“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Associate
Justice, US Supreme Court, 1902-32
Dr. J. A. Gonzalez is a teacher at heart. Put a marker in his hand and a blank whiteboard beside him and his eyes light up. Whether his audience is made up of students or fellow professionals, he relishes the opportunity to teach.
“I am fascinated with the art of teaching and learning,” he said. “Everyone is some kind of smart —be it mathematical, verbal, kinesthetic, or musical. We all have a particular learning style, and it is our job, as educators, to help our students discover their talents and to build on their natural skill sets.”
In October, 2020, a combination of leadership, foresight and determination catapulted him to the top award in the state, Texas Superintendent of the Year. He was the first winner ever from McAllen ISD.
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Gonzalez began by thanking his wife and children.
“To the McAllen ISD Board of Trustees, thank you so very much for believing in me,” he added. “Thank you for holding me to a high standard, for holding me accountable and for all the oversight and direction that you provide myself and the district as we continue to thrive in this environment. Each one of you motivates me in a unique way and I thank you all for that.”
He also thanked McAllen ISD staff.
“This award would not be possible without the entire McAllen ISD family … all 3,000 employees, thank you so much. To our teachers, thank you for grinding and for pushing hard, even in this remote environment. And, to our wonderful students, thank you for putting us on the map. I have the utmost respect for all of you. And finally, I dedicate this award to my father (Oscar Gonzalez Sr.) and my mother (Elsa Gonzalez). I hope that I made you proud. Thank you.”
His state award was preceded by earning the Region One Superintendent of the Year award in the summer of 2020. Following the state award and a TASA nomination, he later became one of just five finalists for the National Superintendent of the Year award.
In 2022, he earned the South Texas Hero award from the United Way of South Texas.
“Dr. Gonzalez was chosen because he exemplifies community service at the highest level and embodies the United Way Mission, to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of our community to advance the common good,” Lilly Lopez-Killelea, President and CPO of United Way of South Texas explained. “He engages with many organizations, whether they are public, private, government, non-profit, etc. to promote opportunities for children and local families.”
Dr. Gonzalez, who became Superintendent in 2016, oversees a district that is characterized as a District of Champions, with amazing standings, including state-ranked academic and finance programs, as well as nationally ranked high schools, music program, health and PE program, and so much more.
“As educators, we are in the dream business,” he said. “We are entrepreneurs of the human spirit.”
In 2022, the district earned the prestigious Best Large District in Texas Award through the H-E-B Excellence in Education awards program. It is an award which can only be won once.
Under his wing, the district has enjoyed some major accomplishments on the state and national stage. Some of these include:
· Earning an “A” designation by the Texas Education Agency three times (2018, 2019 & 2022). In 2022, the district scored a 95 in state accountability – its highest score ever. State designations were put on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
· Earning the state’s Post-Secondary Readiness Distinction four times (2017-19 & 2022). This also was placed on hold in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
· Earning Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (School FIRST) for the 19th time in 20 years. This includes a perfect score in 2022 which makes 15 perfect scores in that time.
· McAllen ISD high schools ranked among America's best schools by either US News & World Report or The Washington Post for the eighth straight year. All five ranked by US News & World Report in spring 2022.
· Serving a School Board which was a state finalist for School Board Leadership award in H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards in 2019 and 2022.
· Implementing a State & National award-winning Strategic Plan for the District.
· Leading the District as the community passed a Tax Ratification Election with 76 percent voter approval in 2018.
· The District being named “Favorite School District” in The Monitor’s Readers’ Choice awards for the fourth time in 2022.
· Two schools earning a national Blue-Ribbon award – Sam Houston Elementary (2019) and Achieve Early College High School (2021).
· The District being named a national Best Community for Music Education for 11 consecutive years.
· The District earning a Golden Apple award from the United Way of South Texas four consecutive years (2018-21).
It is worth noting that of school districts in Texas with an enrollment of at least 20,000 students, which earned all three major state awards in 2022 (State “A” ranking, Post-Secondary Readiness Distinction and School FIRST with a perfect score), only McAllen ISD accomplished this feat.
In March, 2020, he led a transformation to address the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our educational community in a way that kept instruction at the forefront and kept students and staff safe. Through it all, the district continued providing meals for the community, and students did not miss a single day of instruction. This accomplishment was chronicled in the education journal, Texas Lonestar magazine, in its July 2020 issue.
“We’re a world-class district. In McAllen ISD, it’s not about programs,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “It’s about people, and we have great people in this dynamic community and our district. The key is to work collectively to execute the vision for our district as we move deeper into the twenty-first century.”
