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Community to Austin School Board: We Want Paul Cruz as Austin ISD Superintendent

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT
Education Austin president Ken Zarifis at a press conference Tuesday applauding the Austin School Board's decision to open the superintendent search process up to the interim superintendent Paul Cruz.

Update: The Austin School Board may not officially have decided who will be hired to be the permanent superintendent, but if you attended a news conference at City Hall Tuesday afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking some community leaders have decided otherwise.

More than a dozen education, religious, labor and community groups applauded the board’s decision to consider Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz for the position, even though the board previously said Cruz would not apply for the job when they appointed him in April. 

At the news conference, most of the local leaders said they want Cruz as the superintendent, even though the other two finalists have yet to be revealed to the public. The board is planning to name the other finalists on Friday ahead of a forum at Lanier High School the following day. Education Austin President Ken Zarifis supports considering Cruz, but still says a community forum is important.

“Those candidates are known to our board members but not to our community," Zarifis said. "And to at least have an opportunity to understand who they are, to meet them, I think it shows a respect to our neighborhoods, parents, our community.”

Others said they want Cruz as permanent superintendent.

Angela Rangela Valenzuela is with Nuestro Group. She says she supports Cruz because he’s part of the Austin community and is already involved in important projects like dual language and technology programs within the district.

“It’s very concerning when we bring people from Anchorage, Alaska, or Maine," Valenzuela said. "That’s just not going to work.”

Bishop Sterling Lands with the Greater Calvary Bible Church was the most explicit.

“The fact that I’m here means that I’m here because of Paul Cruz," Lands said. "I’m going with the process of talking about opening it up. But don’t let that fool you. I’m really here because of Dr. Cruz.” 

The district could announce a sole finalist next Monday.

Original Story (12/10/14): The Austin School Board will introduce three candidates for the Superintendent position to the public, including Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz, before announcing a sole finalist to run the district of more than 85,000 students.

The board unanimously voted last night to consider Cruz for the position, despite an April agreement between Cruz and the board that he could not apply for the position when he was appointed interim. 

However, after a swell of community support and positive feedback about Cruz's job as interim, the board decided to change the process and consider Cruz. 

"I believe our real covenant with our community is to select the best superintendent for the district and not to stay with a process for the process' sake," said Trustee Tamala Barksdale.

The decision comes after the district received 98 applicants for the position and interviewed fewer than ten. But the support for Paul Cruz was obvious at Monday night’s meeting. Most of the public comments supported the decision and audience members even applauded after comments. 

“I see this change, while unusual, I also hear it as the board has been listening for the broad public support to be a candidate for the permanent superintendent position," said Austin resident Toni Raynor. "And I appreciate that. Thank you."

Many school board trustees acknowledged the board was changing the process, but many said it’s the right thing to do.

“I think the challenge that we’ve come up against, how I perceive it, [is] how does it that we get to be transparent and yet responsive to data and new information and information from the community at the same time," said Trustee Jayme Mathias. 

To remain transparent, the board is still holding a public forum to introduce Cruz and two other finalists to the community before selecting a sole finalist. That forum is scheduled for Saturday, December 13 at Lanier High School. The board will reveal the identifies of the two other finalists on Friday and it could make a final offer as early as next Monday. 

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