AISD searches for new superintendent


Carey Wooley

Shortly after election day on Nov. 8, interim superintendent Dr. Anthony Mays announced he was leaving AISD for a permanent superintendent position at Alief ISD. Shortly after, the AISD board of trustees announced they would be accepting applications for a new interim superintendent, and announced that finalist on Dec. 15.

Carey Wooley, Print Editor-in-Chief

The past three years, the Austin Independent School district (AISD) has had a spotlight shining on their upper level staff. After three different superintendents and many changes to important board and staff members, many questions about what this means for the district’s future.

Shortly after election day on Nov. 8, interim superintendent Dr. Anthony Mays announced he was leaving AISD for a permanent superintendent position at Alief ISD. Shortly after, the AISD board of trustees announced they would be accepting applications for a new interim superintendent, and announced that finalist on Dec. 15.

“I was really surprised because as an interim, you’re kind of interviewing for the position that you’re holding,” principal Mark Robinson said. “While I know it was his first experience, as acting superintendent in Austin, I think everyone anticipated that he would be interviewing for the job in Austin.”

In 2020 the superintendent of six years at the time, Paul Cruz, stepped down. To fill that position, Stephanie Elizalde was hired, and after less than two years she left the district. While the AISD board of trustees looked for a permanent replacement, Anthony Mays was hired in June of this year.

“I was a little surprised,” senior Lucus Wilcox said. “We’ve gone through two in the past year now. He seemed to be much more well received by all of the teachers than our previous superintendent, so it was just a little shocking.”

Having a superintendent step down and a new individual coming in can be a shock to a district because each new superintendent has their own vision for how they think the district they oversee should operate. Since AISD is such a large district that holds over 100 schools who all have their personal goals, the vision each different superintendent has varies greatly.

“I do hope that with new leadership on the board and new executive leadership, that there is a comprehensive vision for Austin because the schools are all so different,” Robinson said. “I know with Dr. Cruz we operated more independently and Bowie was one of those independent operators in that system. However, when Dr. Elizalde came in; it was very much a shift to a school system instead of a system of schools, and she expected there to be a lot of standardization. In some cases that was beneficial, and in other cases it wasn’t.”

The 21-22 school year was incredibly difficult for AISD as coming back to in person learning after over a year of online classes took a strain on the district. On top of Elizalde leaving the district for a position in Dallas, over 2,000 AISD staffers left as well and several schools shut their doors.

“I think it’s a mess,” Wilcox said. “I mean, we’ve all noticed there’s a lot less teachers and a lot more new teachers coming in, we need stability just so that we can have our set rules and not everything constantly changing things.”

Before Mays announced his departure from the position three new board trustees were elected and another was reelected. All four of these board members are former teachers or have many years of classroom experience. 

“Former teachers on the AISD board will be great because they will provide a new or more detailed outlook on how certain policies are affecting our schools and how they affected their classes specifically,” sophomore Jayden White said.

The way AISD is designed means that the board of trustees are the ones that go over applications and ultimately interview and choose the next superintendent. Since the majority of this board is new and they have this unique knowledge of what it’s like to be a teacher in the classroom, their final decision is not easily predicted.

“The nature of the superintendency is unique in that you are kind of accountable to a board of directors being our Board of Trustees,” Robinson said. “You have this team of individuals that while you don’t directly work for and they’re not necessarily your boss, they are the people who select you for the position and if they don’t think that you’re doing a good job they can release you from your position.”

Each board member represents specific groups of schools throughout AISD. Newly elected board member David Kauffman, represents district seven which is the district Bowie resides in. He started his career as a teacher and has spent 17 years working for AISD as a principal and other executive positions.

“I think it has to help having that classroom experience as a Board of Trustees member and, that having that experience influences your priorities and expectations for the role and the person in that role,” Robinson said. “I do think that since schools are predominantly organizations of teachers and educators, having someone from those ranks, kind of helping us select that next executive leader is going to be a good thing.”

At the newly elected board’s first meeting, where they were seated into their positions, they discussed next steps in the superintendent search. The next several days they spent hearing advice from the community on what AISD truly needs for its next leader.

I Think we need somebody who’s willing to talk to the students and figure out what really needs to happen within the schools.

— Lucus Wilcox, Senior

“I think we need somebody who’s willing to talk to the students and figure out what really needs to happen within the schools, not from just the teachers but also the student body because we are a larger part of this district than they are,” Wilcox said.

On top of a new board of trustees and the changes in superintendent leadership, many other AISD positions were recently filled. Several positions still need to be permanently filled or there is still a search to find someone for that role.

“I definitely think the district will be impacted by all this turnover in the sense that some of the policies all our schools have in place will be changed,” White said. “Enforcing different things our schools might not be used to. The large number of superintendents the district had, has  probably taken quite a toll on it, since it’s had to adjust so much it might be struggling a bit.”

The board of trustees has made it very clear that the applicants they want to look at for the interim superintendent position, need to be individuals that are not interested in filling the permanent position. The board wants someone who will focus on running the district for the rest of the year and not treat the job like an interview for the permanent position. 

“It was always a possibility that Mays would permanently fill the position,” Wilcox said. “In my elementary school, we had an interim vice principal, who we all thought was going to become principal and she didn’t wind up so I was always aware of the possibility that he wouldn’t be, but not necessarily in this way.”

While the district has the interim superintendent fill this position for the next several months, the board will look at a new set of applicants to permanently fill this role, and that person will be announced later this year during the summer.

“I wouldn’t say I was expecting our interim superintendent to step down, but I understand it being a stressful and exhausting position to be in,” White said. “I think a perfect AISD superintendent would be flexible and easily adjustable to change, as well as understanding what certain schools want to have set as far as policies.”

Immediately AISD received many applications from individuals already working at the district and people with positions in districts around the state. AISD is one of the largest districts in the state so competitiveness for the position makes sense but board officials want to make sure they find the perfect fit.

“Austin ISD is definitely a challenge because of its size,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of things that are part of our daily reality that have deep roots in the history of the city. There are a lot of opinions on whether or not the district is too big or cannot be representative of everybody because the neighborhoods in Austin are so unique and each school serves a neighborhood.”

With all the changes in leadership at the top, there is a trickle down effect onto the schools within the district. Since each superintendent has their own vision for how they want the district to operate, the way schools work day to day can be affected as well. Due to AISD’s size each school functions in a slightly different way so each superintendent has to make decisions for the district based on what each school needs.

“Bowie is a great school and I think that will continue,” Robinson said. “I feel like because we’re able to demonstrate that we’re a great school, then people will let us be that. That’s all any superintendent for any school system wants. So, because we’re able to accomplish our goals we get to continue to operate effectively. I don’t think that these changes in leadership necessarily are going to radically change Bowie.”