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Heading into the holidays on a bright note - Dec. 9, 2019

Dear SAISD Staff:
We are entering the season for scholarship announcements, and the gift of good news is cause for celebration. 
So far, we have learned that one of our seniors has been named a QuestBridge Scholar, which puts her among only 3 percent of high school seniors nationwide being considered for the esteemed scholarships. Through the QuestBridge National College Match program, Maria Garcia-Garcia of Young Women’s Leadership Academy has been matched with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she plans to study computer science. Please join me in congratulating Maria!
The QuestBridge National College Match program is a college and scholarship application process that helps outstanding low-income high school seniors gain admission and full, four-year scholarships to the nation’s most selective colleges. Since we are just beginning to hear of these types of scholarship awards, I look forward to sharing more announcements with you in the coming weeks.
The perception and curiosity of our students never fail to amaze me. Last month, almost the entire class of eighth-graders from the Advanced Learning Academy traveled out of state on a Civil Rights Tour. The week-long trip, which was part of the students’ U.S. History course, allowed them to analyze civil rights issues by visiting historically significant sites in Mississippi and Alabama – such as the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Selma Pettus Bridge, among others. They also had the opportunity to meet adults, who as children, experienced integrated schools for the first time in their city.
Many of the events that occurred in the cities they visited were studied not only within the context of inequities during the Civil Rights era, but also within the contexts of other periods in U.S. history that faced similar struggles – such as the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era during post-Civil War America, and even current-day examples of inequity, as part of their project-based learning experience in their Humanities class. 
I’d like to see other schools across the District consider similar enrichment trips in the future. The Advanced Learning Academy’s trip was made accessible to all students through fundraising initiatives, and the result was a powerful and unforgettable learning experience. I encourage you to hear the students’ reflections about the trip tonight on News 4 San Antonio, during the 6:30 p.m. newscast.
It is unfortunate that our country and our world continues to be challenged with civil rights issues. In my capacity as the chair of Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, I was asked to testify in Congress last week about how immigration policy affects students’ access to education and their mental health. Overall, this immigration climate has made it far more challenging for families and school districts. Board President Patti Radle accompanied me on this important trip. The panel also included a pediatrician, a public health professor, and a former immigration judge. 
At the hearing, I shared with members of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee how the diversity of our students is a source of strength and pride for our District. Although we see evidence that our community is dealing with the trauma that results from uncertainty around immigration status, we also witness the strength of the family unit, which makes these families so successful despite many incredible struggles – our students are going on to graduate from high school and contributing to the workforce, the community, and the country. 
I spoke of how we as a school district support immigrant students and their families through our International Welcome Center. I also mentioned our collaboration with SA Rise to create a handbook that clarifies the exact role of District police in our schools and ensures they do not act as immigration authorities – our schools are open to everyone regardless of immigration status. I talked about our “Know Your Rights” trainings for teachers and staff, our Dream Summit that informs undocumented students how to access college, and how our schools host pláticas – which are conversations designed to be safe spaces for all students and families.
It was an honor to be invited to share this testimony, and an even greater honor to share SAISD’s story.
I am proud to say our story continues to grow stronger every day. One by one we are addressing the obstacles that our children face because they have proven they can and will succeed.
This past Friday, SAISD announced a partnership with the 1Million Project Foundation on an initiative that will help bridge the digital divide and give students the opportunity to “learn everywhere.” Through this project, about 40 percent of our high school students will receive – at no cost to the students or District – either a free hotspot device or smartphone and 10GB of high-speed data per month for up to four years while they are in high school.
High school students were surveyed and those who responded that they did not have reliable internet access at home, and who received the required parent permission, became eligible to participate in the program. The 1Million Project Foundation’s mission is to help 1 million high school students achieve their full potential by ensuring they have the digital tools and connectivity they need to succeed in school. We are grateful that the foundation will count more than 5,200 of our students among their beneficiaries. 
This is my last letter before we break for the winter holidays, so I would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that Experience SAISD, our Districtwide showcase, will be held shortly after our return in January – on Saturday, Jan. 11 at the Freeman Coliseum Expo Hall. This extravaganza is a massive undertaking, and I appreciate your hard work and collaboration to make it happen.
I look forward to this new tradition in SAISD – now on its third year – and enjoy seeing all of our schools, departments and programs highlighted. There will be many student performances, art displays, and interactive demonstrations. There is no better time to come learn about SAISD. Please spread the word throughout the community!
Please also share with others that our application period for Choice Schools and Programs continues through Jan. 31. So far, we have received more than 2,000 applications. The two District-led information sessions to inform families about the process have been well attended, and one additional general session will be held before the deadline. Participating campuses also are holding information sessions to introduce families to their specific options now through the end of next month.
As I close, I want to express my appreciation to you for your commitment to helping our students succeed, regardless of the obstacles these children and their families may face. Know that the gains this District is experiencing are being noticed – locally, statewide, and now even nationwide. Our work is transformational, and the difference we make today has long-lasting benefits. 
I wish you and your families a joyful and relaxing winter break. I know it’s been an incredibly busy year so far, and I value the effort you put in every day. Thank you, and happy holidays.


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