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Thursday, September 29, 2022
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New Dallas ISD Superintendent Prepares For Day One

Education

Portrait of Dr. Stephanie Elizalde. | Image by Gabriel C. Perez, KUT

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Dr. Stephanie Elizalde has spent the last two years leading the Austin Independent School District, and now she is packing her bags to return to North Texas as the Dallas ISD superintendent starting July 1. 

While speaking to WFAA, Dr. Elizalde addressed issues such as school security, “student management,” and recruiting and retaining teachers. Her top priority is the safety of her staff and students. While Dr. Elizalde has never been involved in politics, she questioned the lack of legislation regarding “common-sense” access to guns in the interview. 

“School is not a place to practice active shooter drills,” says Dr. Elizalde. She believes the focus should be on things such as learning and bonding, and the school setting should be one of student happiness and inspired staff. 

When asked about the proposed solutions to keep schools safe, such as armed guards at school entrances, arming teachers, and active shooter drills, Dr. Elizalde said she does not see them as practical solutions. Besides logistics, her concerns are students’ and staff’s long-term mental and psychological well-being. 

“It consumes all of our day. And it consumes all of our nights,” Dr. Elizalde responded after being asked how much thought is put into school safety practice. She describes the challenges of keeping schools safe as a “constant rollercoaster with never-ending peaks and valleys.” Dr. Elizalde gives the example of recent commencement ceremonies in Austin; as she was shaking hands with students and handing them their diplomas, she was also scanning the crowd for potential threats. 

While school security is at the top of her list, Dr. Elizalde is also thinking about ways to recruit and retain teachers. One of the implementations she was involved in while in Austin was to find planning time for secondary teachers.

“It is going to cost us a little bit of money in order for that to happen. But if this gives teachers a moment to do some of that [planning] during the day instead of after school, that could be something that a teacher might say, ‘you know what, okay, I’m going to stay,'” she said.

Dr. Elizalde hopes to get the community involved by partnering with the district. Home-schooling during the pandemic was a peek into teachers’ lives for many parents. She hopes parents will help with retention by giving teachers more grace. 

“They want someone to let them know how important they are in their children’s lives,” said Dr. Elizalde. “They want to feel valued. They want to feel that they are making a difference.”

Regarding questions surrounding “equity” and improvement of low-performing schools, Dr. Elizalde’s solutions revolve around “student management” and are different from discipline. 

“I don’t like the use of the word discipline,” said Dr. Elizalde. “Discipline implies that we’re doing something to students and that it’s all punitive. And I really think we’ve got to rethink student management, in that it has to become a development of them ultimately becoming self-managers.”

As the new Dallas ISD superintendent, Dr. Elizalde looks to train staff on “unconscious bias” and what it looks like. The goal is to “couple high academic expectations with an empathetic way of creating a variety of ways, not just one way, of students being able to fulfill and reach their potential,” says Dr. Elizalde. 

For the first 30 to 60 days, Dr. Elizalde says her focus will be on listening. She plans to have focus groups and listening sessions with the Dallas ISD’s members, students, and parents.

Current Dallas ISD superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa will assist with a seamless transition, staying in the position until December.

For Dr. Elizalde, she plans to start by doing more listening than talking. “You don’t build relationships with folks without putting in [the] time.” 

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