By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
If you were to corner local officials about the controversy that currently plagues San Benito, some would point to scandals in Brownsville, Progreso or any other city equal or greater in disrepute than the community they’re entrusted to serve and implement policy. In San Benito, a great number of officials – both elected and assigned to administrative positions – are, in fact, not necessarily ashamed of the scandals as much as they’re in denial.
Let’s take San Benito CISD Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ismael Cantu, for example. When asked about the Miller Jordan Middle School teachers and support staff who expressed concern about the stability of the campus and their fears that Principal Mary Alice Leal would be reassigned, which would be the eighth such occurrence in seven years, Cantu’s response was rather curious. To be specific, he referred to the prospect of Leal’s reassignment as a rumor that “needs to be kept as a rumor, because it’s not fact.” If you’re not a political trainspotter, you may have missed the subtle implication within that remark.
At heart, Cantu preferred that the teachers’ concerns about Leal’s future at Miller Jordan be kept within the realm of speculation as opposed to the front page of the local newspaper. How can I be so sure? If memory serves me correct, his exact words were as follows: “I don’t even think you have a story, because newspapers don’t report rumors… I don’t think, Michael.” I then informed him that, regardless of whether their fears become reality, the pleading of 31 teachers and support staff for stability in their work environment was not a mere rumor.
I spoke with 17 teachers, all of whom shared a multitude of concerns about Miller Jordan being afforded little chance to succeed. They pointed to the revolving door in the principal’s office when addressing previous academic performances that left much to be desired; they expressed fear that Leal’s principalship will not survive the one-year-tenure curse Miller Jordan has unfortunately become dubious for in these last several years. Some clutched a letter drafted by one of their fellow educators that all but begged the Board of Trustees for an administration that didn’t come with an expiration date. Attached to that letter was a column I wrote in August 2013 challenging administration, elected officials and the principal to turn Miller Jordan around lest incur the responsibility of explaining their failure in an open letter to the community. Two educators shed tears when lamenting the difficulties of meeting such a challenge.
Taking as much into consideration, it’s safe to say that these teachers’ concerns are very real, and to dismiss them as mere rumor is not only a disservice to them but to the educators at all campuses who are struggling with their own personal leviathans.
Granted, whether or not these educators have ulterior motives remains to be seen, but what they’re asking for – stability – is never a bad thing for an academic institution. The alternative, after all, would be chaos, and Miller Jordan has already experienced plenty of that.
One thing we should all agree on is the need to listen when teachers raise concerns; apropos, it’s also incumbent upon the administration as well as the community to offer up solutions. Cantu provided us with an example of what not to do, which is to hope our problems just go away. Real leaders face crises with resolve in their hearts, reason in their judgments and the propensity to do what’s right.
In the meantime, my hope for Miller Jordan and its students lies with the teachers, especially one in particular who said the challenge I issued last year served as motivation. What this teacher didn’t realize was that she already made the grade in my book.