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SGISD AD and superintendent get community support

Parents, teachers and students filled the boardroom during the Santa Gertrudis Independent School District's school board meeting last Wednesday in support of Superintendent Veronica Alfaro and Athletic Director Ivory Dillard as trustees considered their continued employment with the district.

In July 2018, Alfaro was named the district's interim superintendent after the school board unanimously accepted the resignation of its former superintendent, Corey Seymour. In May 2019, Alfaro was offered a one-year contract and named the lone finalist for the position.

Alfaro has served as an educator for 26 years, with 15 years in the Santa Gertrudis ISD, including six years as the Academy High School principal. She has also served as the district's director of advanced studies and as the executive director of school improvement and instruction.

Dillard joined the SGISD in February 2018, taking over the athletic director position from Bradley Chavez, who resigned after just eight months to take over the same role in Edcouch-Elsa.

Prior to becoming a coach, Dillard played football in the 1990s for Florida A&M University as well as professionally with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Under Dillard's leadership as head football coach, the Santa Gertrudis Academy Lions finished the 2018 season with a 3-7 record, winning only one game in District 16-3A, Division I play.

In 2019, the Lions went winless with a 0-10 record.

During their Nov. 20 meeting, the Santa Gertrudis ISD Board of Trustees were scheduled to meet in closed session to discuss the extension of Alfaro's superintendent contract as well as the employment and duties of the athletic director, along with attorney consultation regarding "legal issues," according to the agenda.

More than a dozen parents, teachers and students spoke on behalf of both Alfaro and Dillard during the meeting's open forum. While public comments are typically limited to five minutes during SGISD's board meetings, Board President Jesse Garcia reduced each speaker's time to just two minutes "based on the number of people registered for the open forum."

Academy High School teacher Susan Rutherford said she was sad that the district was "at odds over the decisions presented on this evening's agenda." She said she has found compassion in Alfaro's leadership, along with a work ethic "that is about the people, not an agenda."

"I have worked countless hours of my own time to make a difference because of her," Rutherford said. "I never asked what was in it for me. I did it for the students and because I knew I was appreciated."

AHS teacher Susan Fielder said she has known Alfaro for 17 years, and she has served "with honesty and integrity at all costs."

"Never have I worked for a person more professional and caring than you, Dr. Alfaro," Fielder said. "You are my rock, and I am indebted and thankful for your unyielding support and understanding when times were a bit bumpy for me and I was ready to throw in the towel."

Santa Gertrudis School sixth grade teacher Lillie Ruiz, who also identified herself as a parent and alumna of the district, spoke about the importance of stability for the success of their students and staff.

"If I had to pick one person in our district that defines stability, loyalty, dedication and leadership, hands down it would be Veronica Alfaro," Ruiz said. "Since she has entered the superintendent role, I finally feel that things are starting to get back to normal. There is no one better person that knows the ins and outs of our school's operation, history and traditions.

"She is present almost everywhere, academically and athletically. She has always maintained her professionalism, no matter what title she's held in this district. Her work ethic speaks volumes, and she's been a great mentor and leader for myself and for others. I hope tonight that you (the board) will continue this stability for our students and not flip the script once again."

Bruce Roberts spoke about the impact Dillard had on a 17-year-old student "who has carried a heavy load of difficulties" and is now living with his family on the King Ranch.

"Coach Dillard and the other staff knew of his difficulties and welcomed him in a way that allowed him to begin a long journey of recovery," Roberts said.

Roberts said Dillard and his staff "embraced the kids where they were, cultivated an environment that was empowering and had high standards and expectations for each athlete regardless of what the scoreboard said."

"For us, the season record wasn't important," he said. "It was about developing good young men with character and integrity. It was a wonderful season in our son's life."

Several student athletes also spoke in support of Dillard and the impact he has had on their lives. Junior Jarrett Barden said Dillard has always been supportive of him and his fellow athletes.

"It's pretty cool to have somebody that motivated, and that dedicated, for all of us," Barden said.

Junior Sammy Salinas thanked Dillard for showing him and his teammates "everything we need to do to just become better men."

"The wins, the losses, they don't define us at all," Salinas said. "They don't define me, they don't define you, they don't define any of my teammates because all-in-all you turned us into better men, and I respect you so much for that."

Christa Dillard, wife of Ivory Dillard and former Academy High School assistant principal, also spoke in favor of both Alfaro and her husband. She said Ivory Dillard has made the development of the district's athletes on and off the field a priority since his arrival.

"He has improved the structure, routines and development of the athletic program through off-season training, professional development for coaches, team building activities with coaches and athletes and a high level of accountability," Christa Dillard said.

