Born in Aguascalientes, a state located in the northcentral part of Mexico, Pedro Martinez came to the United States when he was five years old, settling with his family in Chicago. “My father never made more than $7 an hour. I watched him work two jobs his whole life,” Martinez remembers about that time. The first in his family to attend college, Martinez earned his BS in accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA from DePaul University. He held various senior roles in school districts around the country before being tapped to serve as superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) in 2015.
SAISD serves about 49,000 students, 90 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, and more than 90 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. Martinez often invokes his own experience to exemplify the power of education in driving socioeconomic mobility: “My story is similar to that of many of my students in San Antonio, and many students around the country. That is why it’s so important to me that we do everything we can to give all children opportunities to succeed in school and in life.”
As superintendent of SAISD, Martinez has invested in renovating and upgrading schools, increased the number of dual-language programs, introduced the first public Montessori school in the county, and launched the city’s first P-TECH program to prepare students for high-demand careers in the technology sector. This work helped to propel a major turnaround in the once F-rated district, which is now the fastest-improving urban district in Texas. In 2019, Martinez was selected as board chair of Chiefs for Change, a national network of innovative district and state education leaders that supports its members to maximize their efforts preparing all students for the bright futures they deserve.
Martinez is an ardent defender of students facing the threat of deportation, and has urged Congress to approve a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Testifying in Congress in December 2019, he told members of the House committee on Education and Labor, “San Antonio itself is a city rich with immigrants. They are productive and hard-working individuals who become great contributors to the community and our schools.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Martinez mobilized resources to bridge the digital divide exposed by the crisis. To help students access distance learning, his district purchased 30,000 electronic devices and more than 3,000 Internet hotspots. Martinez was recently selected by Bexar County and the City of San Antonio to serve on the region’s COVID-19 Economic Transition Team. As Chiefs for Change chair, Martinez has also overseen that organization’s efforts to support districts around the country as they manage their response to COVID-19, including the release of a report to help school and district leaders prepare for the return to school in fall 2020.