San Antonio superintendent, another outside candidate top contenders for Chicago schools chief

San Antonio Schools Superintendent Pedro Martinez, wearing a suit with a red tie, speaks into a microphone.
Pedro Martinez, the superintendent of San Antonio Independent School District, is a finalist for Chicago Public Schools CEO. (Sean Proctor for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Pedro Martinez, the current superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, and another candidate outside Chicago are the finalists for the Chicago Public Schools CEO job.

That information comes from sources familiar with the search and was confirmed Monday by a school district official with knowledge of the process, who asked to remain anonymous because the search is confidential.

A district search committee made up of employees and residents forwarded these two frontrunners to Mayor Lori Lightfoot in late July after a national search that drew 25 applicants, including eight district employees. The district official did not go into why the process has stretched well past the target date at the end of July that Chicago had set for naming a replacement for Janice Jackson, who stepped down in June after about three years at the helm. 

“We have two promising leads, and we have our homework to do,” that official said, in the first update on the search in almost two months. 

But the official insisted that a Chicago Sun-Times report over the weekend, which first named Martinez as a finalist, was incorrect in suggesting that José Torres, the district’s interim CEO, is a top contender for the permanent position. When Lightfoot hired Torres, the former superintendent in Elgin, she had stressed that he would not be in the running for the permanent job — and the city says that remains the case.  

The city is close to announcing a new CEO though the news is not expected yet this week.

Martinez said the Chicago CEO opening was hard to pass up though he is still deeply invested in his work in San Antonio.

“It’s where I grew up; it’s where I went to school,” he said. “It was my first role in K-12. It really launched my pathway to becoming a superintendent.

“It’s very personal to me,” Martinez added. “Because it is my hometown, it was something I needed to explore.”

Before taking on superintendent roles in Texas and one of Nevada’s largest school districts, Martinez served as chief financial officer for Chicago Public Schools between 2003 and 2009, under then-CEO Arne Duncan. Martinez’ tenure as San Antonio superintendent has drawn national attention for his push to racially integrate the school district, which serves about 50,000 students. 

He helped launch the district’s network of Centers for Applied Science and Technology — high schools with technology-centered curriculums — and started a slew of dual language programs. He earns about $315,000 a year, under a contract set to expire in 2025. 

He recently made news when he issued a mask mandate and a staff vaccination mandate, defying Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning public entities from requiring masks or COVID shots. In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is taking the district to court. 

A native of Mexico, Martinez graduated from Chicago’s Benito Juarez High School and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and DePaul University. Like Torres, Martinez is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, a reform-era training program that has drawn some criticism for taking a business model approach to public education. 

Martinez told Chalkbeat that he is not sure where the process stands: “There’s nothing to report right now. I’m letting the process play through.”

Earlier this year, Chicago signed on with Illinois-based search firm BWP and Associates to lead the search. A final report on the search dating back to mid-July but posted publicly on the city’s search site Friday said the firm forwarded four “highly qualified persons” to the search committee. 

The report does not include further information about these four top contenders, but it says that of the 25 applicants, eight were internal candidates, six were sitting superintendents, and 18 had doctorate degrees. Nine are based in Illinois, three in Virginia, two in California, two in New York, and one each in eight other states and Morocco. 

The committee interviewed the four frontrunners and forwarded the two finalists to the mayor’s office. 

The district has not responded to multiple requests to share with names of its search committee members, and the district opted to maintain finalist identities private, citing concerns about discouraging qualified applicants from pursuing the position.  

Maia Spoto and Matt Barnum contributed to this report.

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