Updated Jan. 2021
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 is 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. Early that fall, it was announced that he had emerged as one of just five finalists for the state award.
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.”
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 for two straight years (2018 and 2019).
· Earning the state’s Post-Secondary Readiness Distinction three consecutive years (2017-19).
· Earning Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (School FIRST) for the 17th time in 18 years with perfect score the last nine years and 14 perfect scores overall.
· McAllen ISD high schools ranked among America's best schools by either US News & World Report or The Washington Post for the sixth straight year. All five ranked by US News & World Report in spring 2020.
· 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 three times in the past four years.
· The District being nominated for Best Large District in Texas in H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards in 2018.
· Serving a School Board which was nominated for School Board/Leadership Award in H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards in 2019.
· Sam Houston Elementary School earning a national Blue-Ribbon Award in 2019.
· The District being named a national Best Community for Music Education for eight consecutive years.
· Overseeing the District as all eligible schools have been named among America’s Healthiest Schools since 2014.
It is worth noting that only three school districts in Texas, with an enrollment of at least 20,000 students, earned all three major state awards in 2019 (State “A” ranking, Post-Secondary Readiness Distinction and School FIRST with a perfect score).
He led the transformation in March 2020, to address the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our educational community in a way that kept instruction at the forefront, while keeping our 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 e-sports tournament in the Rio Grande Valley.
· Built relationships with city, chamber of commerce, economic development corporation, and McAllen Boys and Girls Club.
· Created a leadership model.
· Reduced payroll costs for 2016-17 by $1.3 million.
· Created McTalks framework to spotlight alumni, staff, and students.
· 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 and fishing tournaments to raise scholarship money, so high school students can visit colleges and universities.
· 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 25-year educational career (23 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)
· United Way Board of Directors (2021-23)
· McAllen Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Executive Committee
· McAllen Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors
· Region One Regional Advisory Council of Superintendents: Executive Committee Member
· John Maxwell Team Certified Member (2018)
· Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Citizens Academy (2015)
· Leadership McAllen – Class 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 (9), Samantha Isabella (7), and Joshua Jay (6).
McAllen ISD quick facts:
· 31 campuses
· 21,600 students
· 3,400 employees
· 1,600 teachers
· District area: 33 square miles