"He models integrity, discipline, vision, compassion, determination and excellence for his coaches, teachers, staff and board of trustees. He has provided opportunities for young men and women to develop into leaders and have a voice, as you've heard tonight."

Christa Dillard said studies have shown that it takes a minimum of three years to change the direction of an organization "if all the resources necessary are provided and 100 percent of support from leadership is given."

"Give Coach Dillard and Dr. Alfaro your 100 percent support by extending their professional contracts so they can continue to exemplify the board's core values and vision," she said.

Later in the meeting, the board convened for nearly three-and-a-half hours in closed session, but took no action on either Alfaro's or Dillard's contracts.

SGISD Attorney Tony Resendez of Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo and Kyle P.C. said the board would schedule a special meeting in the near future to finalize the instrument and timeline for the superintendent's evaluation "down the road."

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.


29th Ranch Hand Breakfast

Record numbers of people from all over the United States came to Kingsville Saturday for the 29th Annual Ranch Hand Breakfast on King Ranch.

Started in 1990, the annual Ranch Hand Breakfast is the only time of the year that the public is allowed to drive inside the gates of the historic King Ranch and enjoy an authentic cowboy breakfast comprised of eggs, refried beans, biscuits and gravy, sausage and tortillas.

Bob Cleek, Area Manager for King Ranch and one of the organizers of the breakfast, said this year's effort solved some problems encountered last year, but created a few new wrinkles to work out for next year.

"Last year we had a bit of a traffic problem. This year, our volunteers really kept the traffic moving, but that meant that the serving lines got a little long," Cleek said. "We're working on that for next year and are looking at additional lines and servers."

The estimate for this year's attendance is 6,000, far surpassing last year's record attendance of 5,200, Cleek said.

"All in all it was a great event. We had wonderful weather, which really affects how many people come out," Cleek said. "To all the volunteers and employees who make it happen, I'm just very grateful and we had a won-

derful time."

Molly Martin, from Corpus Christi, said after attending last year's event, she decided to return and brought several family members with her.

"I'd heard about it for 10 years and finally decided to come out (last year)," Martin said. "We had so much fun last year. The food was great, it's beautiful out here and we plan to spend more time here."

Lynne Stanlick and Diane Miller, from Lake Hopatcong, N.J. said they flew in for the weekend just to attend the breakfast and downtown festival.

"We've been getting a (King Ranch Saddle Shop) catalog from this place for like 20 years, reading about the breakfast, reading about Kingsville, and we decided we would come down and take a look," Stanlick said.

"We came for the breakfast and we're going to take the tour. Then we're going to the museum and the saddle shop," Miller said. "We've got a whole itinerary."

Gloria S. Rios, of Kingsville, said she grew up on King Ranch and has attended every breakfast.

"I love it. You get to meet a lot of different people," Rios said.

Rosie Estrada, Rios' sister, lives in Houston and said she looked forward to attending the breakfast as a way to spend time with her family.

"Being with family, that's what counts. We're all family-oriented and we try to stay close," Estrada said. "I look forward to more."

Christopher Maher can be contacted at cjmaher@kingranch.com or (361) 221-0242.


Nursing home resident reunited with horses

Harvey Smith was moved to tears when several old friends of his visited the 87-year-old at the Kleberg County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center last week.

"This was a surprise beyond all surprises," Harvey said.

For several years, Harvey raised a group of six miniature horses that his wife, Vonda, said were "his babies."

"They had just the sweetest dispositions," Vonda said. "And he loved them."

Vonda said Harvey had taken to raising miniature horses following the death of his first wife, Virginia, who died of cancer in 2003.

"When we got married, he had them," she said. "He did everything: wormed them, shoed them, gave them their shots, everything."

While he loved raising his horses, Vonda said his advanced age and cancer treatments eventually led Harvey to a difficult decision in 2012.

"He came in one day and said, 'I just can't take care of all of them anymore,'" Vonda said.

Vonda said Harvey reached out to a friend to look for buyers for his horses, though he hated the idea of them being sold off individually. She

said luckily, they were put in contact with Pamela Henry, a retired teacher in Pleasanton who had been looking into raising miniature horses.

"And she bought all of them to keep them together," Vonda said. "We were so thankful, because we were afraid that we were going to have to sell them off one at a time."

"They're really, really good horses and we spoil them rotten," Henry said.

Henry said Harvey had not seen the horses in at least seven years. She said she had been planning for some time to bring the horses down to visit their former owner, and decided doing so around the Thanksgiving holiday this year was "the perfect time."

"He's going to be very emotional when he sees them," Vonda said.

