The radio program Texas Standard this week conducted an interview with the executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators Kevin Brown about the number of school district superintendents who have “thrown in the towel” of late. Among them are Dallas ISD’s Michael Hinojosa and Richardson ISD’s Jeannie Stone.
The resignations — broadly speaking — reportedly result from weariness related to all things COVID-19 and its effect on the public school universe as well as increasing conflict and polarizing politicization of pandemic precautions.
“Some school board meetings have even become contentious,” the statewide media outlet reported. That contention at RISD also was related to disagreements about not only mask mandates and vaccines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but also DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and SEL (social emotional learning) components of the curriculum. Both Stone and erstwhile board president Karen Clardy quit amid a hail of parents’ verbal and keyboard gunfire.
“That’s not every community by any means. And it’s certainly not every community member, every parent,” Brown tells the Standard. “I think the vast majority of folks really do want their schools to be successful, and they’re trying to be supportive in every way possible.”
But he surmises that national politics that have “percolated down to the local level” have “taken a toll.”
He notes that school administrators and educators desire and encourage parental involvement, but in a civil manner and with the “best of intent.”
Instead, across the state, he’s seen small and vocal groups of parents becoming “unhinged.”
“I mean, we’ve had marches in front of superintendents’ homes, we’ve had threats of violence,” he told reporters. “And then, you know, board meetings that just become overwhelmed with very personal attacks, very high negativity.”
In Hinojosa’s case, it’s not the first time the Oak Cliff native has resigned from this post, and he did so amid rumors that he might run for a political office such as mayor. He told WFAA he needs to “just land this plane” for now, and he might talk about that later.
He told reporters he is aware of the culture battles and understands that they are beating down many of his fellow educators and leaders. But, he says that does not apply in his case.
“I have friends that tell me this job — they didn’t sign up for this. Those of us that have fought urban battles, we know we’ve been having this forever. But now that they’re creeping into the suburbs and other areas, it is wearing people down. And in Dallas County, we have a lot of vacancies for superintendent right now.”
He says that in his case those battles are “absolutely not” the cause for his departure.
To be clear, it is not only in Dallas County that the rate of superintendent turnover is exceptionally high right now. There are 60 vacancies Texas-wide as of the newscast Wednesday, and Brown expects more are coming.
Brown explained what his organization is doing to help replenish the stock of school-district overseers.
“Part of what our organization does is try to create a pipeline of leaders, and we have an aspiring superintendent academy and we work quite extensively with young leaders that are coming up.”
” … what we’re hearing from young, promising leaders is, I just don’t know if I want to put myself and my family through that. I see what my superintendent deals with, I see what’s going on right now, you know, I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to take my life.”
So, with all the vacant spots around the state, and more to come, how does a district such as, say, Richardson ISD or Dallas, attract a stellar super.
Brown says communities with solid school boards that work collaboratively with one another have a huge leg up.
“Superintendents want to work in a team of eight, seven school board members and a superintendent who can work collaboratively, think about what’s right for children, make decisions that are best for everybody and avoid some of these wedge issues that we’re seeing in our country today,” he says.
Richardson ISD, for one, likely will travel a bumpy journey to securing a new superintendent, one that could come down to a May election.
In 2020, DISD hired Denver’s Superintendent, Susana Cordova, to be Dallas ISD’s Deputy Chief. Some speculate she was hired to be the next superintendent.)