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Carstarphen Out, Cruz In

Austin ISD picks chief schools officer Paul Cruz as interim super

By Richard Whittaker, 12:47PM, Wed. Apr. 16

Meet the new boss: Austin ISD trustees selected Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz as the interim superintendent while they search for a permanent replacement to outgoing Superintendent Meria Carstarphen
Meet the new boss: Austin ISD trustees selected Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz as the interim superintendent while they search for a permanent replacement to outgoing Superintendent Meria Carstarphen

There was no white smoke sighted over the Carruth Administration Center last night, but there's a new boss in town. Sort of. After trustees accepted departing Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s resignation, the board voted to appoint Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz as her interim replacement.

A South Texas native and a graduate of UT with a PhD in Educational Leadership, Cruz has been a regular face around AISD since 2006, when he was hired as Assistant Superintendent for Education Support Services under then-Superintendent Pat Forgione. A year later, he was promoted to become Associate Superintendent for Middle Schools. In 2009, as part of her redesigned cabinet, Carstarphen appointed him as the district’s chief academic administrator and head of instructional support services.

However, this isn't his first superintendency: From 1998 to 2002, Cruz held the top post in Laredo ISD. Aside from a brief stint in Kansas City, MO, his entire educational career has been spent in Texas, with posts in Round Rock and San Benito.

He's has also had two runs in the Texas Education Agency – from 1993 to 1995 in the accountability and development divisions, then returning in 2002 from Laredo to become deputy commissioner for dropout prevention and initiatives.

His selection comes after days of buzz that he was the prime choice, and comes with public support from groups as diverse as Education Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. By contrast to Carstarphen’s notoriously abrasive managerial style, Cruz is often seen as being far more conciliatory and willing to listen.

Internally, the question for many administrators will probably be whether he will dispense with the interminable meetings after meetings – often so many that they prevented people from actually doing their jobs – that were Carstarphen’s trademark.

Not that Cruz will be wheeling his chair over to the big desk quite yet. Carstarphen's last day is not until April 23, and until then the pair will be co-superintendents. That means staff woke up with two bosses today, and the hope is that the notoriously hands-on Carstarphen will be so preoccupied with packing for Georgia that she won't do much more than hand the paperwork over.

Cruz can't get too comfortable once she's gone. He has already confirmed via the board that he will not be applying for the permanent vacancy.

That means he will be able to concentrate on his main task: Being as a safe pair of hands to finalize the budget and House Bill 5 implementation while the board picks a new permanent replacement. However, it does raise the question of whether he'll stick around under the next district CEO. After all, it’s extremely common for incoming superintendents to clear house after they take over, while some staff will see the change in leadership as an opportunity to advance their careers elsewhere. Currently, trustees are most openly concerned about retaining Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley, whose management of the district’s finances – including raising its bond rating – often met with glowing reviews from the board.

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