Dallas school trustees are expected to name a finalist for the superintendent job tonight, capping off a national search for the district’s next leader.
The 145,000-student district is seeking a new chief to replace longtime superintendent Michael Hinojosa.
But if someone is named tonight, the district reins won’t be handed over right away. Texas requires trustees to wait 21 days after naming a finalist or finalists before officially hiring a new superintendent.
Texas law allows districts to keep their superintendent searches private, protecting the identities of the candidates. School boards typically only announce one finalist.
“We are in a great place,” trustee Dan Micciche said. “We are choosing among superstar candidates. I expect that the board will make a decision tonight.”
At times fractured, the board’s search got off to a fraught start. Trustees initially planned to use two search firms for the job. One quickly dropped out, leaving Austin-based Walsh Gallegos as the sole firm working with the district.
The trustees were also divided over applicant qualifications, including how important it was that the next superintendent have multilingual skills. Roughly 45% of DISD students are non-native English speakers.
Despite that, the board needed to move quickly to select the district’s next leader, particularly as many other Texas districts were competing for new leaders as well. DISD trustees wanted to have someone in place by June, well ahead of the next school year.
Hinojosa — who some have speculated is planning a mayoral run — said in April that the district’s next leader needs to be someone with years left to devote to the district.
“One of the things that has helped me be a superintendent – especially in Dallas – is that I was a basketball referee for seven years. Somebody is always yelling at you,” he said. “You gotta have a thick skin. You can’t just succumb to the power of the minority or someone throwing bombs at you and you lose your courage.”
The next superintendent will be tasked with deciding how to either adjust or expand some of DISD’s signature initiatives, including the teacher pay-for-performance system, the turnaround school model and an emphasis on early college programming. Officials have long said they will lean in on some of these efforts as they help kids recover from COVID-19 disruptions.
The person will also have to work with a massive budget, bolstered by federal pandemic aid that will likely expire on their watch. That means hard decisions loom on how to continue funding the district’s approaches to combating learning loss, specifically with enhanced tutoring and a longer school year.
And he or she will be under pressure to make a difference in the persistent academic gaps between Black students and their peers, a major focus of the district as it trumpets racial equity efforts.
The district’s next leader will also have a powerful voice in Austin during the upcoming legislative session. Hinojosa was often an outspoken advocate for students’ and urban school districts’ needs. He helped shape state policy around school finance reform and was unafraid to call out state leaders he disagreed with, frequently sparring with the governor and attorney general over COVID protocols.
The Legislature will likely take up several contentious issues related to public education, fueled by Republican frenzies over culture war issues. Among DISD’s priorities is batting down any school voucher-like proposals that would funnel state money away from public campuses.
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