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Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz announces resignation for job at UT Austin

The superintendent made the announcement in a letter to the Austin ISD family on Wednesday.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz will be leaving the district to pursue a role at the University of Texas at Austin, according to a letter he released to the Austin ISD family on Wednesday.

Dr. Cruz said serving the district in this role for six years has been "the most exciting, inspiring and rewarding experience."

As he transitions to his new role, he said he will work with the school board to "ensure the continuation of this important work and the fulfillment of our responsibilities."

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees said it will complete the search for a replacement no later than Aug. 31, 2020.

Community members wishing to give input on what they want to see in a superintendent can complete anonymous online surveys.

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You can read the letter at the end of this article. 

A new role

According to the University of Texas, Cruz will join the staff as a professor of practice in the Cooperative Superintendency Program (CSP) in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. 

“Since first graduating from UT and becoming a teacher, Dr. Cruz has gone on to both continue his education to the doctoral level here at the College of Education and to serve our public schools in Texas as an outstanding leader,” said Dean Charles R. Martinez Jr. “I have enjoyed collaborating with him on developing a shared research-practice partnership between UT and AISD, and know this work will continue well into the future. Dr. Cruz’s commitment to public schools is unwavering, and the college and our students are extremely fortunate to have his talent and experience as he joins our faculty.”

He will serve as co-director of the program, along with Ruben Olivarez, in a non-tenure track position. The position begins in the fall.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to work at The University of Texas at Austin,” said Cruz. "From parent to teacher to superintendent, I look forward to bringing my real-world experience to the university to work alongside world-class professors and faculty and inspire future superintendents and district leaders. The eyes of Texas will be upon them as they prepare to embark on their own journeys to serve students and families across our state and nation.”

Teachers union reacts

The news of his resignation from AISD came as a surprise to the teachers union, Education Austin. President Ken Zarifis said he met with Cruz on Tuesday at AISD headquarters and had no indication the resignation was imminent. 

"It's just an enormous surprise," Zarifis said. "I didn't see this coming at all." 

When Cruz joined AISD in 2015, Zarifis said he came at a time of difficult transition from the previous administration.

"He's been very willing to engage with labor, really put a value on relationships and building those relationships, engaging in pay increases for all employees and working with us on compensation through professional pathways for teachers," Zarifis said. 

The union sees the resignation as an opportunity to move directions, or add to the vision of the district. 

"I think the number one direction that this district needs to go is in viewing everything they do through an equity lens," Zarifis said. "I think that we have to look to an equity lens as opposed to a budgetary lens, because we need to make decisions on our budget based on equity and what's best for our kids that have less."

Cruz faced criticism in 2017 from Education Austin when leaders didn't believe he was doing enough to protect undocumented students from ICE raids. 

Controversy also swirled in the community most recently when the district decided to close four schools, citing shrinking enrollment and budgetary concerns. 

"We want the next person coming in to stop, listen and build trust. It's the number one thing a leader can do is to build trust among the people that are looking to him or her," Zarifis said.

Cruz began his education career in 1987. He has worked as a teacher, campus administrator, central office administrator and superintendent in Corpus Christi, San Antonio and South Texas.

"I'm not sure that this decision particularly immediately makes a big impact on the students and families," Zarifis said. "A student relies on the teacher. The teachers are going to school tomorrow. They're going to teach them and the kids won't know anything different. Really, this is about more structural change and visionary change that could impact the future."

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Cruz letter to AISD 

"Dear Austin ISD Family,

After long and careful consideration, I want you to be the first to know that I have accepted a position with The University of Texas at Austin. As a result, I intend to resign my position as superintendent. Serving as superintendent of schools for six years alongside each and every one of you, in one of the best urban school districts in the nation, has been the most exciting, inspiring and rewarding experience for me.

I love Austin ISD! Thank you for embracing my family, for educating my children, and for entrusting me with leading our strategic efforts. It has truly been an honor to serve as superintendent of Austin’s dynamic and high-performing school district.

Our board members work so hard for our students and families and I thank them for their dedication and commitment to our mission. I know the essential work will continue with their leadership. As I transition to my new role with UT, I will collaborate with our board to ensure the continuation of this important work and the fulfillment of our responsibilities.

It has been an honor to have collaborated with such an amazing and dedicated team for whom I have the utmost respect. I am proud to recognize that together we worked to develop strong programming for our 81,000 students to ensure they are better prepared for college, career and life. We also recently worked to provide the largest pay increase in the history of our district to our teachers and staff. Our work on the implementation of the $1.05 billion bond to build modernized schools is ongoing. I can confidently say that, as a team, we have transformed the urban school experience – one cutting-edge initiative at a time.

As a parent and a team member in Austin ISD, I have many fond memories of my experience during my 14 years of service. I will look back on the insightful conversations I’ve had with students as I visited our exceptional schools, and the shared accomplishments with all of you throughout the district and with current and former board members. I am humbled by the trust you have placed in me as superintendent and by the opportunity to serve our students, staff and families.

Thank you"

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