The Tyler Loop interview: Alejandro Gauna, Tyler ISD school board district 5 candidate

With the Tyler ISD School Board Trustees elections coming up, newcomer Alejandro Gauna is vying for a seat in district 5 against incumbent Aaron Martínez. The Tyler Loop’s  Zoe McGhee interviewed both Gauna and Martínez in-depth. You can read Martínez’s interview here.

📷 courtesy Alejandro Gauna

A soccer coach with a love for helping kids, Gauna believes he is the “new leadership and innovation” Tyler ISD needs. He wants a school system that will “get stronger and become united.” 

Here, Gauna tells The Loop how more kids can be helped through increased Head Start funding and the expansion of the skills trade program.

Early voting for the election begins on April 19 through 27, and Election Day is May 1.

Why are you running as a candidate for School Board District 5?

I’ve been thinking about helping students for a long time in different ways. I’ve been a volunteer soccer coach for over seven years. I’ve always had a heart for kids and to serve. 

So I’ve been thinking about it for about two months, and then I decided to sign up. Once I started talking to constituents, I realized their importance. 

It’s not just so much about me thinking, ‘Oh, I’m helping students,’ but you know, I’m the voice for students, for families, for the parents, for the community. I think that’s a calling I had in my heart, too. 

What do you have to offer as a prospective trustee? 

There’s a platform I have in mind for key issues that are important. First thing would be to expand and increase funding for Head Start programs. If you look at the statistics for Tyler ISD, you see 75% of our students fall under the low income status. 

So, I believe if we increased the funding for Head Start, we’d be able to increase the number of students and to help low income families. That’s something that I’ve been hearing from constituents as well. If we increase funding and the number of students we can help, it would be a focus early on, so the students can be successful by the time they graduate. 

Another thing is the focus on increasing or expanding the choices students have through skills trade training. I’m very happy that we have a CTC  (Career and Technology Center) facility and the programs they have available, but I believe that we could have more choices. I think there’s a better chance for students to be successful after high school.

If you look at the statistics for college students, 45% of them drop out of college. If we give them better choices during high school, maybe we can have them be successful after high school through things they may be interested in, in case they don’t want to attend college and so they don’t drop out of college. 

I have one more as well: focusing on allocating resources and funds towards student needs. Last year, my youngest daughter, she was in the fifth grade at Bell Elementary and she was selected to represent her school for the UIL writing competition. I started thinking that it was a great competition for kids to know the structure of a sentence and to read and things like that. 

I began to reach out to find ways that we can help students. I reached out to The Tyler Loop who contacted the Bell Elementary principal and worked on a curriculum where we can help students early on with writing skills. That was great, but obviously COVID hit, and that was a different story, But at least those kinds of things I’m able to offer as a candidate. 

Alejandro Gauna is Texas Minority Coalition Vice President. 📷 courtesy Alejandro Gauna

Shifting topics, how is your campaign addressing the coronavirus issue?

Well, obviously when we talk to constituents and neighbors, you have to be concerned and wear a mask for protection. We have to follow the guidelines and make sure we keep the staff safe. I’m hearing from teachers that they believe Tyler ISD has a really good program that’s keeping everybody safe. I’m happy so far with the way that they’re handling that issue. 

What were some of the biggest challenges that your district has faced, and what new challenges do you predict moving forward? 

There’s some things teachers are looking at: they would like more one-on-one instruction with the students, focusing on student needs. 

One parent was telling me she was having to pay $425 extra a month for Head Start because she didn’t qualify. And just imagine the taxes that they’ve already paid plus $425 a month. That’s why I was looking at that option to expand Head Start funding so we can help more families.

Also, some students are requesting more laptops at home. That can help them because you never know, the way things are going. Two weeks ago, we had the storm and the kids were out of school. So if everybody had laptops, they would have more things available to them to help them learn. 

I saw that your campaign slogan was “building our future together.” What kind of future are you looking to achieve should you be elected?

I think that if you look at the statistics for categorizing, it’s made up of 75% minorities. And so I think we as leaders, as board members, those statistics for Tyler ISD haven’t changed much, as far as academic growth throughout three years. 

We’ve done better in a few things in some schools. And if you look at the stats on schools on reading, it’s hard to look at their standards on how they’re doing.

Building the future together is focusing on 75% of minorities that’s built into the school. African-Americans count for 27%; Hispanics count for 48%, and so that’s 75% of our community already.

I’m saying focus on everybody, obviously. That’s what we all should do. But for the past three years, we haven’t made a dip into the academic post. So I believe together we can do that. That’s why I say come together; together we are stronger as a polarizing district, as a community, as a state.

What are some challenges in getting people out to vote? 

