Austin ISD superintendent finalist Stephanie Elizalde discusses her plans in one-on-one interview

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Stephanie Elizalde, the lone finalist for the position of superintendent for the Austin Independent School District, said she plans to focus on equity, teamwork and connecting with the community when she assumes the leadership role in August.

The AISD Board of Trustees voted to bring Elizalde on board on Tuesday night, with seven trustees voting in favor and two trustees, Jamye Mathias and LaTisha Anderson, abstaining from the vote.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with KXAN’s education reporter Alex Caprariello, Elizalde said she thinks her role as Chief Schools Officer at the Dallas Independent School District — where she has served since 2011 — has prepared her for the challenge of taking over central Texas’ largest school district.

“We work on the next level and continue to ensure that students have an opportunity to be educated in the finest educational setting possible — regardless of what community they live in. So that’s what I’ve dedicated my work to in Dallas,” Elizalde said.

By state law, the board of trustees must wait 21 days before voting on a contract to officially hire Elizalde. The contract will finalize her official start date and salary.

Watch the full interview with Elizalde below:

She says, however, that she plans to get to work well in advance of that board meeting. The board and AISD administration have also indicated a plan to set up a way for Elizalde to engage with the community, but neither have shared those details.

“It is absolutely a part of my entry plan to engage with as many of the stakeholders in our community,” Elizalde said. “I think listening is one of the most important components. I don’t learn anything when I talk. I only learn when I’m listening to other folks.”

When questioned about student equity — a widely-debated topic among AISD administration, teachers, families and community members — Elizalde said she had been closely monitoring the discussions during her time applying for the position.

She said her experience working in Dallas and previously, San Antonio school districts, will benefit the forward-thinking ideals of community groups who want to see widespread success across all sections and school campuses in Austin.

“Equity, I know, is the real big issue or something we want to grapple with in Austin,” Elizalde said. “That is absolutely who I am and how I lead. One of my tenets is ‘Excellence and equity in education for all students.’ So that’s near and dear to my heart.”

Elizalde did not have any specific plans to reveal regarding schooling during a pandemic, but reiterated her philosophy to align every school’s leadership with her parameters and let them create a plan.

Board of Trustees President Geronimo Rodriguez spoke highly of his chosen candidate. He said he was impressed with Elizalde’s understanding of both the legislative process and public school finance. He said she had a proven track record of educational excellence and a determination to ensure district-wide equity.

“She has the backbone and the experience to ensure that we have the right conversations, the right dialogue and helps the board make the right decisions and implements them,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said it was the trustees’ obligation to find a superintendent as quickly as possible. This decision comes despite families, activists and teachers consistent calls to slow down the search.

This process has not been pleasant for people who want open, public engagement to pick the superintendent for their child’s school,” said Cuitlahuac Guerra-Mojarro, an AISD teacher and parent.

Even still, Elizalde said she wants to ease any lingering concerns within the community as quickly as possible.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at (512) 703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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