5 questions with Austin ISD's new interim superintendent, Anthony Mays
Anthony Mays starts a new job as interim Austin ISD superintendent Friday, making history as the first Black man to fill that role.
The Huston-Tillotson and Texas State alum started his decades-long career in education as a special education teacher in Pflugerville. He has worked in Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD, and as the senior director of schools for the Harris County Department of Education. Mays is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Downtown and the University of Houston-Lone Star College Kingwood. He joined Austin ISD in October 2020 as chief of schools.
Mays is expected to serve in the interim role until next summer.
He shares his views on the milestone of becoming the first Black man to lead the district, as well as the opportunities and challenges facing AISD.
This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.
Why did you want to become Austin ISD’s interim superintendent?
My interest in the job was really about continuing the work of meeting our student needs, closing the gaps between our students — our Black and Brown students and our white students. We recognize there’s a significant need to, again, address the needs for all of our students. We’ve started that work, and I’m really, really interested in continuing to see that work through.
How do you feel about being the first Black man to lead this district as superintendent?
It’s exciting, but like I always tell people, it’s also pressure-packed. I’m prideful of the fact as a Huston-Tillotson graduate, that I get to represent graduates of Huston-Tillotson as well as the Austin community. I am a byproduct of all the quality educational opportunities that Austin, Texas, has.
I actually got my master's right there at Texas State. So, I’ve been able to benefit from all the opportunities to learn and grow as a student here, so having the opportunity to pour back into the system as the first Black male, it is a significant point of pride. So, I look forward to leveraging the opportunity to serve everybody within the Austin community.
What are the biggest opportunities you see over the next year in this role?
The biggest opportunities that we have, of course, are excitement around student achievement. But, we also get the opportunity to do significant work around our climate and culture. We recognize that in order to get to our students and meet the needs of our students, we have to take care of the adults that we have within our system. We’re looking forward to engaging in that work and trying to, again, take care of our principals, take care of our teachers, take care of our employees so that’s where we are.
I think another ... not so glamorous piece of work is again keeping our schools safe. We’ve had some recent challenges with school shootings [in Texas], and we really want to be able to make sure as our students and families and teachers come to our buildings that they feel safe and can take advantage of that safe environment to learn.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’re expecting?
One of the obstacles that we have, of course, is that we’re done with COVID, but we’re not done with COVID. We get to see the lingering effects of mental health challenges for everybody. So, whether we’re talking about students or the adults — that’s still a challenge, that’s still a real issue for our district.
So, for us, it’s really about how can we take care of our kids, take care of our adults and make sure we have a healthy community. You’d hope that COVID wouldn’t flare up again, but we’ve seen many variations of it, so we recognize that we need to be able to be agile and responsive to the challenges. But, again, it creates an opportunity for us all to work together to make sure this is a healthy ecosystem for everybody.
Austin ISD, like districts across Texas, have lost a lot of teachers. What is your message to educators in the district?
I would encourage our teachers to hang in there. Our students need our teachers. Our students, our community, we need our teachers. For us, we get it, it’s a challenging time everywhere. I think everybody is becoming keenly aware of options outside of education. We actually have other industries poaching teachers and administrators because they have these dynamic skill sets. The same way those other industries want to leverage and take advantage of that, our students absolutely need our teachers pouring into them and our students need to reap the benefits of those talents.