In addition, Dr. Gonzalez has implemented many new programs and features. These include:
· Initiated creation of STEAM-Plus teaching and learning framework.
· Established elementary UIL, chess, and robotics programs.
· Initiated the creation of Tech Wars in which high school students competed in a unique robotics competition.
· Initiated the first Esports tournament in the Rio Grande Valley.
· Expanded the Dual Language Program to the high school level.
· Built relationships with city, chamber of commerce, economic development corporation, and McAllen Boys and Girls Club.
· Created a leadership model.
· Forged partnership with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to create the UTRGV-McAllen ISD Collegiate Academy (opening in 2024) in which students can earn college credit toward a Bachelor’s Degree by the time they graduate high school.
· Reduced payroll costs for 2016-17 by $1.3 million.
· Created McTalks framework to spotlight alumni, staff, and students.
· Created SuperTalk podcast tackling subjects of interest for parents & the community.
· Overseen major construction projects including new baseball & softball fields, new kitchens for schools and the first new press box for the main football stadium in nearly 50 years.
· Established lifecycle replacement schedule for facilities and equipment.
· Created the STRIDES Program for special needs students who have graduated.
· Created a Parent Education Program.
· Moved Career Technical Education Program to Achieve Early College High.
· Initiated a Mental Health Fair.
· Created golf, fishing and bowling tournaments to raise money to benefit students.
· Created a Youth Apprenticeship Program through South Texas College and Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Gonzalez initiated the creation of STEAM-Plus in Pre-K-12 grades. This learning framework places a great emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, including coding,
rocketry, and robotics. STEAM-Plus also systematically addresses a child’s emotional intelligence. It focuses on the five key components of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. McAllen ISD also continues to support the highly acclaimed International Baccalaureate Teaching and Learning Framework at elementary, middle, and high school levels. In fact, the IB Diploma Programme at Lamar Academy was awarded the IB School of Distinction award in 2017.
A former state finalist for Principal of the Year and a participant in The Principals’ Center at Harvard University, Dr. Gonzalez has a wealth of experience and a passion for teaching. He has taught in the Educational Leadership Department as a Practicing Lecturer at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).
Dr. Gonzalez served as the District’s Associate Superintendent for Instructional Leadership from 2012-16. His primary role included coaching, supervising and evaluating all principals in the District. He has also served as a Principal, Assistant Principal, Teacher, and Coach in multiple sports during his 27-year educational career (25 with McAllen ISD).
He is active in the community as well. Some of the professional clubs, organizations, and committees he serves on include:
· Texas Association of Secondary School Principals
· Golden Key International Honor Society
· Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society
· Honorary Member of the McAllen Rotary Club
· Member of Raise Your Hand Texas
· UTPA College of Education Advisory Committee
· The Principals’ Center Alumni (at Harvard University)
· Vice Chairman of the Board: Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, 2019-present
· Member: Chamber of Commerce Executive Committee, 2021-present
· TASA Education Commissioner’s Cabinet Member, 2021-Present
· Member: TASA – Texas Association of School Administrators
· Member: AASA – American Association of School Administrators
· Member: TALAS – Texas Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents
· TASB School Transformation Network
· Member: Friends of Texas Public Schools
· United Way Board of Directors, 2021-23
· McAllen Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors
· Region One Regional Advisory Council of Superintendents: Executive Committee Member
· UIL Executive Committee for Region XV
· South Texas Association of Schools Board of Directors President (2023-24).
· Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC member) – the Regional Council of Governments for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy Counties
· John Maxwell Team Certified Member, 2018
· Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Citizens Academy, 2015
· Leadership McAllen – Class of XXXIII, 2014
Born in Laredo, Dr. Gonzalez was raised in Hebbronville. He graduated from Texas A&M University—Kingsville with a Bachelor of Science in 1996 and earned a Master of Science in Educational Administration from the University of Texas-Pan American in 1999. Between 2000 and 2003, he earned his Mid-Management Administrator and Superintendent Certifications. His Doctor of Education with an emphasis in Educational Leadership was completed in 2008 through the University of Texas-Pan American.
Dr. Gonzalez married Shahroo T. Gonzalez, who is also an educator. They have three children – Joe Douglas (11), Samantha Isabella (10), and Joshua Jay (8).
McAllen ISD quick facts:
· 30 campuses
· 20,500 students
· 3,600 employees
· 1,600 teachers
· District area: 33 square miles