That’s a really good question, because it saddens me that some people are not voting just because it’s not the presidential election. Turnout is very low. As a matter of fact, I have visited some of my constituents and sometimes they’ll say, ‘Oh my kids are out of school. I don’t vote to have people in our district anymore.’ 

But I believe it’s important that we put a focus on it. That’s why I myself, I plan to visit every household and let them know not only what I stand for but for their support. 

I also saw that you are the Texas Minority Coalition vice president. How do you think this may give you perspective on certain issues that you would use as a member of city council? 

About three years ago, me and Stanley Cofer and me decided to join together. “United We Stand One Nation Under God,” we did that last year. Law enforcement and first responders prayer and breakfast. I think we all share those issues. 

Those values, those issues shouldn’t be holding us back. I believe it should help us get stronger and become united so we can have a better country, better community. And so I started Texas Minority Coalition three years ago with values of faith, family and freedom which I believe are important to have for the community.

And it’s been really great, we just had a meeting this past Saturday. I’m humbled because the name says Texas Minority Coalition. It’s not about the name, it’s about the values we stand for, which are faith, family and freedom. Those right there are key for all of us. We all want that. We all want a good education. Freedoms, everybody wants that. 

Along with that, how might you reach out to be of service to all Tyler ISD residents regardless of their political leanings?

I know that people have seen my heart throughout the Texas Minority Coalition. Listen, I wasn’t born in the States and I’m blessed by what America has offered my family. I’m really blessed, and that’s part of the reason why I want to do things to help my community. We all have our things that we do differently and we have to understand each other.

We’ve got to put those things aside. As school board members, we have to look at our next generation, that’s who we’ve got to put our focus on and to put the political issues aside and just focus on the things that are important that move our city forward. It saddens me that when we talk about division and things like that; it shouldn’t be like that. 

I noticed you have served as the executive director for CF Monterrey East Texas Rayados, a children’s nonprofit concerning soccer. How has your involvement shaped the way you address certain issues within the school board? 

I’m a soccer coach and I try to coach the right way.

I believe coaching sports can help structure a player’s character, teaching to fight hard, to not give up. So I think those things can help and have helped me as a coach and the players. I went yesterday to pick up some more kids to coach this season, and I get asked every season, ‘Hey coach, are you coming back?’ I believe sports can help shape character.

Sometimes you can see in practice things that are probably going on at home in the kids’ lives. There’s some players who focus on just winning instead of shaping the character of the player that’s going to help them down the road. And that’s what I try to focus on. That’s what I’ll try to do as a TISD board member. 

Why should you be elected? What’s the ideal impact that you would wish to make? 

That’s one thing I always preach — unity — and the things that I’m involved in, I try to make sure unity is a big factor. Like the Texas Minority Coalition, I understand why people could feel distant just because of the name. And so I tell them, ‘No, if we bring this together, it’s those values. We’re on the same team and everybody agrees.’ Once you get to know me, people are gonna see that.

I’m very humble and I’ve never put myself first. I always put everybody else first, because I believe I’m just blessed. God’s been good to me and my family. And so I’m just trying to give back.

So what do you hope to bring to the board that your opponent, incumbent Aaron Martinez, does not?

That’s a very interesting question. He’s been there six years, and I think one of the things that people gotta pay attention to is 75% minorities are made up of Tyler ISD. And for the past six years, there’s three different categories that the TISD school board is created on. And one of those is closing the gap, and that’s been the same. If you look at the grading for that, the statistics for minorities, it’s not fair.

We’re underperforming and Aaron Martinez has been there six years and that’s why I think it’s time for new leadership and innovation, and that’s what I wanna bring in.

If you have one thing for people to know about you, what would it be?

Family is important and our freedoms are important. That’s my thing I want people to know about me. 

Is there anything else important to address that hasn’t come up yet, or what would you like for people to know or understand? 

I think this is something that I’m learning as I’m talking to constituents. A lot of our community, they still feel like their voices haven’t been heard. Their issues are not being addressed. And I understand, we can’t please everybody, right? But just the frustration I hear from constituents, it saddens me because as board members, as leaders, we are their voice, we’re the bridge for them.

And that’s the reason why I have been called to run for school board. I humbled myself because it’s about them. One thing I want people to know is that we need to pay attention to our constituents, to our staff, to our community, our districts and listen to their issues.

They have big issues. You’d be surprised going house to house. You’d think some of them are the same and they’re not, and that’s why I’ve grown as a candidate to listen and to say, ‘Man, we need to start paying attention to our constituents.’

Zoe McGhee is a junior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. She is the managing, newsletter and copy editor for The Patriot Talon, the independent student-run newspaper designed to inform and entertain UT Tyler students and staff. McGhee is also part of The Tyler Loop’s newsletter staff.

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