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It's Cruz Control – for Now

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 18, 2014

Paul Cruz
Paul Cruz
Photo courtesy of Austinisd.org

The hunt is on for a new AISD superintendent, but that doesn't mean the district is leaderless. On Tuesday, April 15 – after the board of trustees accepted departing Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's resignation – they voted to appoint Chief Schools Officer Paul Cruz as her interim replacement.

A South Texas native and a graduate of UT-Austin with a Ph.D. in educational leadership, Cruz has been a regular face at 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 Cruz 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 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 with public support from groups as diverse as Education Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. In 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.

As interim superintendent, his sole job will be as a safe pair of hands while the board picks a new permanent replacement. Cruz himself has already confirmed that he will not apply for that post, raising a question of whether he'll stick around under the new district CEO. It's common for incoming superintendents to clear house when they take over, and 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 – has often met with glowing reviews from the board.

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