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.

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