Members of five grassroots organizations supporting equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in Richardson ISD aren’t sure if district trustees plan to hire a superintendent to replace Dr. Jeannie Stone before the May election, but they’re not waiting around to find out. Reps from RISD Families for Equity, Families United for Student Safety, Lake Highlands Area Moms and More Against Racism, Compassionate DFW and Richardson Interfaith Alliance have collaborated to craft a letter urging trustees to wait until a replacement for Karen Clardy can elected to the board. More than 50,000 residents live in District 5 surrounding Lake Highlands High School, and hiring a superintendent while they have no representation on the board would be “unethical,” the groups say.
You may read the full text of their letter to the board below.
Ellen Kimbrough Alexandrakis founded Richardson ISD Families for Equity, a group of concerned families, RISD staff, and community members who want equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) to be prioritized for the district. They believe in the equity initiatives implemented by Stone, and they want to see them continued.
“After Dr. Stone resigned, everything seemed to be happening so quickly – and not transparently,” says Alexandrakis. “That was concerning to my group. Our concern is that the board would make a decision as important as who the next superintendent will be without having a full board present. We want to ensure there’s full representation on the board to make this important decision.”
Karen Clardy resigned as trustee for District 5 after several particularly contentious board meetings. Some members of the current board were on a mission to oust Dr. Stone, she says, and Clardy didn’t want to be “part of the board responsible for pushing her out as superintendent.”
The board announced Stone’s departure a few weeks later.
Making a hasty decision now and excluding Lake Highlands in the process would be a mistake, Alexandrakis says, especially since the RISD community is already deeply divided.
“We need some time to rebuild confidence and trust in one another – specifically our school board and school officials. The community is up in arms right now. It’s been a hard couple of years.”
The five organizations which worked together to compose the letter are diverse in their membership and missions, but they’re united in support of equity programs in the majority-minority RISD. About 39% of district students are Hispanic, about 29% are white and about 22% are African American.
“What really holds us together is our desire to continue the equity, diversity and inclusion work that’s already been started,” Alexandrakis says. “Dr. Stone was a magnificent leader, and she brought to the forefront something that most school districts in Texas wouldn’t dare touch. Our group wants to continue and expand that, but we also want to ensure that all voices are included.”
Alexandrakis is an adjunct professor at SMU finishing her doctorate in educational leadership and policy, a former elementary school assistant principal and the parent of a Brentfield Elementary student. She believes the process of selecting a superintendent should roll out in three phases. After the election, the new board would spend the summer setting out their board goals as a group. In the fall, they’d gather community stakeholders and focus groups to provide input for the search firm to create criteria for an ideal candidate. Naming a candidate would happen in the final phase.
Alexandrakis says the five groups came together to speak up now because of rumors the board might act before the May election.
“This cannot be a rushed decision – it’s too important. Our board has made some decisions in the past hastily and without community input. That’s why we’re sending the message strongly that we expect this to be a transparent process with the community involved,” Alexandrakis says. “This process is as much about bringing the community together as it is about naming our next superintendent. We can’t survive with the conditions our community is currently in. This is not sustainable. We need to take some time, let some wounds heal and figure out where we can agree. We have to move forward in a way that honors every child, and that means we have to respect equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Even groups which have been vocal in opposing EDI measures agree that RISD should hold off on hiring a superintendent.
“Everyone’s in agreement here,” says Brandon Walls, an RISD parent and member of Richardson ISD Families First. “A lot of folks in the district, a lot of parents and taxpayers, are concerned about the trajectory of where things are headed. Obviously, the superintendent role is absolutely critical, so we believe the parents and taxpayers should be able to use their voices in the election. We believe we should wait for a full board.”
Tonight’s board agenda includes a closed-door evaluation of interim superintendent Tabitha Branum and discussion of the timeline for selecting a permanent superintendent. Board president Regina Harris believes trustees will agree, though, to delay a new hire until after the election.
“We have not made any decisions yet, but we will begin to have those discussions Monday. I think I can speak on behalf of the board that it would not make sense to start any serious search prior to having a full board, so prior to the May election. What we’ll probably discuss in closed session is a timeline and what the steps are, because, if you look at the current board, none of us have ever conducted a search except Eron (Linn).”
The average tenure of the current board is 2.2 years.
“The consensus is to wait, and I’ve heard from both sides,” says Harris. “We’ll keep the community updated on what we intend to do and be very open about the process.”
JOINT STATEMENT FROM RICHARDSON ISD FAMILIES FOR EQUITY,
THE RICHARDSON CHAPTER OF FAMILIES UNITED FOR STUDENT SAFETY,
RICHARDSON INTERFAITH ALLIANCE
LAKE HIGHLANDS AREA MOMS AND MORE AGAINST RACISM
RICHARDSON ISD SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH
As equity leaders representing the community’s families, residents and supporters, as well as Richardson ISD employees, we the undersigned propose that the RISD Board of Trustees postpone beginning the search for a new superintendent until the Board has full representation. Currently, District 5, which encompasses approximately 50,000 residents, is not represented. This position should be filled before any search commences. Doing otherwise would be unethical.
In addition to ensuring full District voice in the selection, we respectfully request the Board spend the summer of 2022 creating key stakeholder committees of RISD families and teachers for the purpose of establishing key criteria in selecting the next superintendent. We would like for the 2022-2023 school year to be spent carefully considering diverse applicants from a broad, national pool of highly qualified individuals. Our organizations have faith that Tabitha Branum, a 25-year veteran of public education, can lead the district as our interim superintendent both through the end of this school year and through the next.
The community expects transparency, including consistent communication to all stakeholders during the process of selecting the next RISD Superintendent. We expect this Board to prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in its search and make clear how they intend to continue the EDI efforts already in place.
Thank you for your service, and we look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to ensure all voices are included in this very important decision.
RISD Families for Equity Advisory Committee
David Tyson, Jr., Honorary Member
Ellen Kimbrough Alexandrakis, Chair
Kennedy Everett Fulbright
Families United for Student Safety (RISD Chapter)
Lake Highlands Area Moms and More Against Racism Board Members
Denita Jones, President
Jessica Lucas, Director of Programs
Sarah McMenamin, Director of Communications
Compassionate DFW Executive Committee
Charles Barker, M.D., Chair
The Reverend Thomas Gibbons, Vice Chair
Conoly Barker, Secretary
Ron Bemis, Treasurer
Richardson Interfaith Alliance
Niranjan Hanumanna, Chair