Paul Cruz to Step Down as Austin Schools Chief

Superintendent to join UT faculty after eventful AISD tenure

Paul Cruz at an AISD board meeting in 2019. (Photo by John Anderson)

After six years at the helm, Paul Cruz will resign as superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, per an announcement posted on the district’s website Wednesday evening, Feb. 19.

Cruz isn't going far; he's headed to the University of Texas to become a professor in the College of Education’s Cooperative Superintendency Program – where he will essentially help train the next generation of superintendents. Before assuming the top job, Cruz served as AISD's chief schools officer during the rocky tenure of former superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

“I love Austin ISD!” Cruz wrote in the statement, shared with AISD parents and via social media. “Thank you for embracing my family, for educating my children, and for entrusting me with leading our strategic efforts. It has truly been an honor to serve as superintendent of Austin’s dynamic and high-performing school district.”

But that love was not always reciprocal, especially among parents at Metz, Pease, Sims, and Brooke elementary schools, who fought tooth and nail for months to keep their campuses from closing. I addition to overseeing the fraught School Changes process that led to those closures, and perhaps more to come, Cruz oversaw the development and began the implementation of a $1.05 billion bond package – the largest in AISD history. But it’s the emotionally charged school closures - which previous district leaders had been unable to accomplish, despite many considering such decisions necessary for over a decade – that will mark Cruz’s legacy at AISD.

A new work environment was likely appealing to Cruz, who was hammered throughout the School Changes controversies – publicly and vocally by activists, and privately and quietly by some members of the Board of Trustees – for what they characterized as meek leadership in a tenuous time for the district. But Cruz stayed the course to lead the district through a difficult process that, he said, will help student success through reinvestment of resources from closed campuses into supports aimed at helping struggling students.

In a statement, Board of Trustees President Geronimo Rodriguez said: “We appreciate Dr. Cruz’s 14 years of leadership service to AISD students and their families. We look forward to discussing his transition at our board meeting this coming Monday.”

What that transition process will look like is still up in the air. Technically, Cruz has not resigned – he’s just announced his intent to do so, having accepted the new position. His AISD contract was most recently extended in October 2018 and does not expire until Dec. 31, 2021. Before that end date, Cruz can resign without board approval on June 30 of this year (or next); assuming he needs to start working at UT before then, he'll need to negotiate a new departure date with the trustees and then can officially submit his resignation.

Cruz and the trustees will also work out a transition plan to ensure district operations are not severely disrupted. Trustees will likely issue a request for proposals from search firms to find a new superintendent; meanwhile, they could name an interim leader to take the reins after Cruz departs but before a new hire is made. Trustees are expected to discuss the matter in executive session on Monday, Feb. 24, and hope to announce a departure date soon.

This is a developing story; we will update with more online and in next week's print issue.

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Austin ISD, Paul Cruz, University of Texas School of Education, Geronimo Rodriguez, Board of Trustees, School Changes

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