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Suzanne “Suzie” Peña, Fernando “Fred” Ramirez, and Eduardo “Eddie” Montalvo, all know something about running a business. Ramirez and Peña are both business owners and Montalvo has 15 years of business management experience as well as a degree in international business.
As Montalvo puts it, he is a numbers guy.
Ramirez currently serves as a board member and Peña is currently serving as the school board secretary.
Ramirez said he has been able to see how the school is operated during his years on the board. He has also served on, or is serving on, other committees within the district including the Education Foundation, business operations and finance, curriculum and policy committees.
“I have a passion for what I do and always think we can do better,” said Ramirez.
One of the reasons Peña wants to stay on the board is to see some projects to fruition. She said she wants to see projects like the new high school to its completion.
Peña is also board member of the Education Foundation and a volunteer in the district.
Both Peña and Ramirez have been a part of the school board for six years.
Montalvo said after being the chairman for the committee that researched statistics for the new high school, he wants to see it to completion and is ready to give back to the community as a board member. He added that his father was a board member in San Benito, and after watching his father he has wanted to do the same.
During his time on the board, Ramirez said the district has had several accomplishments. He won’t take credit for those accomplishments though, saying he is only one of seven that have contributed to making things happen.
“It would be a little pretentious to say that I’m responsible for the successes,” said Ramirez adding that his contributions, and learning how things work, has helped him assist the board in achieving their goals.
Some of the accomplishments Ramirez mentioned were the exemplary statuses of the schools, the second high school and better programs for students that focus on not just the top kids of the district but also special education students and others such as first time drug and alcohol use offenders.
“Our mission statement says we need to prepare every child for the best education they are capable of,” said Ramirez. “How can we make them better? How can we make them stronger? How can we make them productive citizens of our community?”
Peña said some of the accomplishments she has seen while serving on the board include SISD being one of the faster growing school districts in South Texas. Having two Blue Ribbon schools, exemplary and recognized schools, and the passing of the school bond for the new high school are other accomplishments she mentioned.
Both Peña and Ramirez said the biggest challenge for the school district right now is choosing a qualified superintendent to lead the district. Both of them believe a new superintendent needs good moral and capability of making children their top priority.
Peña said she wants to make sure the new superintendent will continue the Sharyland tradition of academic excellence and help continue the growth and support staff in the process.
Montalvo said he feels the challenge with the new high school is that a building committee should be put in place to help make some of the decisions so the building operations and finance department isn’t doing all of the decision making before bringing something to the board. He said he would like local businesses that have experience be a part of the construction of the new school.
“I’d like to see some of that $55 million stay within our community,” added Montalvo.
Finishing the new high school on time and within budget is a challenge for the district right now, said Ramirez and Peña. The biggest challenge, Ramirez added, is the financial aspect. The district will need two high school principals, two head coaches and more teachers to provide a quality education to the students.
“How do we balance the educational needs with the monetary income that we have,” asked Ramirez.
Ramirez said his policy has always been about making decisions with students in mind first and community second.
Although the district has great employees, students and parents, Ramirez said, there is always room for improvement.
“We have a great district here,” said Ramirez. “We can still reach higher, we can still reach other goals, in everything.”
Previous board members set goals and expectations that we as current board members, said Ramirez, need to follow and improve on. A foundation has been set, we just need to improve on it, he added.
He said the district needed to remember students and parents are like customers. The district needs to address and treat everyone special.
Montalvo said the biggest strength of the district is its educational platform.
“I’d like to continue to see growth in that,” said Montalvo, adding that people move to the district because of the best education system.
But Montalvo said the district has a lack of transparency with most of the decisions are made in executive session. He said he wants to see the community having a more active role in board meetings, knowing where money is spent.
Again, Peña said the strength of the district has been its academic excellence and she wants to help keep that tradition of excellence a top priority. She also said that she wants to continue keeping financial transparency in the district adding the books are always open to the public.
With the ever-looming budget talks, Ramirez doesn’t think the district will face too much trouble this coming year because of changes they have already made. The district has been conservative with their money and planning for the future. He said the main thing is budget cuts should not affect the classroom.
“Everything we do in our schools is education related,” said Ramirez including athletics, education, choir, band and other extracurricular activities. “It’s to make better students and better people.”
There should be a balance in funding for all extracurricular activities and normal classroom activities, Ramirez said. Sports make a better student, he added, but athletics is not more important than an education. Students need to be shown how to direct that energy they put into a sport, or other activity, into their education as well.
Montalvo said long-term effects needed to be looked at before making budget cuts.
“Don’t take away from the educational program,” said Montalvo.
Areas to look at, added Montalvo, are seeing who might be considering retirement and offering incentives so the district doesn’t have to lay off teachers.
When discussing having a balance of funding between athletics and education, Montalvo said SISD should fund all academic programs within reason. He added a lot more students participate in football than choir, but that doesn’t mean the funding should not be given to one over the other. It can’t be spread evenly, said Montalvo, but through grants and other funding, SISD should make sure that every program gets the same amount of attention as athletics.
Ramirez’s vision for the district is for the district to be an example to other districts, not only locally, but also in the state and even in the nation, said Ramirez.
“For them to say, what do those guys do? Why are they so good,” he said.
Peña wants to continue the path the district has taken in academic excellence and growth. Her goals are to continue with the mission of the district by helping to provide an exemplary education to the students of the district.
“Keep moving forward,” Montalvo said about his vision for the district. “Keep planning ahead so that we don’t fall back on our scores. Keep going in the right direction.”
A trend has been set for Sharyland, and it needs to continue, said Montalvo.
Editor's note: After press time Suzanne Pena contacted Progress Times to clarify the point in her response regarding financial transparency is something she believes the district presently performs well in, and not a shortcoming in the district. Pena said the district does well in this area, and the books are open to anyone who wants to see them.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.