Three familiar faces and one newcomer were sworn into the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school board at a meeting Wednesday evening.
Incumbents Jorge Zambrano, Jesse Zambrano and Jesus “Jesse” Vela Jr. all began another term Wednesday, while Cynthia Gutierrez was sworn in for her first term.
Gutierrez handily defeated opponent Celso Salinas Jr. for the Place 7 seat, which was left undefended by Vela.
Vela challenged and defeated fellow incumbent Victor Perez, while the Zambrano brothers completed a total victory for the four-person slate that included them, Vela and Gutierrez.
“I did not win; the community won,” Gutierrez said at Wednesday’s meeting. “And so I thank every one of you for being here, and I assure you that I have the best intentions to be your school board trustee and that I will all the time do what’s right for our community.”
Candidates from both slates noted the often bitter intensity of this year’s election, something Gutierrez mentioned Wednesday.
“I am grateful for being here, and it’s because of you,” she said. “Because of you who stood outside of the polls with me every single day. All those of you that block walked, all those of you who talked to our residents, listened, heard what they had to say. I’m thankful because out of all of us, I took a lot of heat, I took a lot of punches, and I am glad that all of you stood by me.”
Gutierrez ran in part on her credentials as an epidemiologist for Hidalgo County, something she says will help the district navigate pandemic precautions. She also said she wanted to run to bring more diversity to the previously all male board, something District Judge Fernando Mancias referenced before swearing her in.
“I’ll say this: that Ms. Gutierrez will be outnumbered only — only — in gender; not in strength,” he said.
The district also saw a reorganization of board leadership at the meeting.
Jorge Zambrano was elected as board president and Vela was elected vice president, while member Jorge “George” Palacios was voted in as secretary treasurer and Gutierrez was selected as assistant secretary treasurer.
Palacios, the previous board president, was awarded with a plaque commemorating his service by Superintendent Jorge Arredondo.
“Thank you for everything that you’ve done. Thank you for everything that you’ve done to continue to move PSJA forward,” Arredondo said.
Several of the members referenced the challenges the district was facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including member Carlos G. Villegas Jr., who struck a conciliatory tone.
“We’ve got a tough task ahead of us, and I know that you all are familiar with the issues,” he said. “Especially with the crisis that we’re facing right now and taking care of our 32,000 kids, but I’m willing to work with each and every one of you, understanding that we’re going to have differences along the way — but those differences make us better, and a lot of times make us come together.”