MANOR, Texas (KXAN) — Manor ISD kicks off the school year with a superintendent in his first full academic year on the job, and 89 teachers working on visas to help the district meet its staffing needs.

The district starts the year having scored a “C” during its 2022 state assessment. While school progress stood out as an area of achievement, the score for STAAR Performance struggled.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Sormani said the district is “ground zero” in the battle with charter schools over students as Manor ISD finished last school year with 9,255 students enrolled, which is less than had been projected.

Sormani talked with KXAN about a variety of back-to-school issues ranging from staffing to safety to academic achievement ahead of the next school year.

Q&A with Manor ISD superintendent

Manor ISD Superintendent Dr. Robert Sormani talks with KXAN’s Tom Miller. (Frank Martinez/KXAN)

Tom Miller: This is going to be your first full school year with Manor ISD. What’s your top priority for the year?

Dr. Robert Sormani: Our top priority every year is really to engage our families, our staff, and students, and build those positive relationships. Because it’s those relationships that are the foundation to everything else you do [in] academics, and challenging kids to their highest potential.

Miller: A lot of districts are still working on staffing up, How are your staffing levels? And are there enough teachers to serve all your students?

Sormani: We have enough teachers to serve our students, [but] we’re certainly not where we want to be. We’re ahead of where we were last year. But vacancies are a challenge in Central Texas, and all over the state of Texas. Ever since COVID, you’ve lost a lot of teachers, you know, the rising cost of living, and legislature hasn’t given us any new money. So even though we’ve given a 2% raise, and on top of a 5% raise last time, and we’re one of the top starting salaries in Central Texas, we do still have some vacancies. We offer some incredible stipends for teachers who also want to take on new duties. In fact, we offer a $17,000 stipend just for a teacher who wants to take on those extra students.

Miller: Y’all have made an effort to recruit teachers from not only out of state but out of the country. Why is that?

Sormani: It’s a couple of reasons. Obviously, the original reason is we had vacancies, and we were looking to fill them, so we started engaging companies that bring people over on visas to teach here in the United States. What we found is some really dedicated employees who just love children, and really want to be here and work with kids. So we’ve only expanded that program. I believe we are now up to 89 teachers on visas from other countries. And by the way, these aren’t just first-year teachers, these are experienced teachers in another country who speak English and another language. And so these are quality, quality people that we have coming here.

Miller: Parents, of course, want to know that their kids are going to be safe when they’re at school. How is safety here at Manor ISD? And do you still have things you want to improve on?

Sormani: Safety is always priority number one. That’s where everything begins. You have to have a sense of safety in order for kids to be able to learn and for families to be comfortable. We have our own police force here at Manor ISD. It’s one of the few accredited district police forces in the state of Texas. But we recognize that we can always get better. So some of the things that you’ll see are, in addressing House Bill 3 from the legislature, for example, we do want to put up some new fencing that some of the community will see going up at our high schools. We’ll be putting in some of the ballistic film at some of our elementary schools on the windows that prevent people from entering. And you’ll see increased patrols from our police department at all our schools.

Miller: On your most recent state assessment, I believe Manor ISD got a C [grade]. It was 75 out of 100. How do you improve on that?

Sormani: What I really want to see is a focus on two things. One, increase the percentage of children who are meeting that college readiness level on the SAT and ACT test. And then second, really increasing the number of students who go through a sequence of courses where [when] they leave school, they have a certification that immediately gets them a job if they choose.

Miller: As school kicks off for your students, what’s your message to parents entering this new year?

Sormani: My message is welcome to our schools. They’re your schools. We want you there, we want to be [a] partner with you, because it’s only together where we’re going to have our children reach their full potential and be leaders in this community.