Leaders in the Austin Independent School District want to know what kind of leader they should hire to run the 86,000 student school district and they're asking for the public's input. The district is holding a series of public input meetings this week starting Tuesday. The forums are part of the school board’s plan to have a more open search process. When the district hired former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen in 2009, she was unveiled as the sole finalist. The move upset some people in the community who thought the process lacked transparency.
This time, the district will initially interview candidates in a closed search. After it identifies two to four finalists, it will introduce them to the public. Community groups, parents and stakeholders will then have a chance to provide feedback on the finalists. But before all that happens, the district wants to hear from the community about what kind of finalists they should be looking for in the first place so it can create a profile once it starts accepting applicants.
“If at any point in time either through the website, surveys, or meetings we’re having, if you have input, we want to hear from you," said Vincent Torres, AISD School Board President. "We want this to be a process the community is comfortable with and if you’re not, we would like to know why and address those concerns.”
The district will host daytime forums Tuesday, July 15 through Thursday, July 17 at the Baker Center, 3908 Avenue B, from noon–1:30 p.m.
Evening forums will be hosted simultaneously from 6:30–8 p.m. at the following schools:
Tuesday, July 15
- Bowie High School, 4103 W. Slaughter Lane
- Reagan High School, 7104 Berkman Drive
- Summitt Elementary School, 12207 Brigadoon Lane; Vietnamese interpretation provided
- Travis High School, 1211 E. Oltorf St.; will include a Spanish presentation
Wednesday, July 16
- Crockett High School, 5601 Manchaca Road
- Eastside Memorial High School, 1012 Arthur Stiles Road; will include a Spanish presentation
- Lanier High School, 1201 Payton Gin Road
- McCallum High School, 5600 Sunshine Drive
Thursday, July 17
- Akins High School, 10701 S. First St.; will include a Spanish presentation
- Anderson High School, 8403 Mesa Drive
- Austin High School, 1715 W. Cesar Chavez St.
- LBJ Early College High School, 7309 Lazy Creek Drive
The new, more open approach isn't surprising. Since the school board welcomed four new members two years ago, community engagement has been the focus. But some people were concerned the open process might deter qualified candidates from applying because it could cause issues in their current school district.
Ken Zarifis, who heads the local teachers union, Education Austin, isn’t one of those people. He says candidates who are open to this kind of search process are the kinds of people who will fit in with the community:
“We want transparency," Zarifis says. "We want process and we want persons to actually work with our community and you can’t do that behind closed doors. It has to be open. So someone who wouldn’t want to be part of that process isn’t someone who will work well with Austin ultimately.”
The district has hired a private company, Ray and Associates, to help with the search. School board members say they'd like to identify one person by October or November so they will be on board during the next legislative session.
But that time frame also coincides with the next round of school board elections. While the current school board will most likely identify the final candidate, the school board that officially hires that person could be very different. Five seats are up for election this fall and three current school board members have already said they will not run for re-election.