Paul Cruz may only be Austin ISD's interim superintendent, but he's already getting higher marks for community engagement than his predecessor, Meria Carstarphen, and all it took was some breakfast tacos.
Yesterday, April 24, was the regular monthly breakfast meeting of HABLA, the Hispanic Advocates and Business Leaders of Austin at East Austin restaurant Juan in a Million. Organized by co-founder and potential Austin ISD District 6 candidate Paul Saldaña, they're an informal think tank setting for organizing some historically politically unengaged sections of the Hispanic and Latino population.
There had been a standing and regular invite to Carstarphen to attend these platicas. However, she constantly demured, right through her term at AISD, which expired at midnight on April 23. That was when Cruz took over as sole superintendent (the pair had been job sharing for the last week), and eight hours later his first public appearance was alongside trustees Jayme Mathias and Gina Hinojosa at the breakfast.
Cruz's appearance – even if he'd only dropped by for the legendary Don Juan breakfast taco – signaled an immediate change of tone from the administration, which has often taken a seemingly and needlessly combative stance to some community and pressure groups. However, that's not too suprising: Before his selection as interim, he was often discussed as the short list candidate with the most conciliatory approach, and most likely to truly sit down and listen to residents.
However, AISD residents may not want to get too comfy in this relationship. Cruz has already said that he will not be entering the race to replace Carstarphen on a permanent basis. The time frame for that choice is not yet set in stone: There are competing arguments over when it should happen, and which trustees should do the hiring. One model is that the election should take place over the Summer and before the November trustee election, so that the superintendent issue is not a part of those races. That's versus leaving the choice up to the new board (after all, they're the ones who will have to work with the new CEO) in the first quarter of next year.
Currently, it seems that the shorter timeline is winning increasing support on the board. While this would be accelerated, it would be in line with Texas Association of School Board guidelines, and also mean not waiting a full year for a permanent new CEO.
That said, Cruz is still also the district's chief schools officer. Although he seemingly does not want the big desk full time, it's not impossible that he may stick around after his brief tenure at the top.
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