical, transparent and knows the community well. While it is a largely Hispanic district, Rodriguez said she recognizes it also includes other races and a variety of economic levels. She feels she can embrace all of those.
Her parents quit school when they were young to work, and Rodriguez said her mother raised six children and later earned her GED.
“They knew the importance of an education. They made sure I had the opportunities that they didn’t,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s all I’m wanting to do is give back to the community and make sure all students in the Fort Worth ISD have the opportunities that I did. I’m a product of the Fort Worth ISD; I am successful; I am ready and willing to give back to the community.”
If you go
What: District 1 candidate forum
When: 6 p.m. April 27
Where: North Side High School auditorium
Garcia, 32, said he was first called to public service at All Saints Catholic Church, where the priest showed examples of service and humility. One week, Garcia said, he was called out in front of the entire church to help with youth week, which he agreed to.
He started leading the youth group as president, and from there he continued to explore service. Garcia said he did not plan on becoming a police officer, but that exploration of service led him to a police explorer program and eventually a job as an officer.
Garcia also started attending Northside Neighborhood Association meetings. After a couple of years of attending, he was nominated and elected to serve as president. He’s been in the position for almost a year.
“I still live on the same street that I grew up on. I just bought a house further down on the street,” he said. “I love my neighborhood, and I don’t plan on moving out of the neighborhood.”
Finding the next leader of the district
Though he’s never been part of a superintendent search for a school district, Garcia knows what he wants out of a candidate. He wants to ask candidates what their community involvement will be because it’s crucial.
He also said he hopes to see a candidate who has a proven track record for turning around large school districts and, if elected, plans to ask candidates for their specific plans on this matter.
Rodriguez has been part of a superintendent search before, and said her experience could help a board with only one trustee who participated in a previous search.
She wants to meet candidates who are innovative, from a district of similar size and demographics and who have dealt with the kind of issues in student achievement Fort Worth ISD is navigating.
For the Northside community, the hiring of a new superintendent is the most important issue on people’s minds, Martinez said.
In campaign finance reports filed on April 7, has raised $3,725 and spent $121.45. Rodriguez has raised $12,350 and spent $1,119.88
Bringing up scores
Schools in the district were receiving low accountability ratings pre-pandemic and, across the country, COVID-19 only increased those learning gaps.
Martinez said students of color especially fell behind, and the national data back that up. She hopes the trustee chosen to represent District 1 will be open to finding solutions to that issue, in addition to keeping diversity and inclusion in mind when it comes to race and disability status.
It’s not just about improving their test scores, but helping with the mental health of students and teachers, she said. Martinez has a daughter who was a freshman when the pandemic started and spent most of that year and her sophomore year at home. Now, she is a junior and — along with some of her friends — is dealing with anxiety.
To look into the issue, Rodriguez said she would ask for a curriculum audit if elected to see what programs are working and identify areas for improvement.
Those needs could include books, online programs, new curriculum — whatever is needed to help the students succeed, she said.
Garcia recognizes children are the future and need the chance to succeed in whatever field they choose, whether it’s higher education, the military or the workforce.
The unique opportunity to select a new superintendent is crucial in this, Garcia said. The board can set benchmark goals and hold the new leader of the district accountable to improving student scores, he added.
Bonded over distrust
The failure of parts of the last bond election speaks volumes about dissatisfaction in the district, Garcia said.
The results show voters are not happy enough to give the district more money, he said. When the district tries to pass future bonds, there needs to be more transparency and community engagement.
When Rodriguez was on the board, voters passed a $593.6 million bond package. But the 2021 bond election proves that another bond that large won’t be passed again unless there are significant changes in the district.
“There are issues in the school district and they will not support it, unless those issues are cleared and the students achieve,” she said. “Clearly, there is a need to explain to the voters why the bond was needed.”
Though voters approved the largest part of the bond, Rodriguez said there still are needs across schools for amenities.
“Every school should have the same amenities,” she said. “And you should not be able to tell if you’re going to walk into a building on the north side or on the west side.”
Both candidates say they want to keep politics out of the school board and keep the focus on students. They both said they are concerned about how politics have entered the classroom.
School board candidates do not declare a party when they run. Though it is an elected office, it is not supposed to be a partisan office.
“It goes beyond party lines. Children have to be the focus here,” Garcia said. “And I think politics have kind of driven us off course, and we have to get back on to what’s important. We need to improve our academics. We need to make sure our kids are reading on level and that math scores don’t start lagging.”
There always will be outside entities trying to influence education, Rodriguez said, but the board has to keep focus on academics and student achievement.
“Some of the students, they don’t care about these issues,” she said. “They just want to go to school and they don’t want to argue. They don’t want to have this appeal on this side or that side. They just want to go to school and learn. It’s the adults causing a lot of issues.”
Martinez concurred with this from a community standpoint. She said she hopes the Northside gets a trustee who does not let politics sway them.
“How are we going to teach our kids to think critically when we will not let them read books?” she said. “I think that our new board members should not have any special interest or any political views that override serving our students.”
While her No. 1 goal is student achievement, Rodriguez also said she wants to engage parents again and make sure they feel welcome in schools to talk to teachers and be engaged on campus.
She also wants to engage teachers and make sure they have the tools they need to have the freedom to teach and “do their magic” in the classroom.
Garcia believes he can bring level-headedness to the board since he is not a career politician, and his police background can bring insight into safety and security.
“I don’t have an agenda, per se. I want to represent the community as I’ve done for the Northside Neighborhood Association,” Garcia said. “I want to be here, an advocate for the neighborhood for the residents, the students, the parents, the teachers.”
Disclaimer: Fort Worth Report board director and co-chair Wes Turner is a financial supporter of the Focus on Students political action committee.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.