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Austin ISD trustees want a transparent, trustworthy superintendent who’s in it for the long haul

Students walk up a staircase in a school
Julia Reihs
KUT News
Austin ISD staff say the district reduced the backlog of special education evaluations by 83% last year.

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The Austin ISD Board of Trustees is putting the finishing touches on the superintendent profile that will guide the board's search for the district’s next leader. But, what exactly is a superintendent profile?

“It’s literally a list of about 10 or 12 characteristics that we are looking for in a superintendent,” School Board President Arati Singh said Thursday.

One of the traits is someone who is able to lead a large organization and work to improve student achievement for all demographic groups. They are also looking for a leader who is transparent, fosters a positive work environment and prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion.

The Austin ISD school board developed this list of qualities with input from district staff, students, families and community members. Trustees have repeatedly emphasized the importance of crafting a profile that is reflective of what the community wants.

GR Recruiting, the search firm the board hired to find a new superintendent, collected feedback through stakeholder meetings and an online survey. Of the 687 people who participated in the online survey, 57% were either the parent, guardian or family member of a current student. Another 41% were Austin ISD staff, with most working at one of the schools in the district.

Survey respondents were asked to name the top three issues the new superintendent should prioritize once hired. Far and away the top issue was staff recruitment and retention, followed by school funding, teacher quality and special education services.

Gloria Davis, with GR Recruiting, broke down the traits survey respondents want to see in the district’s next leader from effective communication skills to a commitment to transparency.

“A superintendent that will be able to support and emphasize all of the great things that are going on in the district as well as across the community,” she said during a special board meeting on Wednesday. “A trusted leader. The word trust came up often.”

Sixty percent of survey participants also said it was very important for the next superintendent to be well-versed in best practices for diversity, equity and inclusion. Similar themes emerged in stakeholder meetings with campus administrators, teachers, parents and community members.

“They wanted someone who could demonstrate real leadership in understanding equity, inclusion and diversity,” said Robert Alfaro, who is also with GR Recruiting.

Austin ISD

Another seemingly universal concern was finding a candidate who is in it for the long haul, especially after Austin ISD has seen turnover in its top position in recent years. In the last year, alone, the district has had three different leaders. Former Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde announced her resignation in June. She was replaced by Interim Superintendent Anthony Mays, who left at the end of 2022 to head Alief ISD in Houston. In January, Chief of Operations Matias Segura took over as interim superintendent.

The Austin ISD school board got more feedback on what to look for on Thursday night. Members of Education Austin, a union representing AISD employees, shared the most important qualities they’re hoping to see in a new superintendent.

“I want a superintendent that supports a sustainable workload for not just me but also classified employees,” said Gracie Hopkins, a dual language teacher at Perez Elementary.

Becker Elementary P.E. teacher Megan Vasquez praised the draft profile and said it mirrored what she would like to see in a new superintendent, such as finding a leader who is transparent, prioritizes inclusivity and is dedicated to the district, especially as it deals with staffing shortages.

“We need someone who will increase staff retention and morale and lead us to a brighter future — a future where all staff can afford to call the city we work in ‘home,’” she said. “And a place that will prepare our students for a joyful life beyond graduation.”

Austin ISD

The Austin ISD school board is going to vote on a final version of the superintendent profile on Saturday. There is still an opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the profile. Anyone who wants to sign up to speak in person or record their testimony in advance can call 512-414-0130 between 7:45 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Friday.

Once the superintendent profile is finalized, the school board can begin accepting applications for the position. The application is tentatively scheduled to remain open until April 20. The board is aiming to hire someone by the end of May. GR Recruiting recommends the base salary for the position should be $350,000 or $360,000 to be competitive for the 2023-2024 school year.

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