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Austin ISD needs a new interim superintendent. This will be AISD's third leader in less than a year.

Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mays greets students on the first day of school at Zilker Elementary School.
Renee Dominguez
/
KUT
Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Anthony Mays greets students on the first day of school at Zilker Elementary School. Mays announced his resignation last week.

The Austin ISD school board said it wants to name a new interim superintendent Dec. 15 as it continues the search for a permanent leader.

“We are inviting applicants both internal and external to Austin ISD, and we are seeking applicants to serve solely in the role of interim — not people who might wish to fill the permanent superintendent role,” outgoing School Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said in a statement on behalf of the current and incoming trustees.`

An application for the position will be posted by Nov. 17.

The trustees, who met Tuesday night to figure out a game plan, said they will hold a short series of listening sessions before hiring someone for the temporary role.

Anthony Mays announced he was leaving AISD two days after the Nov. 8 election in which voters approved the district’s historic $2.44 billion bond and elected four new members to the AISD board.

In a statement last week, Mays said he was thankful for the opportunity to lead the Central Texas district.

“It has been an honor and a privilege that brought me joy daily,” he said.

He starts his new job as superintendent of Alief ISD in Houston on Jan. 3.

From interim to permanent

Incoming Trustee Candace Hunter, who will represent District 1, said she wants to find an interim superintendent who can competently steer the district through the rest of the school year.

“We just want them focused on the job, right? We don’t want them trying to impress us with their skills and 'Hey, you can hire me later!’” she said.

Hunter said even though hiring the right person for the interim role is important, her primary focus is finding a permanent superintendent.

“For myself, when it comes to who’s going to help us get back on track, that’s where I want my energy,” she said.

The school board will begin working on the process for hiring a permanent superintendent after the new trustees are seated Dec. 1. The first step is to find a search firm to identify candidates. They hope to hire a new superintendent who can begin working by July 1.

Turnover at the top

When all is said and done, Austin ISD is poised to have at least four different superintendents in the span of three years.

Mays, who was the former chief of schools, got the interim job this past summer. He replaced Stephanie Elizalde, who returned to Dallas ISD, after serving as AISD’s superintendent from August 2020 to June 2022.

Elizalde took over the role at a tumultuous time for the district. Not only was Austin ISD confronting the unprecedented disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also navigating the closures of four campuses: Pease, Metz, Sims and Brooke elementary schools. She replaced Superintendent Paul Cruz. His administration had initiated the school closure plan in 2019, citing budgetary constraints tied to declining student enrollment.

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz announces his resignation in February.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz announces his resignation in February 2020. He took a position as co-director of the Cooperative Superintendency Program in UT's College of Education.

Cruz led Austin ISD for six years. The board made him the interim superintendent in 2014 before hiring him for the permanent job the following year. Cruz announced in February 2020 he would be resigning to become the co-director of the Cooperative Superintendency Program in the College of Education at UT Austin where he helps educate future superintendents.

According to Cruz, superintendents normally last only two to three years in school districts as big as Austin ISD — one of the largest in Texas. He said there are many reasons individuals leave the position, but it is especially challenging when the superintendent and the community are not on the same page.

“I think that that is something that’s always really important in the superintendency — really in any job — but it is about the fit,” he said.

Cruz said if superintendents are seeking longevity in the role they need to get to know the communities in which they’ll be working.

“Many times the superintendent is up there speaking in front of crowds and groups and that is important,” he said. “But I think that, stepping into the role, it is really about listening and learning about the community, listening and learning about community expectations, and making sure that there’s sort of that mutual expectation and support that can work together.”

Cruz also attributes some of the turnover at the top of Austin ISD to the pandemic.

“I think that was ... a very different experience that came with many, many challenges. And not for just the superintendent," he said, "for families, for teachers, for principals."

The new interim superintendent, and eventually the permanent one, will be taking over while school districts continue to confront a teacher shortage and the effects of the pandemic. But, Cruz said, anyone taking on the leadership role in Austin needs to understand what makes it unique.

“There’s a community out there that’s really invested in our school system and that’s a strength,” he said.

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Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at rfogel@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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