ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The Round Rock Independent School District officially named its next superintendent. Dr. Hafedh Azaiez was the school board’s sole finalist last month and will start his role as superintendent July 5.
Azaiez has served as superintendent for Donna Independent School District in the Rio Grande Valley since 2018.
Azaiez was raised in Tunisia in north Africa, he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and chemistry from La Faculte des Sciences de Tunis. He came to the United States to pursue graduate school, earning a master’s of education from the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a doctorate of education in educational leadership from Sam Houston State University, according to the district’s release.
During a Board of Trustees called meeting Monday to discuss the district budget, the lone finalist was met with hostility from Round Rock ISD parents. Many of them called for RRISD to hold off of hiring the new superintendent until public forums could be held.
“I’m just asking you to pump the breaks on hiring. It can be done,” said Leslie Winters, RRISD parent.
“We have the right to ask questions; we have the right to be heard. We have a right to have you address these concerns in public and justify why these concerns are being overlooked,” said another RRISD parent.
“I just request that you not throw money at the wall and hope it sticks,” said another RRISD parent.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in a very divisive year, we’re all here with the exact same view point. There needs to be an open forum,” said an RRISD parent.
No public forum was called, but instead Round Rock ISD trustees voted on a three-year contract valued at $350,000. Some of the trustees did, however, acknowledge their own lack of transparency during the process.
“I’m going to be very honest with you, I’ve expressed to you, the board, privately, I’m going to do it publicly now. I could have done a better job in advocating for more transparency,” said Danielle Weston, Board of Trustees Place 7.
The vote was 5-2, with trustees Dr. Mary Bone and Danielle Weston voting no.
“I value transparency, and I agree we could have done a better job, but we need to move forward,” said Cory Vessa, Place 4 trustee. “We need to move forward, because our district needs a leader.”
Dr. Azaiez was hired on as the superintendent of Donna ISD near McAllen in 2018. The district had been under conservatorship since 2017.
The conservator was brought on as a monitor after an audit in September 2017 revealed financial mismanagement and raised questions about whether or not the district’s top administrators were qualified to do their jobs.
There were years of corruption and mismanagement of district finances prior to Dr. Azaiez’s arrival. He was tasked with cleaning up the district, but RRRISD parents worry he’s unfit to serve his new district accordingly.
“Are you confident he will be able to handle the reins of a school district that is vastly larger and more diverse than Donna ISD,” said one RRISD parent.
KXAN sat down with Dr. Azaiez Tuesday following the extensive board meeting. Dr. Azaiez said he took Donna ISD’s conservatorship as both a challenge and an opportunity.
“I knew what I was getting myself into. I want everyone to know that. I did my homework obviously. I knew it was going to be a very big challenge, but to me I see challenge as an opportunity,” said Dr. Azaiez. “I said, ‘let’s go after it, and let’s get it fixed.’ When I got there in July of 2018, the district had to pass a deficit budget of $5 million. The staff did not get it raised for three years in a row, but by the end of 2018 we were able to end up the year with a surplus of $17 million.”
Azaiez said he even worked to raise teacher salaries from $46,000 to $53,000.
“We didn’t just do financial things. It’s also not like we cut, cut, cut and that cost academics… academics also went up.”
Dr. Azaiez hopes to prove the opinions of others wrong.
“To raise a child, it takes a village. We cannot achieve it if one or two or three of those groups are not working together,” he said. “I will never dismiss their concerns. Anyone has a right to express their concerns… I can only say some of the stuff is a lot of misinformation out there.”
Ultimately, Azaiez said the conservatorship doesn’t define a school district.
“There were some talking about how the conservator is running the district down. The conservator doesn’t run down the district or the ISD. The conservator is there to keep an eye on the governance piece, making sure the board members are really doing their part.”
The district will host opportunities for the communities to meet Dr. Azaiez in July. Round Rock ISD said more information on those events will be shared soon.
The school district said its nationwide search for a new superintendent drew 48 candidates from across Texas and 19 other states.
Former superintendent Dr. Steve Flores resigned in December 2020.