SAN ANTONIO — Just three days into his interim role, Gary Patterson sat down and spoke one-on-one with KENS 5 about his priorities during his term.
Patterson will serve while Dr. Hal Harrell, who recently retired following demands for his resignation in wake of the Robb Elementary shooting.
Patterson is a fixer of sorts and served in similar roles throughout South Texas school districts. He most recently retired as superintendent of East Central ISD back in 2014. He understands it’s a tall task to take over the school district still reeling from the shooting.
“I tell our parents, you’ll never hear me say ‘I understand how you feel’ or ‘I know what you’re going through,’ the hill we have to climb as a district…yeah it’s difficult, but if we have to go baby steps, we’ll go baby steps,” Patterson told KENS 5 he has all the respect for how the community has handled the tragedy.
The immediate goal is to communicate and rebuild trust with parents, which has begun with parent meetings scheduled this week.
“It’s talking to people and letting them talk to me and listen to what their concerns are, especially the parents right now. What is it that is frustrating them right now? What are some of the common elements we have? Because I believe we all have the same goals for our kids,” Patterson says establishing trust will lead to “civil dialogue” with parents moving forward.
The concerns from parents led to a shakeup in school leadership. UCISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo was fired after spending months on administrative leave, the school police force was suspended after the district hired a DPS Trooper who responded to the Robb massacre, and Dr. Hal Harrell announced his retirement.
Patterson believes that the district needs its own police department.
“We need extreme vetting and we need the right type of people that can relate to students,” Patterson told KENS 5.
Personnel is one part of the equation. Patterson says the district is in the process of getting 500 security cameras installed across the district, they are also waiting on other facility upgrades.
“We’re working on single person entrance focal points, or vestibules if you will, that will have cameras, doors that have to be released from the inside, somebody pushes a button to get in, security cards with swipes, possibly intercoms,” Patterson adds that supply chain issues have led to delays in getting some of those upgrades completed.
Another major upgrade includes the building of a new elementary school. After numerous community donations, Patterson says the Uvalde Moving Forward Foundation and architects will share their progress.
“On November 14 we’ll have a community meeting where the architects and foundation board will present to the community where we are right now. They’ll be presenting the first conceptual designs to the board, they’ve been working on site selection,” Patterson said.
He also acknowledged it’s a valid concern that parents still might feel unsafe sending their children back to school, despite the efforts they’ve made to bolster school security.
“We have to try to minimize the chances of something similar happening the best we can, so, security measures, visibility, around the perimeter, inside, everything we’re doing. We’re trying to minimize it the best we can and I believe that’s all we can do,” Patterson said.
His first school board meeting will be on November 16.