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Dallas ISD superintendent search focused around district experience, diversity

Dr. Michael Hinojosa, who is resigning, publicly endorsed Susana Cordova to be his replacement. The board picked Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde.

DALLAS — The Dallas ISD board of trustees unanimously approved Dr. Stephanie Elizalde as the lone finalist to be the district’s next superintendent and to run its nearly 150,000 students.

The current Austin ISD superintendent was not the clear public frontrunner from the start, though, and the voted masked debate that went on for months behind the scenes since Dr. Michael Hinojosa announced in the spring he was stepping down.

“That comes with excitement,” board president Ben Mackey said. “That comes with apprehension. That comes with questions.”

Mackey says he’s glad the vote was unanimous, but there were tough decisions to get there.

“There was a lot of open minds and open discussions as we went through this process and having those conversations,” he said.

Hinojosa lobbied for deputy superintendent Susana Cordova to take over for him, making her initially the likely successor. Over the phone Thursday, Cordova, who left a superintendent job at Denver Public Schools to come to Dallas in 2020, said she called Elizalde on Wednesday night to congratulate her.

“There was a lot of speculation and he might have shared his opinions and thoughts, and others may have read into that, but, at the end of the day, the board needed to go through the entire scope of everything,” Mackey said.

Some trustees mentioned Cordova being in the district less than two years compared to Elizalde who worked in the district for roughly a decade before leaving for the top job in Austin. Both in private conversations and in town halls, some trustees shared concerns about Cordova’s outreach to African American communities and schools.

“I’m deeply dedicated to advancing the achievement of all students in Dallas,” Cordova said. “I think my 32-year career has a lot of evidence of that.”

Cordova said Dallas ISD is a special place and she appreciated the opportunity to go through the search process. She added she’s not sure of her next steps but has no plans to leave and said it’s important the district pick someone they believe in.

“That’s our goal is to retain excellent people at all levels in Dallas ISD,” Mackey said. “People will also make their own choices and decisions based on what’s best for them and what their needs are.”

Mackey and other members point to the district moving from 43 failing schools to four while Elizalde was chief of schools as reason for the pick.

“Teachers became teachers because they wanted to make a difference in our student’s lives so we need to talk about wrap around services and supports in the classroom,” Elizalde said in an interview with WFAA on Thursday morning.

Elizalde said she plans to be inclusive and take time to listen to all communities once in charge.

“Board meetings aren’t the only place to participate in our processes and in fact are probably the least effective,” she said. “We need to really work in more community centered engagement opportunities.”

Now, the district now must wait 21 days before signing an agreement, but that’s expected to be finalized in mid-June. Hinojosa has said he’s willing to stay on to help through the end of 2022.

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