I've been friends with Sylvia Rincon, the former TV reporter and anchor, for five years, and in that time, I don't think we've had a conversation that didn't conclude with an Emmy-worthy oration on the importance of increased education in San Antonio.
During her 12-year tenure at local FOX affiliate KABB, Rincon fleetingly broke through her corporate news obligations long enough to produce and host her own show, Staying Healthy San Antonio, which, due to lack of funding, would last only two months. The recent revelation that she'd taken a long-vacant communications position at the scandal-prone Southside Independent School District was hardly surprising, considering her hunger for a good challenge. But this interview—a ceremonial shedding of her former public self—offers a brow-raising glimpse of Rincon's passion for "truth and transparency" and the path to which it's led her.
"Well, quite honestly, I'm tired," she says in her familiar, on-air croon. "It's a demanding job being a television reporter. This is a big change, [but] for our generation, I think it's not unusual to have two or three big careers."
Rincon's 18-year career in broadcast journalism, which began with jobs in Austin, Phoenix and the nation's capital, was fueled by the hope that she'd one day return to her hometown to be near her family. Her education in the complex world of local politics commenced in 2002 when she accepted a position working the KABB weekend news desk.
She describes the San Antonio of 2002 as "sleepy," but she admits that in the last six years, "it just blew up." That explosion has included the city's growing South Side, where she was born and raised.
Crime consumed the majority of her beat at first, but it wasn't long before she became interested in the school-board stories to which she was occasionally assigned. "I was always fascinated that hundreds of people voted for a school board that was not just in charge of the vision of a school district, but also oversaw and governed multimillions of dollars for children. And it's rare to find someone who can name their school board member," she says.
The Southside job, which allows her to use her reporting experience in her own backyard, was impossible to pass up. "It's a growing school district," she says. "It's getting an influx of people and money."
Eagle Ford oil and energy companies are a stone's throw from the bare walls of her new office. "In less than five years, you're going to see buildings pop up," she prophesies. "Southside is going to provide the next generation of workforce for this area.
"I'm going to take all of that journalism experience, and I'm really going to channel that into the positive stories here at Southside." There are plenty of those, she adds.
Lately, the combination "SISD" and "positive stories" wouldn't yield much in a Google search. Current Superintendent—and media bad boy—Ricardo Vela has become a criticism centerfold over certification issues. "The community believes that mistakes have been made. We're going to talk about it and we're going to fix it," she says firmly.
Rincon is using her new leadership heel to step into a community burdened with socioeconomic challenges. Cafeteria staff members, who recently took note that the school lunch is some students' only meal, placed San Antonio Food Bank applications in the cafeteria. Within no time, "they were all gone," Rincon says solemnly. This month, more than 200 SISD families will receive boxes of food from the Food Bank. "Each one of those kids we are going to empower and educate."
Journalists are often communications-savvy jacks of all trades, making them valuable assets in the political world. And years of proximity can give one the itch.
"I've talked about running for City Council or commissioner," Rincon says. "It's no secret."
But for now, Rincon says, education is near and dear to her heart—especially for economically disadvantaged families.
When she was a young girl, she noticed something during a sleepover at her friend's house that fascinated her. "They had a dryer!" she recalls. "The towels were soft and warm and smelled like heaven—they smelled like Downy!" Doing laundry still reminds her of having something she didn't have growing up, thanks to an education.
"I feel like this is an opportunity to give back—not that I didn't as a reporter," she says. "This is more tangible."