5 questions with Austin ISD’s new superintendent, Matias Segura
About one year after Matias Segura became the Austin Independent School District's interim superintendent, he now has the permanent job. The school board unanimously voted last week to appoint him to the role.
Austin ISD has not had a permanent superintendent for about 18 months. Segura took over for the previous interim superintendent, Anthony Mays. Mays had replaced Stephanie Elizalde, who left on June 30, 2022, to head Dallas ISD.
According to the contract Segura signed, his annual base salary will be $362,250. His salary is on par with other superintendents in large Texas school districts. Segura’s contract runs through Aug. 31, 2028, which school board members have said offers an opportunity for stability in the years ahead.
“We have great faith in Mr. Segura’s commitment to Austin ISD and in his ability to work with our board and community to celebrate and strengthen the district we love,” Austin ISD Trustees said in a statement.
Segura is not only committed to the district, but he is a product of it. His mother was an Austin ISD teacher for decades. He went to Kocurek Elementary School, Covington Middle School and graduated from Bowie High School.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Austin ISD was facing a $52 million deficit after the school board approved a budget last summer that included a more aggressive compensation package. Where does the deficit stand now and how could it impact the next budget cycle?
Last year, when we pursued the budget for this year, we felt like we needed to invest in our staff — we needed to take a meaningful step in ensuring that, over a period of time, the folks that support AISD have the opportunity to live in the community they serve. So, we made that commitment. We saw a significant impact of that decision. We saw attrition in Title 1 schools go down by 11%, our vacancy rate is way down, and it really helped us make some really key changes over the last several months.
So, as we move into this coming budget cycle, we recognize that we started out with a $50 million deficit, and $50 million is a significant amount. But, it's not one that we felt we couldn't manage and, to date, we've been able to reduce that number to about $30 million.
As we move forward, compensation is going to continue to be something that we look at. ... The other thing that I tell folks is that we have to make sure that our budget aligns with our values. So, you're going to see alignment with special education. You're going to see alignment with mental health. You're going to see alignment in those areas of focus for the district.
Austin ISD must make state-ordered changes to improve special education services, which includes reducing the backlog of evaluations within specified timeframes. As AISD exceeds its targets for completing overdue evaluations, what types of resources will the district need to provide services to students who are legally entitled to them?
The first thing that we did was we actually added 50 additional special education teacher positions, recognizing that we were going to have additional students identified as needing different supports as we get through the evaluation backlog. We also offered a $7,000 stipend to help attract folks to work in the Special Education Department. And, we've had success, but generally speaking, these are difficult roles to fill.
So we know that moving forward we’re going to have to take additional steps. We don’t know if it will be an adjustment to the stipend or if it will be an adjustment to the overall compensation. We do know that the things we’ve done have made an impact, but we haven’t been able to fill all positions. We also know the evaluation backlog is continuing to go down, so we’re going to continue to have to predict where in the organization we’re going to have to allocate resources and staff in order to support our students.
What steps has Austin ISD taken besides increasing compensation this year, to recruit and retain staff? Is there an effort to make workloads more manageable so people want to continue working here?
Last spring, we took on an initiative we called "strategic abandonment," and the whole idea was, "Let’s figure out what we added to teachers’ plates over the last five or 10 years." What we found was there were all these asks teachers were facing from different departments. So, we went through and systematically began to remove things. In our opinion, that begins to move some of that work and create more of a balanced workload, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be.
We have to continue to address the things that are taking time from the educational experience in the classroom. I do not want teachers worrying about whether the HVAC system is going to run. I don’t want teachers worrying about whether they have the resources to support the students that they’re serving. I don’t want our teachers to worry about whether they’re safe. So, one of the key objectives of this organization is to remove all of that so the relationship between the educator and our students is strong.
The way most Austin ISD families interact with the district is through their local campus. How do you try to set the tone as superintendent for the organization’s overall culture?
I love spending time on campuses, and I learn so much. I never want to create an environment where our community can’t engage with me, so you’ve seen us taking the approach of being super transparent. And there’s a reason for that. It’s not only to be transparent for transparency’s sake but also to communicate that the focus of the superintendent needs to be aligned with our values. You should see that reflected in everything I do, including my calendar. I let everybody know where I’m going to be every single week. ... It’s modeling, it’s being available, it’s engaging with community wherever community is.
As an Austin ISD graduate, what was your experience like as a student, and do you have a message for current students?
I went through elementary school, middle school and high school here at Austin ISD — I mean every single grade. And, I struggled along the way. My mom, who taught here for 42 years, took care of me but so did a lot of other folks. It was my coaches, it was teachers, it was custodians who took care of me after school when I would come and hang out in my mom’s classrooms. Each of these individuals had a meaningful impact on my educational experience.
And, I wasn’t the best student, I mean I really struggled along the way. So I want our students to know it’s OK, and we want you to be you. I want you to feel comfortable in your own skin. I want you to be supported and know that we as an organization do everything possible to ensure that you have what you need to be successful. At the end of the day, when you leave AISD, you’re doing incredible things, you’re a great human, and we love you. That is the goal, and I think if we do that well, outcomes will be there.