Dr. Yvonne Katz
Why she thinks COEHD is the cat’s meow
If there’s one thing that Dr. Yvonne Katz loves, it’s The University of Texas at San Antonio. The retired superintendent and College of Education and Human Development graduate received her master’s degree in educational leadership in 1974; and, in the four decades that followed, transformed the lives of thousands of students under her leadership.
Katz always knew she wanted to be a teacher. The Baytown, Texas, native still remembers pretending to be her brother’s teacher, chalkboard and all, when they were growing up.
“I used to play school with my brother when I came home from elementary school,” said Katz. “I had my little blackboard, my chalk, an eraser, little index cards, and spare paper my father brought home from the office.”
As she continued her primary and secondary education, her passion for teaching grew deeper, fueled by the inspirational teachers she had and still remembers to this day.
“Ms. Dorothy Lowe was my seventh grade English teacher,” said Katz. “She was a little bitty lady. She wasn’t even five feet tall, but she would command everybody to listen to her. She was a very strong English teacher and taught me, literally, everything that I know and remember about English and writing.”
Katz’s dream to teach led her to the state’s capital where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from The University of Texas at Austin and began her lifelong career in education.
In the years that followed, Katz taught in Austin, Texas, Spring Branch, Texas, and Virginia, before finding herself in San Antonio, just as a new university, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), was about to emerge.
“I met with original president of UTSA, Arleigh Templeton, and talked with him about the new university that was going to open up and was still in the process of becoming accredited,” she said. “I said to him, ‘If you all can take a chance on me, I can take a chance on you all becoming accredited.’”
And she took that chance, becoming one of the first people to attend classes when the university opened its doors. All of her classes, she said, were held in the Koger Center, a business park located south of the San Antonio Medical Center, while the Main Campus was under construction.
“We had one little room called the Library that had no books in it,” she recalled. “We had to order the books that we wanted and they sent a van twice a day to UT Austin to get those books.”
While working to receive her master’s degree through COEHD (then known as the Division of Education), Katz continued to work as a special education teacher in Northside Independent School District (NISD). As she pursued her degree, she always kept her dream of becoming a principal in mind.
“I was really pleased with the professors that we had,” said Katz. “Dr. Wayne Laughery was my major professor. When I told him that I wanted to become a principal, he didn’t laugh or say, ‘You can’t do that.’ He said, ‘You sit right down here and we will just plan that out for you.’”
In August 1974, Katz received one of the 82 degrees conferred at UTSA’s first graduation, six months after the university received full accreditation. In the ensuing years, she used what she had learned as an education student to work her way up the ladder in NISD.
“The course work that I took in COEHD helped me as I became the director of special education and then principal in Northside [ISD],” said Katz. “It really helped me apply the current research at the time to my school and that helped the teachers teach better.”
But this was just the start of her incredible career in the public education system. From 1985 to 1992, Katz served as the first female superintendent for Harlandale Independent School District. She then moved to Oregon and became superintendent for the Beaverton School District before returning to Texas to lead the Spring Branch Independent School District for two years. Katz served a total of 20 years as a superintendent before retiring in 2004. In 1991, the Texas Association of School Boards named her as one of the top five superintendents in the state.
“I think the best part about being a superintendent was providing programs and resources to students,” said Katz. “I really focused on every student being successful. It was exciting for me to be able to do that.”
During her tenure as an educational leader, Katz was honored with several awards, including the Outstanding Educator Award by Texas A&M University, where she received her doctoral degree; the Outstanding Woman Executive Award by the Texas Council of Women School Executives; and the Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communication Award by the National School Public Relations Society.
Now in retirement, Katz serves as chair of the San Antonio Women’s Chamber of Commerce and sits on the Board of Trustees for the Alamo Community Colleges, where sometimes, she said, she sees a familiar face or two.
“I see quite a few former students who have become leaders of their own now at the Alamo Colleges,” she said. “It’s just really neat. It comes home to roost with you all the time.”
Like the students she led as a superintendent, Katz has left a lasting impression on the faculty, staff, and students in COEHD.
“Dr. Yvonne Katz lives her life in a bold, uncompromising, generous, and joyful manner, and her exuberance inspires and challenges all of us to move beyond our self-imposed limitations,” said Dr. Betty Merchant, dean of COEHD. “The title of one of my favorite books by Byrd Baylor best exemplifies Dr. Katz’ overall attitude toward life: ‘I’m in charge of celebrations.’”
Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of UTSA’s first graduating class, a class Katz is proud to say she was a part of. Since then, she has retained close ties to the university and to COEHD.
“I loved seeing the campus start to build and grow and I have been right there with it all along the way,” she said. “It’s a great system and I believe strongly in it. I feel like I really have invested in the success of the university.”
The campuses may have changed and the student body grown in size, but to the COEHD grad, UTSA will always be the young university she dared to believe in and that dared to believe in her.