To keep the reunion a surprise, Henry traveled to Kingsville with Jo Harp, who runs the Wings and Reins equine refuge in Devine, along with one of her miniature horse rescues, "Smidge."

"(Harvey) doesn't know a thing about this," Henry said. "So while we set up out here, (Harp) will take 'Smidge' inside to visit everybody at the nursing home."

Harvey saw "Smidge" as she made her way around the nursing center and reminisced with Harp about his own experiences raising miniature horses. Harp then told Harvey there was a surprise waiting for him outside, where he was reunited with his old friends.

At first, Harvey did not recognize the miniature horses as the ones he had raised, remarking to his wife that the one he was petting "looks just like 'Thunder.'" When he realized that it actually was his favorite horse, he couldn't hold back his tears.

"Oh my goodness gracious," Harvey said as he pet his former horse. "I can't believe this."

One by one, Harvey was reunited with six of his miniature horses that day: "Thunder," "Crystal," "Lily," "Pretty Boy," "Whitey" and "Sunny." He took his time petting each and talking to them, his smile never leaving his face.

"I can't say how much this means to me," Harvey said. "It's so good to see those little horses."

During the reunion, Henry also presented Harvey with two ribbons that "Thunder" won at horse competitions: the first place ribbon he won in 2016 and a second place ribbon that he received at an event in October this year.

"Harvey was the one who trained them to drive carts and wagons," Henry said. "He did all the work, and we just picked up where he left off."

Henry said the reunion between Harvey and his horses had exceeded her expectations.

"I'm just so happy that he got to see them," she said.

Vonda said she was so appreciative that her husband got to see his horses again.

"This meant so much to him," she said.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.


2019 Ranch Hand Weekend fills downtown

Hundreds of people flooded Downtown Kingsville for the 2019 Ranch Hand Festival on Saturday, which featured live music, dance lessons, food, games and multiple other activities for attendees to enjoy following the 29th Annual Ranch Hand Breakfast.

"It was a very big success," Kingsville Tourism Director Janine Reyes said. "We already had a lot of vendors call and ask when our next big event is so they can take part in it. A lot of the vendors reported selling out their products, so there was a lot of participation this year."

From the Train Depot Museum and Kleberg Bank at the intersection of Pfc. Daniel Alarcon Street and Kleberg Avenue to the HEB parking lot on Eighth Street, Downtown Kingsville was closed to traffic so the public could freely walk as they made their way around dozens of vendors, booths and food trucks, as well as browse the local downtown shops.

"I am enjoying my time here," Ydanissa Gonzalez, a native of Raymondville said of the festival. "It has been a lot of fun. I like

all of the smells; honestly, the food smells fantastic. And the music has just been super great. I really love live music, so that makes it better."

Gonzalez said it was her first time attending the event, and after her experience, she is looking forward to making the short trip back next year.

"The drive's not too far from where I'm from, and the weather is amazing out right now," Gonzalez said. "So, I don't see myself questioning why I would want to come back."

Gonzalez said she also enjoyed seeing the smiling faces at the Kids' Corral, including acts on the young performers stage located at the intersection of North Seventh Street and Kleberg Avenue.

In the Kids' Corral, children of all ages took part in activities throughout the event, including painting, carnival games, face painting, horse rides and jumping inside inflatable obstacle courses.

Also at the Kids' Corral was the young performers stage, where many of the area's dancing, singing and acting groups showcased their talents for all to see.

Down Seventh Street and around Yoakum Avenue was the third annual Ranch Hand Roundup Car Show, which had as many as 75 cars on display including Hot Rods, classic cars, low riders, motorcycles, trucks and muscle cars.

A total of 35 trophies were handed out to participants, with most of the entries in the show from Kingsville's own car club, United Aggression. The Best in Show award was given to Raul Vela, for his 1935 Dodge Sedan.

When the festivities ended downtown, the J.K. Northway had a packed house for the benefit concert headlined by platinum recording artist Mark Chesnutt.

The concert, which included opening acts Felix Truvere and Lauren Corzine, benefited the Kingsville Independent School District Education Foundation.

Reyes said there are no specifics yet on the total number of attendees for the concert, but they were able to sell out of VIP tickets.

"It was about 1,000 people," Reyes said. "We know that the non-profit was able to raise about $40,000, and our goal was $20,000, so we are very pleased with that. It was a great night and everybody had a great time."

Reyes said last year's event was record breaking for all involved, and after speaking with officials at the King Ranch, this year was no different.

"We're seeing it continue to grow," Reyes said. "We're very pleased with the crowds and attendance and can't wait for next year. We're already planning for it."

Frank Cardenas can be contacted at fcardenas@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0243.