Roadmap for Replacement

Dallas ISD has a lot to offer, but it may not make the superintendent search easier

While Michael Hinojosa’s January announcement that he would be tendering his resignation as superintendent of Dallas ISD might have come as a surprise to the public, it wasn’t a shock to the board of trustees.

“We have been in conversations about it with him for some time,” trustee Dustin Marshall said. “We were not surprised, and in fact, I am grateful to him for giving us a heads up and, frankly, for resigning in the manner he did at this time of the year, because it gives the board plenty of time to conduct a very thorough search process and still have a new superintendent in place before the first day of school.”

That being said, the board may not find it easy to find a replacement. Almost a quarter of superintendents nationally have quit in the past year, American Association of School Administrators director Dan Domenech told The Hechinger Report. Typical turnover is around 15%. 

Locally, Hinojosa is one of 10 superintendents that have indicated they will resign or retire.

That exodus certainly jibes with what former Texas Education Commissioner (and former Dallas ISD superintendent) Mike Moses is seeing. 

Moses said that issues around masking, vaccinations, pandemic response, critical race theory, and more are causing superintendents to rethink their options.

“These are all high-stakes issues and the job is already daunting,” he said. “Urban education is already fraught with learning challenges, financial challenges, facility challenges, labor challenges — the list goes on and on. Then you throw in all these others on top of it.

“I think a lot of talented people would probably say, ‘I’m either going to retire or I’m not going to look for anything right now because I know what I’ve got. And if I go somewhere else, I don’t know what I’ll be facing.’”

And while there may be internal candidates within Dallas ISD that could be a good fit, Moses said that they could also be in every district’s potential pool of candidates, meaning the district will still have to compete with other districts to even keep current leadership because the pool of qualified applicants nationally is “very shallow.”

“If you have someone on your staff that’s talented and you might want to promote, and you don’t, you might have to be prepared to see them go, too,” he said.

So what does this mean? It means that, while Dallas ISD does have a lot to offer a superintendent when it comes to resources and desire to innovate, the district will still face a pretty monumental task. 

And it might not be an inexpensive prospect, either — basic supply and demand dictates that when the supply of anything (including superintendents) is low, and the demand is high, the price goes up. Will districts get sticker shock from what they may have to offer to lure top candidates?

At the board’s meeting last week, trustees voted to hire two search firms — an unusual step — to assist in the search for the next superintendent. It was unclear if the board was sending the two firms to do independent searches, or if they wanted them to collaborate, though.

In their submitted materials, JG Consulting claims more than 150 executive-level searches nationwide during the past seven years, and Walsh Gallegos says it has 38 years dedicated solely to the representation of public schools in Texas and New Mexico. 

The hiring process for the two firms was also a departure from previous board procedure, with board president Ben Mackey asking the board’s lawyers to come up with a shortlist of the best search firms. Previously, those firms were hired through a bidding process.

However, that all may change again this week. The board is set to meet Thursday in a special called meeting to revisit its decision, with the agenda indicating it may be set to rescind the vote or amend it.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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