Joseph Armstrong’s twins won’t enroll in kindergarten at Yale Elementary until next fall, but he says he is ready now to serve as a Richardson ISD trustee. The youth-pastor-turned-construction-company-president is married to an RISD teacher and says they’ve had years of “dinner table discussions” about education and youth. Wife Julie taught at Forest Ridge Elementary then coached math at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Lake Highlands. She now splits time between Dobie Primary and Spring Valley.
Armstrong is running for Place 3 on the school board, the spot vacated by Kris Oliver, retiring to permit his daughter to apply for a teaching job with RISD. I asked Armstrong why the district’s nepotism rule applied to Oliver, but not him.
“The way the RISD nepotism rule works is that you can go in one order, but not the other. Kris Oliver’s daughter could not get a job for the district [if he stayed] because he would, in a sense, be hiring her indirectly. But if the employee is already working there, then that goes away.”
Armstrong says he realizes being married to an RISD educator adds a layer of complication, but he considers that a plus.
“I’ve thought about this, and there is good and bad that comes with it. You could have friends that say, ‘you need to tell your wife such-and-such.’ But I think as long as it’s handled correctly, it’s an advantage. You can get multiple perspectives. You get the perspectives of the people in the trenches, doing the work. I see it as a plus, as long as it’s managed properly. I’m familiar with the workings of RISD and the complications that come along with that.”
Armstrong says the educators in his life give him a unique world view.
“My wife is a third generation educator – her mom was a kindergarten teacher for 30 years, her dad was a superintendent and her grandfather was a superintendent and has a school named after him in Eastland, Texas. My mom works for a superintendent in Terrell, Texas, so I’ve got a lot of peripheral knowledge of the education world, just from sitting around the dinner table.”
Armstrong is now president of Team North Texas Construction, a firm founded by his dad in 2000, but he spent ten years as a youth pastor, the last at Spring Valley United Methodist Church.
“I had kids from all four RISD high schools and numerous middle schools, and interacting with them and their parents on a weekly basis, I have a pretty good working knowledge of education in general and the district specifically.”
I asked if he was running with an agenda to make changes in RISD.
“Since I left formal ministry, I’ve been looking for a place to plug in. I don’t have an agenda. It’s not like I’m coming into a district that’s in disarray. But I am coming in to provide the most benefit I can to the families who live here, and that may mean challenging things. One of my passions is influencing legislation. Some may say, ‘you’ll be busy enough with your board duties. Do your job.’ But I’ve heard the superintendent say, ‘I want my board involved. The board can have more influence than I can.’ So, my agenda is to sharpen and improve what’s going on.”
Armstrong says he and his wife have valued their connections to Lake Highlands over the years, including friends at CDC, the RISD childhood development center for teachers’ children at Lake Highlands Elementary where their twins attended, friends at Thurgood Marshall, where she taught, and friends at Shady’s Burgers and Brews, his company’s latest construction project.
“Even though we don’t live in Lake Highlands, I feel like those relationships provide a good avenue for me to hear what’s going on.”
Through those connections, Armstrong says he has kept track of “hot button” issues in LH, like overcrowding at White Rock Elementary and other LH schools.
“I can see my role being to study at first,” Armstrong says. “Representing the children and families and just talking to folks to learn more.”
In Place 7, LH resident Lynn Davenport recently filed to challenge incumbent Dr. Kristin Kuhne. In Place 6, Justin Bono is now unopposed after Shelby Eidson withdrew from the race.
The RISD school board election will be held May 6. The deadline to enter the race is March 6. If you plan to run, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.