Dr. Joe J. Bernal has worn many hats over the decades -- that of a son, a brother, a student, an athlete, a soldier, husband, social worker, father, teacher, school administrator, politician, and state legislator. Now he can add, school namesake.
Jose Maria Bernal, Jr. was born on Jan. 3, 1927 to Jose Maria and Antonia Bernal. To honor his mother, who raised him and his 8 siblings alone after his father died, all the Bernal children legally changed their middle names to their mother’s maiden name of Juarez.
The native San Antonian grew up in the west side, graduating from Lanier High School in 1944. Just out of high school, Bernal enlisted on May 29, 1944 entering the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program. After training as an infantryman, he was stationed in Manila and Tokyo with the Headquarters Squadron, Pacific Air Command. He was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant at the age of 19.
After leaving the army, Bernal took advantage of the GI Bill and graduated from Trinity University with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a master’s degree in Education from Our Lady of the Lake University. He also earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Foundations in Education from the University of Texas at Austin.
His first teaching job was in Kosciusko ISD, a tiny rural school district located east of Floresville that no longer exists. He also taught in Edgewood and San Antonio school districts before wanting to impact a larger audience – especially the Hispanic community who he felt was underrepresented at the state level.
He served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1964 to 1966, and the Texas State Senate from 1966-1972. As a state legislator, he authored bills to establish a free statewide Kindergarten program for five-year-olds, 45-minute planning time for elementary teachers, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the dental and nursing schools at UT Health Science Center. He is perhaps best known for a then controversial bill establishing the first bilingual education legislation that repealed penal code restrictions which would cancel a teacher’s certificate and imposed a $100 a day fine if instructing in a language other than English.
After leaving Austin politics in 1972, Bernal worked as an educational researcher with Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA); was Regional Director of ACTION under President Jimmy Carter; and was the director of the Texas House and Senate Mexican American Caucus.
He never forgot his early career in education, and from 1982 to 1987 he served as principal of Emma Frey Elementary School in Edgewood ISD, and served for five years as the Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services for Harlandale ISD.
In 1996, he returned to politics when he was elected to the State Board of Education, and served for 10 years. Dr. Bernal was a consistent advocate for bilingual education, especially dual language education. He fought to provide Spanish language textbooks in the classroom, was a spokesperson for having the state’s elementary school curriculum translated into Spanish, and was instrumental in Mariachi band competitions becoming part of the University Interscholastic League (UIL).
Mary Esther Bernal, his wife of 58 years, is also a retired teacher and former Board member from San Antonio ISD. They have four children; Richard, Patrick, Bernard, and Rebecca and six grandchildren.
Dr. Bernal has devoted his life to helping the underprivileged gain access to free and equal education so that students can become whatever they want in life – including a teacher or an elected official, but his lasting legacy will be as a school namesake.
Watch a video about Dr. Bernal and the school by clicking here.